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Miami: Five of the city’s best Deco delights
Miami’s South Beach claims the biggest and best collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, luring design-loving visitors to its pretty-in-pastels oceanfront.
As a metropolis built entirely in the 20th century, Miami has been synonymous with Art Deco since the mid-1920s when both the city and the architectural style began to flourish. Most Art Deco structures were built during the 1930s and 40s and are characterised by their curved edges, neon lighting, stepped rooflines, porthole windows and overall symmetry. Tropical influences – which led to the Miami movement being labelled Tropical Deco – are apparent too, in the form of sorbet colours, aquatic embellishments, and design elements similar to those found on great ocean liners.
Occupying the majority of Miami Beach between 6th Street and Dade Boulevard, the Art Deco Historic District is one of the most important concentrations of 1930s and 40s architecture in the world. With more than 900 historic buildings, the best areas to explore are the boutique hotels of Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue and the commercial strips of Washington Avenue and Lincoln Road. The whole district is easily walkable, and the Miami Design Preservation League run 90-minute tours at 10.30am every day – easily the best way for aficionados to learn more.
Alternatively, take a self-guided audio tour and stroll along at your own pace. Here’s five of our favourite Miami masterpieces to look out for along the way.
An Art Deco landmark with a prime location on Lincoln Road, the Colony Theatre first opened its doors in January 1935 as part of the Paramount chain. By the end of the century the venue had fallen into disrepair, but re-emerged as a 415-seat performing arts space after the completion of a $6.5million, three-year renovation in 2006. Highlights of the restoration include the lobby and its murals, and the entrance and façade which were repositioned to face Lincoln Road.
Essex House Hotel
Peach-and-white striped Essex House is a 1938 gem by famed South Beach architect Henry Hohauser and one of the best examples of the Streamline Moderne style in the city. Featuring all the typical deco characteristics –portholes on the upper floor, ‘eyebrows’ above the windows to provide shade, a neon tower, seamless rounded corners – its well-preserved exterior is a South Beach classic.
Miami Beach Post Office
With a central circular cupola and single storey wings, the Miami Beach Post Office on Washington Avenue is more austere than many of its neighbours. Designed in 1937 in a pared-back Art Moderne style, the lack of external detail contrasts with the interior lobby, where highlights include a fountain, painted ceiling and three-panel mural depicting historic Florida battle scenes.
With its sweeping curves and imposing vertical shafts above the entrance, the Carlyle has long been one of the most recognisable buildings on Ocean Drive. Designed by influential architectural firm Kiehnel & Elliot in 1941, the hotel’s virtually unchanged façade remains a sought-after backdrop for photo shoots and location scouts, having starred in numerous ads, tv shows and movies such as Scarface and The Birdcage.
Sitting between the Crescent and Ocean Plaza, the painstakingly preserved McAlpin is one of a trio of similar hotels on this particular block of Ocean Drive. Like both its neighbours, the meticulous styling brings an effortless simplicity to the overall design, but the combination of perfect symmetry, clean lines and pink and turquoise accents edges the McAlpin just in front.
by Maxine Sheppard