You can't talk about Miami without mentioning South Beach, as you can't talk about South Beach without mentioning theArt Deco Historic districts, Also known as Miami Beach Architectural District: the southern part of Miami Beach, right in front of Downtown, is the most sought after by tourists and travelers not only for its beautiful beach, but also and above all for its hotels, nightclubs, cinemas and other buildings built in Art Deco style between the late twenties and forties. Perhaps not everyone knows it, but Miami has the highest concentration in the USA of buildings built in this ornamental architectural style from Europe and here revisited according to one tropical style.
In this article I want to give some historical information onArt Deco a Miami, presenting a rich itinerary in search of the most interesting examples of this style along the 3-4 streets of South Beach where the buildings are concentrated: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue sweet from the bottom Spanish Way (where instead the Mediterranean Revival style of Spanish matrix is imposed).
- Art Deco in Miami: a bit of history
- Art Deco Historic Districts: recommended itinerary
- Ocean Drive
- Collins Avenue e Washington Avenue
- Route map
- Where to sleep?
Art Deco in Miami: a bit of history
Before 1926 - the year in which the "Great Miami Hurricane" occurred, one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of Florida and the USA - in South Beach there were few and modest wooden houses for families. It was a fairly remote area where only coconut plantations had spread since the 1870s. The hurricane razed all the buildings to the ground, but here is the brilliant intuition: to transform this "neighborhood-wreck" into a luxury tourist area, building a large number of hotels in an all-American version of the style Art Deco much in vogue on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We were in the years of International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, during which it was made official what in the twenties had established itself as an artistic and architectural trend called to counteract theempire of good taste sanctioned byArt nouveau, current of a modernist type rooted in Paris and in Europe from the end of the nineteenth century up to the years of the First World War.
To the elegant and graceful designs and sinuous shapes of the modernist model, style Art Deco opposed by reaction a totally different type of aesthetic, inspired by rationalism and abstract geometrism: the new luxury architectures they were subjected to a simplification of forms, resorting to completely new solutions or recovering artistic elements belonging to ancient cultures far from modern European ones (African, Greek, Egyptian, pre-Columbian). The new ornamental details of the facades and interiors were, among others, elongated windows, mosaic, ziqqurat, zigzag and checkered shapes, simplified nautical, floral and animal motifs (plants, fountains, water jets), horizontal and square decorative bands (the so-called eyebrows), etc. In Miami such a trend it was revisited in a style that was defined Tropical Art Deco, characterized by the massive use of pastel colours with bright and extravagant shades and the use of decorative elements linked to the tropical context (flamingos, palm trees).
At the end of the Thirties and throughout the Forties, the idea of rationalism in architecture was radicalized in Miami and in other trendy US cities (not least New York): this is the period of the Streamlining Modern (also called Art Moderne), whose main feature was the search for movement and aerodynamics of the buildings. In addition to some of the features already listed, there is a tendency to create vertical lines, sharp and futuristic shapes, squared roofs, corner and porthole windows, curved corners.
La Miami Design Preservation League, established in the seventies, helps to preserve the buildings and the historical testimony of such an important period for the city of Miami. Today, thanks to the work of this foundation, walking through the historic district, you can have fun looking in the facades and interiors (where possible) these and other ornamental elements, which will help make your tour a pleasure for the eyes.
Art Deco Historic Districts: irecommended itinerary
Our tour in search of South Beach's best Art Deco buildings could only start from Ocean Drive, the Miami street that - thanks to the contribution of cinema, with Miami Vice and Scarface and others - has entered everyone's imagination. While the beach and Lummus Park stretches along the promenade, one happens on the other side of the road long line of hotels and colorful clubs, neon signs caressed by the waving of palm trees.
Please note: there are so many Art Déco hotels and so interesting that it would be impossible to name them all. Those that I point out are the most famous ones, but along the way you will be able to see others, each with some element that can strike you. Almost all the individual hotels reported in this itinerary also carry the link to Booking: in this way you can get an idea of the Skills and see some photos of the exteriors and especially of the interiors and see if it can be the right accommodation for you. Be careful though! Read the user reviews carefully: in some cases the new managements make a little profit and the rooms may not be worth the money they cost. For some targeted advice, read mine too insight into where to sleep in South Beach.
