SOUTH BEACH MIAMI BEACH FLORIDA
- ART DECO
The term Art Deco
was coined by historian Bevis Hillier in 1968 to describe early
20th century modern design. The title is French in origin, derived
from the celebrated 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et
Industriels Modernes. Two words in the exposition's title—industrial
and modern—define much of what the style is about.
The Paris exposition sought
to combine the ambitions of the earlier Arts and Crafts Movement
with industrial technology. The result was a new, rich style of
ornamentation made up of sharp, angular geometric forms and stylized
natural designs. Art Deco also developed as a very
"modern" style. As technology and invention sped forward during
the decades following World War I, the new century seemed to demand
a more modern style.
Architects were encouraged to find their
inspiration not from the forms of the past but in the machine-produced
designs of the present. Out of this love affair with technology
and modernism came the Art Deco architectural style.
With their flat roofs, smooth stucco walls and distinctly modern
look, most Art Deco buildings are usually easy to spot. But there
is some variety in the style, and architectural historians usually
divide Art Deco into two major periods: decorated
(1926-1936) and Streamline (the 1930s).
The two names give clues for what to look for. In the first period,
Art Deco buildings are highly ornamented, especially
around entrances, windows and along rooflines, and use the abstract,
angular or floral ornament taken from the 1925 Paris exposition.
If you see these kind of details, even ifthey're very simple, you're
almost certainly looking at a classic early Art Deco
In the second, more sober Streamline period
popular during the Great Depression, buildings usually have very
little ornamentation and have a very flat, machine-like look. Hallmarks
of this phase of Art Deco include rounded corners,
banded stripes, porthole windows and lots of glass block.
Although Art Deco buildings
can be found throughout Florida, no place is as synonymous with
the style as South Miami Beach. During the 1930s,
while much of the nation suffered through the Great Depression,
Miami Beach's new tourist-driven economy boomed. A small number
of architects designed hundreds of buildings in the up-to-date Art
Deco style that went up during the 1930s, giving this part
of the Beach a remarkably uniform appearance.
South Beach's popularity began to decline in the
1960s as tourists moved to newer destinations farther north. By
the 1970s, the district teetered on the edge of oblivion. Like some
lost, enchanted city, its buildings were badly deteriorating and
seemed ripe for demolition. To its rescue came the Miami Design
Preservation League.Founded in 1976, the League worked tirelessly
to promote the Beach's Art Deco Historic District
under the leadership of its indefatigable founder, Barbara Baer
George Neary, MDPL's executive director,
recalls Capitman's vision for the district: "She helped us to see
the invisible so we could do the impossible." Today, the impossible
has happened and South Beach is one of the most
trendy pieces of real estate in the world.
To help find your way around this international hot spot, visit
the Miami Design Preservation League's Welcome Center on Ocean
Drive. For a self-guided introduction to the Art
Deco Historic District, pick up the League's new audio
cassette tour, put on your favorite walking shoes or rollerblades
(locals swear it's the best way to getaround), grab the sun tan
lotion and go!
Drive is South Beach's most well-known
street and makes the perfect starting point for your tour. The Drive's
ten blocks of small, pastel-colored hotels, now brimming with cafes,
shops, restaurants and clubs, form a sort of whimsical stage set
for the Beach.
Here are the streamlined corners of the
Cardozo and Carlyle Hotels, the delicate floral ornament of the
Cavalier and the towering modernistic sign of the Breakwater. By
night, the hotels dance with neon and colored lights: red and white
on the Beacon, orange on the Edison, blue on the Colony and gold
on the Leslie.
South Beach's Art Deco
treasures go beyond Ocean Drive. There's the Essex
House and the Tiffany and Tudor Hotels, with their Buck Rogers rocket-like
spires, the nautically-inspired Beach Patrol Station seemingly ready
to set sail, the magnificent restored rotunda of the U.S. Post Office
and the elegant Bass Museum of Art. Also look for the smaller details
that give South Beach its distinctly tropical resort
flair: porthole windows and deck-like balconies; "eyebrow" sun shades
above exterior windows; and etched glass, relief sculpture and even
metal screen doors depicting palm trees, flamingos, pelicans, mermaids
The efforts to preserve South Beach's Art Deco Historic
District continue. As exciting a place as South
Beach has become, the Miami Design Preservation League
is cautious about the district becoming lost in its new-found notoriety.
"The only thing of permanence we really have here is the historic
district," says MDPL board member Michael Kinerk. "Obviously we
can't remain the hottest or hippest place on earth forever, but
if we do our job right, the district will still be here when the
Beach comes back down to earth again.
article provided by Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, Florida Heritage Magazine, Michael Zimny