Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: So many memories, so many lessons learned at 1 Herald Plaza

Moving from the bayside newsroom where I became a writer is like leaving the home where you grew up.

Open a desk drawer and find a forgotten photograph that frames a memory, freezes a bygone era.

Cart a file to the recycling bin with the purpose of shredding the past for the sake of the future — downsizing 33 years of reporting the Miami story into two tightly packed boxes — and you reconsider the options.

Those notebooks, recordings, and letters — oh, the hand-written reader letters through the decades, what a treat! — are irreplaceable treasure.

The trove of memories and first drafts of history go home with me, if not to the spanking new Miami Herald offices in Doral, where my first act of unpacking is to tag my computer with the image of Cachita I bought while reporting a story at the Shrine to Our Lady of Charity.

Aché. In Yoruba, it means good luck, and those of us who learned early to carry our sense of home in our hearts know we’ll need plenty of it in these financially challenging times for newspapers.

For 50 years, the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald building at One Herald Plaza was home to one of the nation’s great newspapers. And the newspaper’s history transpired hand in hand with South Florida’s.

When the $30 million plant was completed in 1963, the Herald building was the largest in Florida.

That first year, the most distinguished visitor was President John F. Kennedy, who had developed “a warm friendship” with Lee Hills, the Herald’s executive editor, retired Herald staff writer Nixon Smiley recalled in his book Knights of the Fourth Estate: The Story of The Miami Herald.

Four days later, the president was assassinated in Dallas.

Through the decades, a roster of the nation’s powerful passed through Herald doors to visit the newsroom and community icons such as Alvah H. Chapman and James Batten, who not only led the Herald and its parent company, Knight-Ridder, but had tremendous influence on the city’s agenda. From the beginning (think the original movie Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller) through the Miami Vice era and to this day, Hollywood stars filmed in the newsroom or came through for interviews.

For me, a child of the suburbs, the Herald building was more than a place to work. It was my anchor to the city.

I was a 21-year-old intern from the University of Florida when I walked into stunning sea views, expansive rows of white men in blue and white button-down shirts and a few women in suits, and the tap-tap music of IBM Selectric typewriters.

There was so much more than that to the Miami Herald in 1980 — including a mostly translated Spanish-language sister paper launched in 1976 that had its own space next to the Herald newsroom — but that first image is what remains with me as I, like my colleagues, bid goodbye to the almost empty building.

So many memories….

Sleeping under my desk during Hurricane Andrew, and in the middle of the night dashing up to the sixth floor with colleagues to watch the windows of the new el Nuevo Herald newsroom stretch with the wind like bubble gum.

Working on a story about the police shooting of a woman who pointed what turned out to be a toy gun at an officer. I was subbing for the incomparable police reporter Edna Buchanan, who returned from vacation when she heard, came into the newsroom — and grilled me.

I could answer every question except one: “Was she pregnant?”

I hadn’t thought to ask that.

“It’s a double homicide if she were,” Buchanan said.

Lesson learned.

And in 1993, celebrating one of the happiest days for our clan of Herald-made lifelong friends: One of our own, columnist Liz Balmaseda made history by winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary — one of 19 Pulitzers the newspaper earned at One Herald Plaza.

And of course, there is/was (sigh) The View.

Rain or shine, the Miami Herald cafeteria had one of the most beautiful views in the city — the shimmering bay waters flanked by the Venetian and MacArthur causeways.

But in all of its incarnations, a curse hung over the cafeteria: One star food.

OK, maybe once the quality and variety rose to a merciful 1½ stars, but that’s all this former food critic is willing to concede for the sake of indulging the nostalgia that has gripped all the Herald employees and the alumni who traveled from various points across the country to say goodbye.

Besides the view, the cafeteria’s other saving grace for a time was Margarita, the plump Cuban woman who treated every one of us as if she were our mother when she served our food with mucho cariño.

I expect no less love from our new home in Doralzuela, and certainly better food choices. But no matter where this newspaper of record is headquartered, good journalism is seldom about the offices, but about insightful reportage and that daily act of facing the blank page under a looming deadline.

Beloved waterfront or the staple view of newly planted palm trees in suburbia, we will write many more drafts of Miami history from wherever we place our desks.

Adiós, One Herald Plaza, you raised us well.