New buildings go up in Miami every day, on every block it seems. Each one tries to outdo the next. But tucked away in a quiet North Miami Beach neighborhood is one building that has them all beat with its claim to fame.

The St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church, known as North Miami Beach’s Ancient Spanish Monastery, is the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere.

The monastery was built sometime between 1133 and 1141 in Segovia, Spain. For almost 700 years it was home to Cisterian monks until the 1830s, when it was sold and turned into a granary and stable.

American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bought the monastery in 1925, had it dismantled piece by piece, packed into 11,000 numbered wooden crates and shipped to the United States.

Because the highly contagious hoof-and-mouth disease had broken out in Segovia, a nervous U.S. Department of Agriculture quarantined the shipment when it arrived. The wooden crates were opened, and the hay used to package the stone pieces was burned to prevent spreading the disease.

However, no one thought to place the pieces back into their specifically numbered boxes before storing them in a Brooklyn, N.Y., warehouse, where they remained for 26 years after Hearst sold them at an auction.

In 1952, the dismantled monastery was purchased by Messrs. W. Edgemon and R. Moss and turned into a tourist attraction.

But piecing the monastery together again was no easy feat. It took 19 months and 1.5 million dollars, and even then the results weren’t exact. Because the pieces had been repackaged out of order, unmatched pieces remained after the monastery was reassembled. Some of those pieces were used for modern-day additions to the church, and others still sit in a back lot.

Today the monastery is a popular spot for photo and movie shoots, wedding ceremonies and receptions. In the lush gardens and quiet courtyards, where monks may once have sat in prayer, brides in flowing white gowns pose for pictures and open-air parties are hosted under the stars.

The St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church is at
16711 W. Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach. For more information, call 305-945-1461.