The interesting stretch of Ocean Drive begins in the south at the intersection with 5th St, but don't be in a hurry to get started: there is a quick escape into the South of Fifth (SoFi) District of Miami Beach to reach our southernmost stage, theHotel St. Augustine, at 347 Washington Ave. Immaculate and compact, it displays some of the typical characteristics of the style: the square shape of the geometric lines and the floral motifs on the main vertical element of the facade.
So go back to Ocean Drive and start your walk to the first hotel, the once famous one Central park (now The Celino South Beach). Built in 1937 by Henry Hohauser, this blue-textured hotel stands out vertically with tall windows divided into small square modules. The terraces of the central section are enriched with decorations in the shape of an arrow, which invite you to look up. Continue north, leaving behind the Beacon Hotel and Avalon, direction Colony Hotel (736 Ocean Dr), historic building dated 1935: how can you not be fascinated by the showy central element in the shape of an inverted T, bearing three neon lights (one on each side) with the name of the hotel? A must see at night!
In the next block I suggest you pay particular attention to Waldorf Towers (860 Ocean Dr), built by visionary Chicago architect Albert Anis in 1937 and recently refurbished. In addition to the bright orange color, one is struck by the contrasts between the rigid symmetry of the facade and the curvilinear shape of the tower / lighthouse that surmounts it. The façade also continues in the crossbar of Ocean Drive (9th St) thanks to the classic rounded corners that guarantee the continuity of the checkerboard decoration. A little further north, at 940 Ocean Drive, we find the iconic Breakwater Hotel, designed and built in 1936 by Anton Skislewicz, one of Miami's least prolific architects: we note colors and shapes typical of the nautical universe, and a marked search for verticality and aerodynamics in the central tower with the name of the hotel. Immediately next door, at number 960, is theEdison Hotel, which unlike the previous one, since its foundation (1935) chose not to make too much use of neon and daring aerodynamic shapes, favoring hypnotic geometric textures. The central section is interesting: three pairs of windows are inscribed in a sort of elongated arch divided in half by a curled column.Guided Art Deco Tours Across the street from the Edison Hotel, in Lummus Park, you will see a strange building: it's the Beach Patrol Station, a boat-shaped building that houses theArt Deco Welcome Center, the information center of the Art Déco District, where guided tours also depart.
In addition to those of the Visitor Center, there are also others that can be suitable for those who want to be accompanied on this itinerary: here is one with good reviews -> Guided walking tour of Art Deco.
We proceed towards 1052 Ocean Dr, where we find the Congress Hotel, today just a shop. The building, smaller than its competitors, features classic decorations from the Art Deco period, with “eyebrows” on the windows and stylized water features in a geometric key, a sort of rationalist parody of Art Nouveau. Above, under the square roof, you can see patterns typical of Mayan art. Shortly after the intersection with 11th St, here is one of the iconic buildings of all South Beach: Casuarina House. The former home of Gianni Versace (he was assassinated here in 1997) stands out from other hotels because it looks more like Villa Vizcaya than an Art Deco building: it sports an elegant and austere Mediterranean Revival style, replicated by the Alcázar de Colón. The palace (it should be said) was built in 1930 under the initiative of the architect Alden Freeman who wanted it to be used coral stone, a very different material from those used for the other hotels in the area. Today this villa with patio and astronomical observatory (!) Houses some luxurious suites and a sophisticated restaurant.
After this exception, we see the Ocean Drive rule confirmed: at 1144 is theHotel Victor, with its brazenly pink sign and its high geometric structure with a vertical line from which long rows of windows with sills branch off, and at the bottom a porthole to vary the texture. The next hotel is the The Tides, built in 1936 and designed by architect L. Murray Dixon. When I saw it, it was undergoing renovations, but the considerable height of the structure caught my eye anyway: I was therefore not surprised when I read that from its foundation until 1938 it was the tallest building in Miami! Pause to observe the lower part of the facade, enriched by large blocks of coral from the Keys.
