Hotels and Motels, Places

Early Art Deco Scenes from Miami Beach

The Berkeley Hotel via the Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress

Miami Beach was incorporated in 1915 after John Collins and his partners had spent some time in the area developing land for crops. As Collins and friends worked the land and built canals to get their avocados, etc. to market, the potential for a beach resort became more and more obvious. The partners and their investors  built the first hotel in 1915 and began the promotion of the area as a resort for wealthy northerners who wanted to escape. Several hotels were built and the resort idea was a success.

Until the hurricane of 1926 brought everything to a halt.

After the hurricane, Miami Beach struggled to rebuild. It wasn’t until the 1930s, a few years after the 1929 stock market crash, that things started to get back on track. Promotion of the beach resort started again as investors funded dozens of small-scale hotels, restaurants, apartments and rooming houses, many of them in the Art Deco design style. It was a was a simpler design style, a more modern answer to the excesses of the Victorian era of design that came before it. And it arrived just in time to turn the blank slate of Miami Beach into a destination of modern elegance. This Art Deco district has had downturns over the years, but with some help it endured and thrives even today.

Postcard scenes from the  1930s and 1940s Art Deco District of Miami Beach:

The Churchill Apartment Hotel


Hotel Granada


Hoffman’s Cafeteria


The Hotel Chesterfield


The Shelby


The Belmont

It was the 60s and 70s when things turned again for the area. It had become rundown, neglected and some even say the Art Deco neighborhood was dangerous. In 1976, Barbara Capitman, a new resident to Miami Beach at the time, became obsessed with the dilapidated buildings and crumbling neighborhood. It didn’t take too long for her to find other residents, tourists and designers that felt the same. Together, they founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL).  Thank goodness. Their mission was to save these historic structures from neglect, fire and demolition. The MDPL is responsible for making sure the Art Deco District of Miami Beach got on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979. Once again, thanks to the MDPL, the area was on the rise. This time much of it would be known as South Beach. The MDPL started Art Deco Weekends in 1977 to bring residents and tourists to the district for a couple of days of events. In 2018, there were 85 events for visitors to take part in – it’s still going strong.

U.S. Highway 41’s southern terminus is Miami Beach. As a U.S. Highway-obsessed lover of architecture, architect’s wife for Pete’s sake, AND a Florida fanatic, I’m ashamed to say I have never seen these dreamy places in person.  I’ve been mere blocks from the Art Deco district (MERE BLOCKS!)) and missed it completely. It’s a shame……more like shameful, really. But a terrific excuse for another road trip don’t you think?

Sources and further reading:

Miami Beach Art Deco at The Library of Congress
100-year story of Miami Beach – Miami Herald, March 21, 2015
Miami Design Preservation League
Art Deco – Flashback Miami