When visiting the ‘American Riviera’ you’re going to be right in the middle of an Art Deco playground, and the first 20th-century neighborhood to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. After a disastrous hurricane ravaged the area in 1926, South Beach was rebuilt in the chic new style of the 1925 Paris Exposition, and is now home to over 800 Art Deco buildings that hark back to a charming and playful past. If you want to dip into history on a self-guided tour, start with these gems:
If you believe in the ‘Old is Gold’ proverb, be sure to visit the Bass Museum, which is the oldest building in Miami and the finest example of sublime Art Deco architecture. Originally built in 1930 as the Miami Beach Public Library and Arts Center by architect Russell Pancoast, the design has a royal look in its impressive girth and the gorgeous “wings” on either side of the steps. The museum is a true keystone of South Beach architecture, and if this one doesn’t captivate you, nothing will!
Art Deco fans never miss a to visit the Breakwater Hotel. Built by architect Anton Skislewicz in 1936, the hotel bears many of the stylistic qualities of Art Deco design like the strong line and a beautiful emphasis on symmetry. At the same time, it also exhibits a pattern that is essential to the excessive personality of South Beach; copious amounts of neon! At night, the Breakwater’s towering central facade that bears its name lights up like a radioactive sword of blue, orange and white – a must see!
If you’re looking for classic Art Deco, the Colony Theater, which has remained one of South Florida’s most popular entertainment venues since 1935, is your best bet. The theater’s historic features are not only found outside among its perfectly maintained porch and facade, but also in the restored ticket box and the entryway decorated with geometric patterns in the pristine terrazzo flooring. After sightseeing, make sure to catch a performance in the still-working theater, which include music, dance, opera, comedy and film.
Another classic Art Deco building to add to your list is the Jerry’s Famous Deli built by architect Henry Hohauser. The 1939 building has classically enduring designs, a streamlined, nautical style of Art Deco, with a curving frontage and six decorative porthole-esque structures just under the roof edge. But don’t just look around – grab something to eat and take a big bite of history!
Another building designed by Henry Hohauser that will stay in your imagination log after you’ve left South Beach is the Webster, with elaborate tablets and perfect symmetrical shape. Another gem that’s big on the h neon, this building couln’t be a more typical example of South Beach Art Deco. And if you’ve got cash to burn? This former hotel has been converted into a high-end fashion boutique, so you can take home a luxurious souvenier.