Back Story: Making History Sing

Since coming to the United States at only 18 months old, Grammy-winning crossover superstar and businesswoman Gloria Estefan has been committed to celebrating history and her own Cuban-American heritage. Preservation caught up with the singer, and new National Trust board member, to find out why saving places is important to her.

Q: Why is historic preservation something that you feel passionate about?

A: We, the Cuban community, have tried to transplant our culture here in Miami, and as we became part of the city, it was important for [my husband] Emilio and me to be a part of its growth in the business community—and culturally, as well. 

I always used to come to the beach with my grandfather—every day, practically. So when we first made some money I thought that it was important to invest in Miami Beach, because you can’t re-create that jewel that we have there. 

So we started buying different properties on Miami Beach. The first building that we bought was an old apartment building from the 1930s; we restored that. We bought the Cardozo Hotel; we restored that. 

It’s right up my alley, especially now that we’re trying to preserve another jewel: the Miami Marine Stadium, where we actually performed at one point. It’s a beautiful, one-of-a-kind stadium that was built by a young Cuban architect. We’re committed to that because it’s part of our personal history and the history of Miami. I think it can be a spectacular place to do even classical concerts because it’s right there on the water, and the acoustics and everything would be so perfect.

Q: What do you think it is about historic places that make them so powerful?

A: I’m a big believer in energy, and I think when you leave a place, things that have happened there are ingrained spiritually and energy-wise in that place.

As human beings it gives us a sense of connection, of roots, of being able to point to something and show our children and teach them. Some historic places have some pain involved because most human life does, but the fact that it has survived is a nice metaphor for humanity in general.

Q: What was it about the specific historic properties you’ve bought and restored in Miami that drew you to them?

A: Some of them hold a very personal memory. I have a picture of me with my dad, who passed away in 1980; we’re on the beach, and behind me is the Cardozo Hotel. And that day, I was about 3 years old—and this is family history, this happened way before we bought the place—but I turned to my dad and said, “Daddy, one day I’m going to buy you that hotel.”

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I’m actually working on an American standards record, which falls right in line with this stuff because to me music [needs] that kind of cultural preservation, as well. It’s very close to my heart. We are trying to do something unique but [also] trying to stay true to the style and the spirit of these songs that have stood the test of time. They’re songs that don’t go away and never will because they touch people regardless of the fact that they were created many decades ago.

Q: Sounds pretty similar to historic places.

A: Exactly.

Online Exclusive: Read the full interview with Gloria Estefan on the PreservationNation blog.

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.