The Miami Art Deco Historic District is chock-full of flavorful, colored infrastructure, exquisitely adorned with intricate designs. These century-old buildings have been carefully preserved so viewers can get an idea as to what life might have looked like back in the bygone era.
Art Deco is a modern take on neoclassical style with serious inclusion of exotic motifs such as flora, fauna, and fountains. This architecture came to popularity back in the early 1920s, with the name coming from an exposition in Paris in 1925.
Often recognized for their playful pastel colors and vibrant light hues, many of the buildings erected during this time feature exotic geometric statues, architectural symmetry, glass blocks, round porthole windows, curved structural edges and extensive use of neon lighting.
From retro shapes and designs to fabulous colors, the vintage design of Miami’s Art Deco District is a sight for sore eyes.
With historic sites uniquely engineered so their impressive craftsmanship and personality could be praised and preserved, the Art Deco mecca is much more than simply the occasional splash of festive color!
Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is comprised of almost 1,000 buildings and structures, all erected between 1923 and 1943. These are nostalgia-invoking historic sites, with easy-to-spot pastel-hued buildings lining the oceanside.
The Preservation of the Art Deco Area of Miami
The Art Deco area of Miami progressively became the first 20th-century neighborhood recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, but this achievement was no skip in the park. Due to decades of neglect, the Art Deco scene was facing plans for destruction, through possible wholesale demolition.
A courageous woman determined to preserve history founded a non-profit organization to save all the dilapidated local art deco buildings.
Barbara Baer Capitman founded the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976, dedicated to protecting and preserving the overall integrity (not to mention outside appearance) of the Beaches Architectural Historic District.
Thanks to the organization’s hard work and unyielding persistence, intensive restoration and renovations have been completed over the years. The Miami Beach Art Deco District is back to being fantastic and flourishing, just as colorful today as it was decades ago!
Must See Miami Architecture
All of the most significant and famous examples of Miami’s Art Deco style can be found along three parallel streets here in South Florida: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue. As Washington Avenue is more shopping-based, we’ll focus our recommendations for things to do in the Art Deco District of Miami to discovering Art Deco treasures on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue.
Stroll Along Ocean Drive
Walking down Ocean Drive will provide onlookers with the best view of all the shops, bars, hotels and restaurants that brightly line the street. Take a stroll hand in hand with loved ones and enjoy the trip your eyes (and feet) will take you on.
The buildings are adorned with metal rails, chrome accenting, terrazzo floors, and proudly hanging flags from popular ocean liners that anchored at the Port of Miami back in the 1930s.
The must-see sites are endless; however, the hotel culture in Miami is a wonderful representation of the amazingly unique architecture. Some of the most popular buildings to visit in the district are in fact historic hotels. Three of the most famous hotels are listed below and can be found as you walk along Ocean Drive.
- The Carlyle Hotel is the first worthy of a shout-out, as it’s starred in movies such as Scarface, Bad Boys 2 and The Birdcage. The Colony Hotel is one of the most photographed buildings in the area and the Sagamore, a boutique nicknamed the Art Hotel, has been described as the Deco District centerpiece since it’s located smack dab on the beach.
- The Tides is the tallest Art Deco hotel on the strip, and be sure to keep an eye out for The Celino South Beach Hotel, a hip hangout for popular Hollywood celebrities such as Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, and Rita Hayworth.
- The Villa Casa Casuarina was inspired by a famous structure in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic known as Alcazar De Colon. Alden Freeman, the hotel’s original designer and owner, was so taken with the early 16th-century building that he took a brick from the building and incorporated it into the actual architecture of The Villa Casa. Oh, and Gianni Versace owned and lived in it.
Each of these properties is worth a mention, as their oceanfront pastel buildings, filled with historic Miami prestige, tastefully mix retro aesthetics with modern amenities.
Also known as a location where you can see many historic and exciting buildings, Collins Avenue can give you a taste of Miami tradition through several of its more well-known establishments.
- National Hotel still contains some of its original furniture pieces back from the 1940s. Walking through the doors can feel like walking back in time. The designer, Roy France, worked on this hotel around the same time he was creating The St. Moritz, so you may see some similarities between the two.
- Location of the former Hoffman’s Cafeteria: this building has passed through many different hands. It was originally known as Hoffman’s Cafeteria and was designed by Henry Hohauser. Though it bounces from restaurant owner to restaurant owner today, it’s definitely still worth stopping by and taking a peek, maybe even grabbing a bite to eat while you’re at it.
- Sagamore Hotel was designed with a distinctly postmodern feel. It will likely seem slightly different from its surrounding buildings because of this. It’s a hotel, but you can go inside and look around its own personal art gallery!
Take a Tour Around Miami’s Art Deco District
The Art Deco Welcome Center is THE place to visit for all historical and art inspired questions.
If you’ve never been to Miami (or if you just want to learn more about your hip Florida town) this is your first stop. They are known to give away helpful handouts such as maps, pamphlets and expert golden nuggets of knowledge from the local historians onsite.
Daily they offer a variety of tours so that any age group (and even the most introverted of personalities) can comfortably learn more about this magnificently bright district.
The Art Deco Welcome Center is open 7 days a week, providing visiting guests with an extensive array of options from fun-filled activities to informational services:
- Art Deco Walking Tour: The Miami Design Preservation League, which runs the Welcome Center, offers several tours of Miami Beach’s historic infrastructures.
- Self-guided Audio Tour: This do-it-yourself tour lets you view Miami at leisure, turning the streets into a self-explanatory museum. The tour’s offered in 10 languages, allowing anyone to tour Miami’s Art without distractions.
- Ocean Drive and Beyond Tour: Offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, this tour will take you around the district teaching the difference between Miami’s Art Deco influence versus Mediterranean Revival.
- Art Deco District Up-to-Date Tour: Listen up night owls: this tour is for you! Each Thursday, groups depart at 6:30 p.m. to whisk tourists around town, visiting architecturally famous local hot spots along the way.
These wonderful excursions are all around $20 and offer an in-depth look into Miami’s Historical Art Deco architecture. Keep in mind, even if touring doesn’t toot your horn, the Center offers educational lectures, films, and museum exhibits.
The Art Deco District of South Beach Miami Is the Place to Be
Colorful buildings aren’t the only enticing factor about the Art Deco District, you’ll find the people residing here just as vibrant. Miami’s Art District is loaded with fun times, retro scenery, festive local (and fine) art, funky boutiques and antique stores that scream vintage heaven.
As we mentioned, fashion designer extraordinaire Giovanni Versace resided here. He lived in a posh Spanish-style mansion, The Villa Casa Casuarina off Ocean Drive. If a famous designer like Versace deemed Art Deco beautiful enough to be constantly surrounded by, it’s probably worth experiencing the district’s vibrant feel!
Come out and witness the retro artistic style that embodies Miami. Put on those creative shades and look at the fabulously bright culture around you.
You won’t want to miss this.
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