The Art Deco District of Miami, located in the South Beach neighbourhood of Miami Beach, Florida, is a historic architectural feat. It houses the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings globally, 800+ structures constructed between 1923 and 1943. All the more impressive is how well preserved they remain, even a century later. This colourful part of the city harks back to the old 1930s glamour, making it a hotspot travel destination, distinct in its curious pastel hotels and animated neon signs. Known by locals as the jewel in Miami’s crown, the Art Deco District offers us a glimpse into a century-old history, combined with a unique, vibrant architectural style.
What is Art Deco?
Art Deco is an iconic style, an easily recognizable aesthetic, that started as an artistic movement dating around 1920. It found inspiration in many early 20th-century European design styles, reaching its peak in America during the great depression, as a fantastic style meant to imbibe the ‘optimistic futurism’ that looked towards better times. It came into common usage around the 1980s, to designate several distinct historic periods.
Classical Art Deco is imbibed in the style of buildings that sprang up in every big American city in the mid to late 1920s. The empire state building and the Chrysler building are two recognizable landmarks for this style. This first phase used costly, sleek materials and an angular, well-formed style embellished with intricate motifs.
During the second phase, at play during Miami Beach’s architectural boom, the earlier materials were replaced by plastics and other more affordable mediums. The previous aesthetic was paired down to be more practical and conceptually austere. The earlier focus on verticality morphed into an emphasis on low-lying structures of strength.
Both phases shared some predominant principles, with each historical period transforming to fit and reflect the changing times. This intertwining of architecture and history, one telling on the other, provides an interesting attraction to this area.
Miami Design Preservation League
Miami’s Art Deco District was at the brink of being demolished due to neglect when Barbara Baer Capitman, a historic preservationist, founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) in 1976. This was a non-profit aimed at preserving, protecting and promoting this area. It pushed for its recognition as a historic architectural district, gaining fruition in 1979, when the locale became the nation’s first urban, 20th-century historic district.
Designers and developers regained interest in this area, restoring the Art Deco elements of pastel-hued boutique hotels to their original style. Some of the notable architects associated with this reconstruction include L. Murray Dixon and Henry Hohauser, chief architects of Deco South Beach who utilized a less ornamental and expensive style. The New Yorker duo was best known for The Celino Hotel, previously known as the Park Central Hotel.
Leonard Horowitz, artist and MDPL co-founder, is another prominent figure who renovated several landmarks hotels in this area, along with Carl Fisher, whose empire of luxury hotels included the famous bright-pink Flamingo Hotel, Miami Beach’s first grand hotel that was demolished in 1950.
Fun fact, a year after this recognition, avid Art Deco enthusiast Andy Warhol flew from New York to explore the area with the MDPL, an event that was extensively covered by the press.
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