I’m just getting back into the routine of things after my vacation with my mom and I have to tell you… we had a BLAST! Our adventure took us to Miami Beach, Florida and before arriving, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess my biggest impressions have been shaped by Hollywood: a place with bikini clad models, lavish parties and of course, Miami Vice. So I was really excited to take a guided tour as a part of our trip and learn about the colorful history of the area.
Although the Art Deco style can be seen throughout South Beach, the actual Art Deco District is a one square mile area that is the home to over 800 buildings. Built from the early 1920′s to the early 1940′s (pre World War II), they were heavily influenced by the design coming out of Paris in the 20′s. Many cities around the world have architecture inspired by this style, but they often put their own unique twist on it. Our guide explained that the Miami Beach locals like to call theirs Nautical or Tropical Deco.
The distinct style of South Beach includes:
Shorter Buildings: Many are just two to three stories high and are designed so that store fronts and restaurants are at street level with art studios and apartment living above.
Eyebrows: Horizontal lines across the buildings shade its occupants in the high afternoon sun. The “eyebrows” also give a visual movement similar to a steam engine.
A Vertical Stripe: This element breaks up the brow and leads the eye up. It has a mini-skyscraper look and lends itself to creating a nautical vibe.
Nautical Ship Elements: Portals (either glass windows or painted details) are present and often you’ll find a deck and mast coming off the roof.
Creative Corners: Several of the buildings are characterized by corner windows for cross breeze. You’ll also find a lot of rounded corners.
Killer Flooring: The terrazzo floors were my favorite! The concrete and chipped marble is everywhere and it’s common to see it laid out in decorative patterns with the building logo in it.
Stripes: Often in threes… whether it’s on the building or in the terrazzo.
Arcadias: These decorative archways make it easy to quickly escape a tropical rain or intense heat.
We learned a lot from our tour, but the real story is that much of what we enjoyed might have been lost if it wasn’t for a group of activists that fought to protect the area. The historic Art Deco District preservation was lead in the 70′s by Barbara Capitman who recognized the significance of the area and the need to maintain it. I love this gal’s vision and determination. The district was the first to have the buildings preserved within the same century in which they were built. At the time, many of the buildings were 50 years old or less… young by preservation standards. But the wind and coastal air were already causing severe deterioration. Barbara and her supporters jumped in to protect their story.
As a part of the district standards, the current owners are allowed to make upgrades to the interiors, but the facades and public areas need to be maintained in their original form. It was amazing to get to see details like these as they were intended.
This keeps big developers from coming in and demolishing several buildings and putting up a high-rise in the area. I think it’s particularly interesting that some larger hotels have purchased side by side buildings so that they can “group” them together and offer more amenities while still complying with the district guidelines.
Don’t get me wrong… I loved staying on the 32nd floor of our plush hotel, but I’m so glad that South Beach exists too. I honestly can’t wait to go back and do some more exploring on my own. It has an incredible history!
And let’s face it… the food and locale is pretty amazing too.
PS. Yeah… those last two are actual photos I took with my iPhone. Told ya we had a BLAST!