As you continue your walk north, you will no doubt be dazzled by the yellow facade of the Leslie Hotel (1244 Ocean Dr), in full Tropical Deco style. The small size of this hotel dating from 1937 and not long since restored makes it more intimate than the Tides; I was struck by its joyful and dynamic aspect despite the geometric facade, and the style of the sign. Next to the Leslie, another South Beach institution: the Carlyle, today a complex of holiday apartments. Built in 1939, the building is affected by the rationalist influences of Art Moderne, however, softening them with some floral patterns on the upper part of the facade. To make Carlyle famous was the cinema: Bad Boys 2, Random Hearts, Pronto, The Birdcage and Scarface are some of the films that made it immortal. A contemporary of Caryle, the Hotel Cardozo in 1300 Ocean Dr is the work of the aforementioned Henry Hohauser, a real point of reference for Miami Art Déco. You will be struck by the rounded facade, inspired by the bumper of a Studebaker and enriched with circular decorative elements that can recall pre-Columbian art. Here, too, the use of coral stone stands out, offering a particular shade of color.
At 1320 Ocean Drive there is perhaps my favorite hotel: the Cavalier Hotel. Designed by Roy F. France in 1936, this hotel is a Art Deco masterpiece that incredibly mixes the geometricism of the structure with the vintage eclecticism of the stucco decorations, including nautical elements and references to Aztec art. At 1400 Ocean Drive, you will find the Winter Haven (1939), with an elegant profile despite the simplicity of the forms: each window is shaded by an eyebrow sill, which gives a vaguely futuristic design touch to the structure. The Ocean Drive itinerary concludes with the last two hotels on our itinerary, the McAlpine e l'Ocean Plaza (now under single Hilton management). I especially like the first, which was the work of the architect Dixon (The Tides): the structure is today perfectly preserved and allows us to enjoy the perfect symmetries of the eclectic facade in bright colors (green and orange).
Collins Avenue e Washington Avenue
At the north side of Lummus Park, with the hotels McAlpine e l'Ocean Plaza Our itinerary on the Ocean Drive Art Déco ended. We turn left on 14th until we cross Collins Avenue, which is no less than the parallel of Ocean Drive. Since some of our stops are located a lot further north, it will be better for us to reach the furthest buildings and then go back to finish the itinerary.
From Española Way to 21th St (north)
After a few steps down Collins Avenue, you will find the intersection with Española Way. Before taking it for a short detour, pause your attention on the remarkable facade of the bar Senor Frog's, a chain that has taken over from a historic venue on Collins Avenue, the Jerry’s Famous Deli. The sign has changed, but the shop structure has remained the same. After taking some photos of this curious corner, continue towards Spanish Way which, as anticipated, is a happy Hispanic island within the Art Déco district. The buildings facing this paseo are Mediterranean Revival-style, but are not as flashy as those on Ocean Drive. If anything, it is the atmosphere that appears completely different: conceived in the early 1925s and inaugurated in XNUMX, this area of South Beach must have had a look really bohemian, also thanks to the presence of many artists. Today it is full of clubs, bars and restaurants. Have you traveled it all? Well, returning to Collins Avenue, beware of the Española Way intersection with Washington Ave: you will see the Cameo Nightclub, once a historic South Beach theater built in 1935 to a design by Robert E. Collins, in full Art Deco ferment. If you like punk and hardcore, know that the Ramones have performed here, among others.
Back on Collins Avenue, go to 1671 Collins Ave, where you will find a trio of exceptional hotels: the Sagamore, il National Hotel and Delano Hotel. The most faithful to the dictates of Art Déco is the National, built in 1939 by Roy France. At the top of the 18-story high central tower is a dome that reminds me of those of the Greek churches of Santorini. The Sagamore It strikes above all for the iconic neon sign, but the best of itself is given inside: in the hall there is a very stimulating contemporary art exhibition. The Delano, you will understand it from the futuristic design of the Streamline-style facade, it is later: it was inaugurated in 1947 on the initiative of the architect Robert Swartburg, and at the time it was the tallest building in Miami (also here it is worth browsing the splendid lobby ). The Delano is located at the intersection with 17th St ... well, you cross the road and walk 80 meters: at the intersection with James Ave you will see a little known Art Deco pearl: the Cadet Hotel, of 1941. Here he stayed Clark Gable when he was in the US Army. Further north, at the junction with 18th St, with its rich tropical garden and rounded terraces, you will find the historic Raleigh, flagship of Collins Avenue (under renovation at the beginning of 2019).
