the Instituto San Carlos /
San Carlos Institute
In 1871, educator Juan María Reyes and Cuban community
leader José Dolores Poyo, and several other Cuban exiles
who had come to Key West, Florida, to organize the campaign for
Cuba’s independence from Spain, proposed to establish an
educational and cultural institute to help preserve the language,
cultural values and democratic ideals of the Cuban people. The
San Carlos Institute, named after Cuba’s San Carlos Seminary
and in honor of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, father of Cuba’s
independence, opened its doors in Key West, Florida, in 1871.
The original San Carlos Institute, considered a “patriotic
shrine” by the Cuban people, was a small wooden structure.
In 1884, the San Carlos had moved to a larger facility on Fleming
Street but burned to the ground in the great fire of 1886 that
destroyed much of Key West. Under the leadership of Cuban civic
leader, Martin Herrera, the Cuban community rebuilt the San Carlos,
at its current site on Duval Street, in the heart of Key West.
It was here that Cuba’s legendary poet and patriot, José
Martí, assembled the Cuban exile people and fondly called
the San Carlos “La Casa Cuba” or the home of the Cuban
The San Carlos operated as one of America’s first bilingual
and racially integrated schools. For more than a century, children
of all races attended school at the San Carlos Institute where
classes were taught in English and Spanish. In the mid-1970s,
the school was forced to close due to the building’s deteriorating
condition. Valuable books, paintings, and other historical material
were lost and damaged during this period. In 1981, the building’s
façade collapsed, injuring a tourist. It was then that
the Cuba’s patriotic shrine was imperiled when some threatened
to level the building. Others called for transforming the facility
from a school to a night club.
In 1985, Cuban residents of Key West and Miami brought the imminent
threat facing the San Carlos Institute to the attention of Florida’s
Hispanic Affairs Commission, then chaired by Dr. Rafael Peñalver,
a prominent Miami attorney. Saving the San Carlos became Peñalver’’s
personal crusade. He led a successful statewide effort that quickly
became a “labor of love” by all who were involved
in its restoration and preservation. With the support of the State
of Florida and the community at large, the San Carlos Institute
was soon restored to its former glory. More importantly, the San
Carlos Institute’s historic mission, decreed more than century
ago by Cuban exiles fighting for Cuba’s independence, was
proclaimed and reaffirmed.
On Jan. 3, 1992, the San Carlos Institute reopened its doors
as a multi-purpose facility that serves as a museum, theater,
library, school, conference theater and art gallery.
The “Pichs Collection—Cuban Philately Project,”
now being carried out in conjunction with the National Postal
Museum (Smithsonian Institution) presents virtual exhibitions
using Cuban postage stamps (and related postal materials) from
the San Carlos Institute’s Roberto Pichs collection. The
essays and exhibitions prepared for this project present new perspectives
on, and provide new data for, Cuban history and visual anthropology
as well as philatelic studies.
As a result, millions of people are now able to access, appreciate,
and study a small sampling of the San Carlos Institute’s
invaluable collection of Cuban historical material, via the World
Wide Web. The San Carlos Institute continues to expand its presence
through exhibitions and programming to further the understanding
of Cuban history, culture and values.
||San Carlos Institute
516 Duval St.
Key West, Florida 33040 USA
Statue of José Martí
ISC at Key West, Florida