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Deco Miami Beach


Barbara Capitman and Leonard Horowitz visited South Miami Beach in the mid-seventies and discovered a forgotten treasure trove of American architecture. Nestled on the narrow strip of land between the two beaches were hundreds of significant but decaying buildings. Among these was a number of structures built primarily in the 1930's and 1940's in the style known as Moderne or Art Deco.

The principal architects of Deco South Beach, Henry Hohauser and L. Murray Dixon, shared with their peers a design palette featuring streamlined curves, jutting towers, window "eyebrows," and neon. Smaller, cheaper to build, and less ostentatious than edifices like Carl Fisher's Flamingo, the South Beach Deco buildings seemed perfectly suited to a city created for sun, sand, and relaxation.

As the years passed, many of the Deco marvels fell to the wrecking ball or languished in disrepair. But in 1979, Capitman, Horowitz, and the organization they helped found, the Miami Design Preservation League, worked with other preservationists to win National Register Designation for a one-square mile area of South Beach that became known as the Art Deco District. Subsequently, many of the Deco buildings were restored.

Photograph of The Breakwater HotelThe Breakwater Hotel (Anton Skislewicz, 1939) Neon signs effectively announced a hotel's presence to weary travelers. The cobalt blue of the Breakwater's neon conjures the colors of the sea.

The Senator Hotel (L. Murray Dixon, 1939) Developers tried to tear down the Senator and build a parking garage, but public protests won the building a temporary stay of execution.

The Collins Park Hotel (Henry Hohauser, 1939) The glass entryway, rounded corners, window eyebrows, and "modern" look mark a dramatic break from the Mediterranean style of many earlier Miami Beach hotels.

Photograph of the SurfcomberThe Surfcomber (McKay & Gibbs, 1948) This building's squared eyebrows look forward to a newer style. Leonard Horowitz updated the exteriors of many of the South Beach Deco buildings with a confectionary pastel paint scheme.

The Essex House Hotel (Henry Hohauser, 1938) The porthole windows and smokestack-like neon tower give this building the fantastic air of a landlocked ocean liner.

Photograph of the Cavalier HotelThe Cavalier Hotel (Roy F. France, 1936) More serious and less "Moderne," the Cavalier seems a closer relation to Carl Fisher's Flamingo than to the funky, streamlined works of Hohauser and Dixon.

The Shelborne (Igor B. Polevitsky, 1954) Built later and larger than most of its South Beach cousins, the Shelborne lacks the curves of earlier works but recalls them in its signage. Characteristic window eyebrows remain.

Photograph or the Century HotelThe Century Hotel (Henry Hohauser, 1939) Slightly battered and stripped of its neon, the tiny Century survives. Tourist and development pressure threatens to overwhelm the remaining Deco buildings in South Beach.

The Tyler Hotel (Albert Anis, 1940) Echoing the streamlined prows of trains, ships, and automobiles, many of the Deco buildings seem poised to take motion.



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