In 1926, a horrific hurricane razed the city of Miami. It left behind around 400 dead and total destruction. Yet, the city did not crumble. A building boom exploded creating the Art Deco structures that stand today cheek-by-jowl with many South Beach vacation condos. In fact, a few of those marvelous structures of this, the Golden Age of Miami construction, now house apartments, condominiums, boutiques and/or other commercial structures such as hotels.
South Beach and Art Deco
After the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Artes Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a new style was born. This was Art Deco. As South Beach began to climb its way out of the destruction of the hurricane, it chose to build in the latest architectural style. The boom took place between 1930 and 1942 as hotels and apartment buildings were constructed to address the needs of South Beach’s winter visitors. By the end of this period, fanciful structures covered the streets and faced the beaches.
Virtually all the buildings that went up embraced Art Deco creating two variations: Streamline Moderne and Tropical Art Deco. This created an Art Deco style that was more conservative and leaned towards a maritime or tropical theme. Buildings from the 1930s in particular had a nautical air creating the general sense these structures were somehow Streamline ocean vessels. Walking by them, you can see such design elements as
- Porthole windows
- Ship-like railings
- Mental grates
- Glass blocks
- Shiny chrome
- Sleek curves
- Rounded corners
- Stylized masts
At the same time, some of them are white or pink stucco bearing the flourishes of the Art Deco style in their low relief or relief sculptures. Common themes include:
- Underwater scenes
- Palm trees
- Pink flamingos
Local flora and fauna are common in this Florida Art Deco style. Most of the Art Deco buildings, including vacation condos, are found along Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive. Their location makes a sightseeing tour a simple walk in South Beach.
Art Deco in South Beach in the 1970s
By the 1970s, the Art Deco style was no longer considered fashionable. Once glorious buildings, they had become flophouses, sex shops and boarding houses. Neglected and weary, they were on the verge of being annihilated. Fortunately, an architectural and historical crusader, Barbara Baer Capitman, formed the Miami Design Preservation League in 1979. After a fight against such objectors as former Miami Beach Commissioner Abe Resnick, they won. Approximately 800 structures were not only preserved, but also became listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From there on, it was a long haul involving restoration work by individuals and companies. Some became boutiques, swanky hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. Others were vacation abodes for those who continue to come to South Beach and Miami for their vacation.
South Beach Vacation Condos Today
Today, South Beach thrives. Its Art Deco buildings are not neglected but prized by their owners. Many of the 800 buildings serve purposes that differ from their origins. Yet, the style and the structures have once again put South Beach and Miami on the map as people continue to head to this city, enjoying this remarkable collection while staying in luxurious vacation condos, villas and hotels.