If you're not into art, you can also go back to explore the south side of Collins Avenue. If, on the other hand, you have the time and energy, continue north to the intersection with 21th St: here you will find an art park, the Collins Park, littered with installations and works of art. What does it have to do with Art Deco? At the end of the park is the Bass Museum of Art, a squat and massive building that has undergone many changes over the years: the Art Deco past is however evident from the bas-reliefs on the facade, depicting nautical scenes and tropical themes. The original building was designed and built by Gustav Bohland in the early 21s. In the same square, at the intersection of XNUMXth St and Park Ave (therefore on the left looking at the facade of the museum), you will find the Plymouth Hotel, a perfect example of what he means by Streamlining Modern.Extra stopIf the atmosphere of South Beach has captivated you and you don't feel tired, after the Bass Museum, deviate from the main Art Deco circuit and reach the historic Colony Theater, dated 1935, a city institution. The address is 1040 Lincoln Rd, in a popular South Beach shopping area.
Da Española Way at 5th St (southbound)
We resume Spanish Way (practically Collins Avenue at the end of Ocean Drive) as a reference point and we follow the road to the south, looking for the best Art Deco hotels with a few short detours on the parallel Washington Ave.
We make the first stop at the corner of Collins Avenue and 14th St: here is the building it once was Commodore Hotel, in the nautical style, usually designed by Henry Hohauser (1936). Today it is a bar-café. Continue on 14th St to Washington Avenue: at 1300 you will find the circular turret of the Miami Beach Postal Service, typical example of the architectural style Depression Modern, a more sober and institutional variation of XNUMXs Art Deco designed for public buildings. You can enter to see the murals depicting scenes related to the history of the Conquistadores, and the dome with esoteric tones.
Then go back to Collins Avenue, because in the block between 13th and 12th there are the two iconic hotels of Collins Avenue, up to the level of the masterpieces of Ocean Drive: The Webster e Marlin Hotel. The Webster (1220 Collins Ave), now a clothing store, was designed by Hohauser in 1939: the facade is tripartite, but it is the central part that attracts attention thanks to the bright colors and decorations of the floral frame. The Marlin Hotel (1200 Collins Ave), designed by Murray Dixon, opened in 1939. This hotel has few rivals when it comes to design: it impresses with the harmony with which the central part of the ziqqurat-style facade - beautifully decorated and colored in yellow, pink and blue - fits in with the rounded corners of the two side bands.
Continue south to 1001 Collins Ave: here, overlooking 10th St, theEssex House Hotel (1938), designed by Hohauser in a style later defined as “Nautical Moderne”: it could in fact recall a ship, complete with a funnel where the name of the hotel shines. At the same intersection of 10th St with the parallel Washington Ave instead there is another place that deserves a mention: the Wolfsonian-Florida International University Musem. This large and inelegant Mediterranean Revival-style building, dated 1926, is a museum that collects artifacts and artistic works from both America and Europe.
Return to Collins Avenue to admire the last two hotels in the Art Deco District: the first is at 901 Collins Ave, it's called Sherbrooke. The original building dates back to 1948 and is striking for its name sign and above all for the terraces that follow the movement of the red and sinuous lines at the corner with 9th St. From photos! Equally worth a visit is the The Hotel (801 Collins Ave) formerly known as Tiffany Hotel, the work of the usual Murray Dixon in 1939. Already from the outside, our eye is captured by the Streamlining-style spire that sits atop the facade. While you're at it, go inside and climb to the roof to get a closer look at it. On the hall floor there are arrows: once, following them, you reached a speakeasy.
Where to sleep?
As mentioned, not all hotels listed are as welcoming as they are beautiful to look at. If you missed the link, read my advice below, related to both South Beach than to all the others Miami neighborhoods.
Where to sleep in South Beach