By: Randall C. Robinson Jr.
As America’s one and only 20th-century metropolis, Miami is largely defined by its modern architecture. While the bust of 1926 nearly halted construction in the city just as Art Deco came into fashion, by 1936 a building boom made up for lost time. South Beach quickly filled up with hostelries whimsically designed in a style we know today as Tropical Art Deco. Our unique variation on Mid-century Modern architecture is referred to as Miami Modern or MiMo (my-moe).
Known as the Art Deco District, one of the world’s greatest concentrations of 1930s architecture is home to a vibrant and diverse community. The 800-plus buildings in the square mile bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, 23rd Street, Lenox Court and 6th Street make up the world’s first 20th-century historic district. The best way to see the district is on foot, bicycle or skates. Begin your tour at the Art Deco Welcome Center
A Sampling of The National Register Art Deco District:
Art Deco Welcome Center
1001 Ocean Drive
The Art Deco Welcome Center is operated by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), a citizen-based grass roots organization that has conducted a successful tour program since 1977. MDPL offers guided walking tours every day in the morning, with an additional tour in the evening on Thursdays. In addition, self-guided audio tours of the Art Deco Historic District are offered seven days a week during the Welcome Center’s normal operating hours. Group tours are available by special arrangement. MiMo-on-the-Beach walking tours begin at the Southeast corner of Collins Avenue and 73rd Street in Miami Beach on the first Saturday of every month.
The Celino South Beach
640 Ocean Drive
Designed by Henry Hohauser in 1937, the The Celino South Beach features a terrazzo-patterned floor that catches your eye on the porch and leads you into the long, telescoping lobby, one of the grandest on Ocean Drive. The interior balances historic authenticity with contemporary flair.
736 Ocean Drive
Also designed by the prolific and imaginative Henry Hohauser, this 1935 hotel was one of the first in the Tropical Art Deco style. The lobby features a wealth of mint green Vitrolite and a Deco-style mural over the fireplace.
1400 Ocean Drive
Get the true taste of the late 1930s in the accurately restored and authentically furnished lobby of the Winterhaven Hotel, a 1939 Nautical Deco fantasy by Albert Anis.
Dream South Beach
1111 Collins Ave.
The adjacent Tudor and Palmer hotels, both designed by L. Murray Dixon in 1939, have been meticulously renovated and joined into the Dream Hotel. Along with the Kent Hotel, adjacent to the Palmer House on the north, the three hotels form one of the strongest ensembles in the Art Deco District.
Essex House Hotel
1001 Collins Ave.
The Essex House Hotel is a 1938 Streamline Moderne gem by Henry Hohauser and features a tour-de-force of Deco in the well-maintained lobby, featuring a cinematic mural by a self-taught artist.
901 Collins Ave.
This 1947 apartment hotel is a defining example of the Nautical Moderne style by McKay & Gibbs. Note the continuous horizontal lines sweeping around the rounded corner that rises like the prow of a ship.
801 Collins Ave.
Formerly The Tiffany, with its outsized porthole windows, glass block bands and balancing of horizontal and vertical compositions all done in white, The Hotel, designed by L. Murray Dixon in 1939, is quintessential Tropical Art Deco. The signage finial evokes the dirigible mooring mast originally atop the Empire State Building. Note the porch, appointed in polished keystone, which leads to the side yard garden.
945 Pennsylvania Ave.
Now the Art Deco District Building Museum, this 1936 B. Kingston Hall hotel-turned-community center features original color schemes and an authentically restored lobby.
Jewish Museum of Florida—Florida International University
301 Washington Ave.
In 1936, Henry Hohauser blended Neo-Classical and Tropical Art Deco motifs to create Miami Beach’s second synagogue next to its first, dating from 1928. The 1936 synagogue was converted into the Jewish Museum of Florida in 1993. The conversion retains many of the original features, including the balcony and the bema (altar), while providing space for changing exhibits. Note the Star of David superimposed on the spandrel panels.
The Wolfsonian—Florida International University
1001 Washington Ave.
This former storage facility was designed by Robertson and Patterson in 1927, with two stories added in 1936 by Robert Little. It was converted to a museum between 1987 and 1993 by Mark Hampton. Although the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum of Decorative and Propaganda Arts is housed in a Mediterranean-style storage facility, its period (1885-1945) encompasses and illustrates the emergence of Modernity. The collection is epitomized by the 1929 Art Deco movie theater marquee from Norristown, Pennsylvania, at the rear of the entry hall.
