It’s nearly impossible for me to travel and sit still. A “relaxing weekend away” is difficult because I love to explore—I love the adventure side of traveling to new places. If I want to sit, I have a couch at home.
Not that I’m a snob about it. For some people, that’s the recipe for a perfect vacation. Still, for me there is just a finite amount of time that I can lounge before I’m thinking about when I might ever get back to wherever I am, and then before you know it I’m clamoring about for things to see, places to go, and foods to try.
That is how I found myself on an unofficial Art Deco Tour of Miami Beach.
The tour covers, probably a 10-block radius of Miami Beach, and runs just over two and half hours. It starts with an overview of the city and its history. I loved hearing about the Miami connection to the mafia. Apparently its not all Boardwalk Empire fiction that Florida, and Miami especially, was popular because the ports allowed mafia to import alcohol and then transport it North. Unfortunately, in 1926 the Great Hurricane destroyed a huge part of the city. The mob, as it was explained, had a significant hand in Miami’s redevelopment. They funneled money into hotels but that alone wasn’t enough return on investment. The result? Many of the old, art deco hotels had secret gambling rooms where the ROI was at its peak.
A little history on Art Deco “Miami Style”*:
In the United States, Art Deco was a modern form of architecture inspired by early 20th Century design styles like Cubism, French Art Deco, Dutch de Stijl and others. But the actual term “Art Deco” wasn’t used until the much later, in the 1980’s, when interest in the style was renewed.
In Miami “Art Deco” is synonymous with lots of pastel colors (as seen on the 80’s hit show Miami Vice). But I learned that’s a bit of a myth. During scouting trips, the crew painted many Miami Beach buildings so they would look better on television. Real art deco colors are muted, more white, beige and grey—the design relies on machine or industrial forms. Art deco came to life after “Black Friday” (no, not the annual day-after Thanksgiving shopping splurge, but the market plunge) and the onset of World War II. Architects used machine or industrial forms of design to inspire people and underscore that things would get better despite how it felt at the moment.
Pillars of Art Deco. You can identify if something is “Art Deco” in Miami by looking for some of these key design characteristics
- Ziggurat (that means “stepped) roof lines
- Elements in groups of three
- Terrazzo floors
summarized from Miami Design Preservation League’s website (and my unofficial Art Deco tour)
*Although artists and art lovers will find flaws in this, my theory is that Art Deco has many off-shoots and Miami Style is just one. The tour offered great exposure to this while also a lot of history about Miami Beach.
My tour was booked through the James Royal Palm for $30.00 (tips are encouraged at the end). You can book your own online. My guide was a longtime Miami resident who was fantastic. If you don’t want to leave Miami Beach, or just want something interesting to do for a few hours, I highly recommend this.