Sunday, July 2: A beautiful day to join the guided walking tour of South Beach’s art deco buildings, courtesy of the Miami Design Preservation League. It ran 90 minutes, during which time we got to see South Beach’s predominant architectural styles: Art deco, Mediterranean revival, and MiMo.
Art Deco is short for the French term arts decoratifs (decorative art), which in turn was derived from a 1925 expo called Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International exposition of decorative and modern industrial art), where the style was popularized.
Over-all symmetry, ziggurat (stepped) rooflines, glass block, decorative sculptural panels, eyebrows, round porthole windows, terrazzo floors, curved edges and corners, elements in groups of three, neon lighting (used in both exteriors as well as interior spaces).
Many of South Beach’s buildings were built in the 1930s, when a later variant of art deco architecture called Streamline Moderne, a.k.a. Art Moderne, came into being. According to Wikipedia, “Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements.”
You may recognize the Carlyle (construction started in 1939, and was completed in 1941) from a number of films. It was the gay nightclub in The Birdcage, and also appeared in Scarface and Bad Boys II.
Anton Skislewicz designed the Breakwater, which was built in 1939. Its roof was used as the backdrop for this famous ad for Calvin Klein Obsession from 1987:
The Congress was built in 1936 and now is functions as vacation condos. Its owners also own the two buildings to its right, and painted all three buildings with the same white and light blue color scheme.
On the next block north of the Congress is Hotel Victor.
The tour took us inside the Tides, which has a beautiful lobby, from which you can see the “Turtle Room”…
The story is that many years ago, one of the Tides’ guests left five large tortoise shells in their room. It’s presumed that the guest was a smuggler, but for some reason decided that the shells were too “hot” and simply ditched them. The hotel had several duplicates of the original shells made, and both originals and copies hang on the wall today, and it’s said that no one at the hotel knows which are which.
They’ve plugged up the porthole windows on the Essex, but kept the other art deco features, such as the tower, eyebrows, and the font. It was built in 1938 and designed by Henry Hohauser.
The Webster was also designed by Henry Hohauser, and its art deco pedigree was enhanced by the classic cars parked in front of it that day. It started out as a hotel, but is now a three-story boutique for designer clothes.
The Kent hotel first opened in 1939.
Originally named the Fairmont and constructed in 1936, the Fairwind is another 2014 reno.
Another Henry Hohauser hotel: the Edison, built in 1935.
The McAlpin and Ocean Plaza are side by side on Ocean Drive and are now Hilton properties.
Other buildings we saw
End of the tour
We returned to Miami Design Preservation League’s Art Deco Welcome Center at the end of the tour. We decided to close it out with photos of ourselves by the Miami Beach clock/thermometer, and then head to lunch.
- An introduction to the Art Deco historic district on Miami Beach
- Fodor’s: 10 Best Art Deco Buildings in Miami Beach
- Miami Art Deco District Self-Guided Tour
- Miami New Times: The ten best Art Deco buildings in Miami Beach
- Time Out: A guide to Art Deco Miami