If you love Art Deco architecture then Miami should be on your bucket list. Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue are saturated with some of the finest examples of Mediterranean Revival (1910s – 1920s), Art Deco (1920s – 1940s), and MiMo (1940s-1960s) style buildings. These buildings are still standing thanks to the efforts of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). Whilst the society focuses on the tangible heritage, that is preserving the physical structures of the building, what they have also achieved is the continuance of intangible stories. Heritage interpretation in the form of guided tours and self-guided audio tours were readily available for individuals wishing to explore the gems of the beach.
The history of the MDPL has been summarized into a timeline available on their website:
Highlights include the formation of the MDPL in 1976 by Barbara Capitman, Leonard Horowitz, and Lillian Barber. Their efforts identifying and preserving 1910-1960 architecture in Miami led to the development of the Art Deco Historic District. In 1979, the District was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the first entry from Florida.
We decided to explore the Art Deco district beginning at the Museum located in the Art Deco Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach). It showcases Art Deco clothing, furniture, films, and ‘vacationing to Florida’ paraphernalia. The part of the museum I found most useful was the thematic panels explaining the difference in architectural styles. It equipped me with the knowledge for some proper building spotting.
Following the museum we opted for the self-guided audio tour. Starting at the welcome center, the tour takes you on a one-hour journey of the District. What’s nice about this tour is that it really explores the history of the MDPL, its vision, and how this vision has developed over time. It was a mix of history and architecture so it covers a wide range of interests.
Highlights of the tour included learning about the transformation of Miami into a tourism hot spot. It is estimated around 2000 hotels were built in the three styles mentioned above to accommodate a plethora of winter vacationers in the early 20th century. Considering a large portion of the country is currently experiencing snowy weather, it is not difficult to see why a trip to Miami is a welcome break from the cold!
Right at the end of the tour is a little in memorium to Capitman and Horowitz. Horowitz summed up the Art Deco district nicely stating it brings the convenience of the 80s with the beauty of the 30s. The MDPL has done some fantastic work here in Miami restoring these buildings to their former glory.
Why is it so important to preserve this tangible heritage? Its a very loaded question and different individuals would have very different answers. For me, Miami could have easily turned into somewhere like the Gold Coast in Queensland. High rise buildings everywhere broaching on the beachfront. Instead, you walk down a street filled with the buildings of the past and you can imagine what Miami might have been like decades ago. When you start imagining you start asking questions and when you start asking questions you start looking for answers. There is something truly special about walking down Ocean Drive and seeing the Miami of old mixed with the Miami of new.