San Carlos Institute

Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.
Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.

The San Carlos Institute located at 516 Duval Street is open daily and is free admission. I have walked by this building countless times and never visited until recently. I had no idea of what to expect inside this picturesque building.


The center has had many different homes on island. But in 1890 the effort that rebuilt the San Carlos on a more spacious lot which is where it presently sits. Founded by Cuban exiles in 1871, the San Carlos Institute is a Cuban heritage center. Education and preservation of cultural values were the Institute’s goals and classes were taught in both English and Spanish making the Institute one of the first bilingual schools in the United States.

Many famous people fighting for Cuban Independence from Spain came to the center to speak and to teach the local Cuban population. The most famous being Jose Marti who visitors will learn much about while visiting the museum.

In 1919 when a hurricane struck and severely damaged the building the relatively new Cuban government financed its reconstruction, and that building still sits there today. It is  two-stories and incorporates many elements of Cuba’s architecture such as high ceilings, arches, marble and mosaics.

The Cuban government continued to financially support the Institute until communism seized Cuba and the monies that the Cuban government funded the San Carlos Institute with ceased.  This led to the end of the building’s upkeep and it was condemned in the 1970’s. The building was thus in a state of limbo and in danger of being torn down until in the 1980’s a Miami lawyer raised enough money to restore this historic building.

In the 1990’s the building was finally reopened with great fanfare. The San Carlos Institute today is run entirely by private donations, so even though the building is free to visitors to learn about Cuban history donations are accepted and appreciated.

My Visit
A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.
A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.

To be honest, the exhibits did not seem to be well organized or described, and they were not very attention grabbing. On top of that, much of the information was in Spanish so gringos like me have difficulty understanding it.

There were a few points of interest such as an old Cuban raft. And the building is absolutely beautiful with its black and white tiled floors and intricate mosaics. It is sad to see that the building’s condition is definitely falling into a state of disrepair again.

The docent was a very nice older Cuban man and he was happy to answer our questions.

It seems like something could be done to better preserve this architectural gem. It would certainly have the potential to make a great venue for many events.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge

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