United States Post Office
1300 Washington Ave.
South Beach’s Post Office, designed by Howard L. Cheney in 1937, reflects the austere, classically inspired institutional architecture popular in Europe in the late 1930s. The highlight of the interior is the mural by Charles Hardman depicting the meeting of the Spanish Conquistadors and the Native Americans, the two groups in battle, and the signing of a nominal treaty between the Native Americans and the U.S.
Jerry’s Famous Deli
1450 Collins Ave.
Take a break while taking in the spectacularly restored Art Deco interior of this historic deli designed by Henry Hohauser in 1940.
1501 Collins Ave.
Although Albert Anis’ 1939 Bancroft is now part of the Ocean Steps complex, the lobby has been retained and restored. Note the futuristic glass block cascade fountain by the entrance.
St. Moritz Hotel
1565 Collins Ave.
North of 15th Street, the scale of the hotels jumps to palatial. What were originally oceanfront mansion properties from the 1920s became hotel sites in the late 1930s. Architect Roy France followed the 1939 St. Moritz with a string of beachfront Deco hotels stretching as far north as the Sovereign at 44th Street. Today, the restored St. Moritz serves as part of the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.
Lincoln Road Mall
Between 16th and 17th streets and running east-west from Washington to Lenox avenues
Planned as the “5th Avenue of the South” by pioneer developer Carl Fisher, Lincoln Road features an exceptional collection of Deco commercial buildings as well as Morris Lapidus’ MiMo pedestrian mall of 1959, with its zigzagging and wiggle-woggling follies set amid lush exotic vegetation.
555 Lincoln Road
This high–style 1935 Tropical Art Deco theater, office and retail building by Collins and Lamb once housed one of five movie theaters on Lincoln Road. Today, the theater space is being converted into retail space. Note the luxuriant palm leaf reliefs and the interplay of Beaux Arts vertical details with the horizontal lines of Streamlining.
Lincoln Center Hotel and Shops
630 Lincoln Road/1637 Euclid Ave.
Igor Polevitsky’s urbane style is evident in this 1937 mixed-use building combining retail and a hotel around an elegant courtyard.
927 Lincoln Road
This local landmark is a 1941 Deco-Streamline renovation by V.H. Nellenbogen of a 1920s Mediterranean-style building. At night the glass block façade glows with blue light. The passage to the courtyard is faced in dyed polished keystone and features a classic Tropical Art Deco terrazzo pattern.
1040 Lincoln Road
The Colony Theatre, designed by R.A. Benjamin in 1934, displays the transition between the Mediterranean style of the 1920s and the Tropical Art Deco of the 1930s. Pitched barrel tile roofs are combined with stylized decoration and modern materials such as Vitrolite. The Colony has been converted to a performance space.
1677 Collins Ave.
The lobby of the 1950 Roy France-designed National Hotel is a fine example of blending the old with the new. The interior was authentically restored, but a new reception area was added, while maintaining the period ambience.
1685 Collins Ave.
Robert Swartburg’s Delano Hotel was one of the first hotels built after World War II. It represents the transition from Deco to MiMo. The interior was radically transformed by Philippe Starck in 1994. The new interiors interpreted the Miami Beach tradition of dramatic hotel lobbies for the 1990s.
Ritz Plaza Hotel/SLS South Beach
1701 Collins Ave.
L. Murray Dixon’s 1940 mini Deco skyscraper pierces the sky with a fantasy smokestack. Following a complete renovation of the property, SLS South Beach hotel opened in 2011.
The Raleigh Hotel
1775 Collins Ave.
The Raleigh Hotel features a Cubist façade arrangement, a luxuriant and impeccably maintained lobby, and a spectacular pool in the shape of Sir Walter Raleigh’s coat-of-arms — making this 1940 masterpiece the pinnacle of L. Murray Dixon’s body of work.
Bass Museum of Art
2100 Collins Ave.
Recognized as the first Tropical Art Deco edifice, the building opened in 1930 as the John Collins Memorial Library, designed by Collins’ grandson, Russell Pancoast. Note the triptych of Miami history in the three relief panels over the entry portals. When the library moved out in 1962, the structure became the Bass Museum of Art. Clad entirely of keystone, the original building was restored while a new wing by Arata Isozaki was added in 2001.
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