As most folks know, the Miami metropolitan area has a large collection of landmark Art Deco architecture. Most of these iconic buildings are beachfront hotels, but some of them are residential. A confluence of events lead to this concentrated grouping of now world-famous architecture—none of it would have happened without a potent combination of catastrophe, developers, vacationers, and one smart, visionary woman.
Knowing a little about the history and background of Miami's Deco buildings and why Art Deco architecture is distinctive isn't just a matter of civic pride—it's practical, especially to someone living in an historic building. Having the right ideas of what to expect when you undertake efforts at preservation, alterations, and maintenance/repairs for such landmarks could save you a lot of time and hassle.
Tragedy to Triumph
The hurricane of September 1926 in Miami Beach killed hundreds of people, demolished the city and led to a building boom that lasted for many years afterward. The Great Depression, many empty lots in South Beach and the style and interests of the visitors to the area all played a part in its reformation. The rebuilding focused primarily on recreating the resort community, but in a very new style. That style—which those early architects and developers called Modern—came out of the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Artes Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. From that long name came the much more manageable 'Art Deco,' the name by which this style has been known for generations.
According to Jeff Donnelly, public historian for the Miami Design Preservation League, the essence of Modern design and architecture was its breaking away from Neoclassical flourishes and moving toward more abstract decorative elements, with modern facades that were not as representational.
The Beaux Arts design and architectural training of many of the architects who built Miami’s earlier buildings is evident in their obvious dedication to symmetry, Donnelly continues. “They brought that design criteria to their modern designs,” he says. In metro Miami, there are two basic types of Deco buildings: 2- or 3-story buildings made of concrete block covered in stucco; and 5- or 6-story buildings made of poured reinforced concrete, also stuccoed. The Flamingo Park neighborhood and Euclid Avenue are both hotspots for this architecture.