Home to more than 800 Art Deco buildings, Miami’s glamorous South Beach is an architectural goldmine of 1930s pastel-colored gems. Its historic Art Deco District is all contained within just one square mile, so it’s easy to explore, too.
Designed in 1939 by Henry Hohauser, credited as one of the principal architects behind the Deco styling of South Beach, The Webster is a classic example of Art Deco architecture in the area. Conforming to Hohauser’s ‘law of three,’ the three-story building is sliced into thirds, with a trio of windows running across its facade. The former hotel has now been transformed into a high-end fashion boutique, with all the luxury designer names you’d expect, from Acne to Lanvin. But you don’t need a pocketful of cash to enjoy it – you can still admire the original polished terrazzo floors, gleaming staircases and pastel-colored decor.
The Carlyle’s muted sea-foam green and crisp white exterior might not be as jazzy as some of the other Art Deco gems on Ocean Drive, but it’s probably one of the most recognizable faces on the strip, thanks to its starring role in movies such as Scarface, Pronto, Bad Boys IIand The Birdcage. Just 100 yards from Gianni Versace’s former mansion, the historic building was designed by the late German architect Richard Kiehnel and opened in 1941. The Carlyle is now a private residential building with condos available for vacation rental.
Another of Hohauser’s Art Deco designs, this 1939 beauty was designed in the distinctive Streamline Moderne style with its ocean liner-inspired curved facade and six decorative porthole windows. It was originally constructed as Hoffman’s Cafeteria before hosting a few ephemeral inhabitants, such as the China Club and Ovo, before it became the Warsaw Ballroom, a popular gay bar. As bohemian Miami became more international, the Warsaw was replaced by a European-style deli known as Jerry’s Famous Deli. The landmark is now resident to Señor Frog’s, a buzzy, fun-filled restaurant that’s ideal if you’re after a party vibe.
A neon-lit beacon of South Beach, The Breakwater’s protruding electric-blue sign lights up the Miami night sky and can be seen from almost anywhere in Lummus Park. A much-loved icon of the neighborhood, The Breakwater was designed in 1936 by Yugoslavian architect Anton Skiskewicz, and sports clean, colorful lines and the archetypal symmetry emblematic of the Art Deco period. The 99-room boutique hotel was extensively renovated in 2011, restoring The Breakwater to its former glory.
Designed by architect RA Benjamin, the Colony Theatre opened its doors in 1935 as a Paramount cinema. Currently, it is one of the most fashionable performing arts venues in South Florida, hosting concerts, comedy acts, dance performances, operas and film festivals. Showcasing bold lines and geometric patterns with neon lights and a pristine terrazzo floor, this 430-seat building has undergone a $6.5 million renovation but maintains all the integrity of its original Art Deco features, including an impressive marquee and ticket box.
This unique post office was designed by Howard Lovewell Cheney in 1937 and is a well-preserved example of Depression Moderne. While the design is relatively understated, look a little closer and you’ll see that the rotunda is topped by a decorative cupola, while an eagle perches just above the doorway’s large, impressive glass panel, which allows light to stream into the lobby. The inside doesn’t disappoint, either, with an impressive starburst ceiling, a central fountain and shiny brass mailboxes. The most prominent feature is a three-paneled 1941 mural painted by Charles Hardman.
Built in 1930 to house the Miami Beach Public Library and Arts Center, the Bass Museum is one of the finest and oldest Art Deco buildings in the city. Architect Russell Pancoast designed the building with an eye towards maintaining the symmetry of the formal gardens in Collins Park. The building’s distinctive facade is made from fossilized Paleolithic coral and decorated with bas-reliefs by Gustav Boland. The carvings depict Spanish conquest, a pelican eating a fish, and cruise ships, boats and planes roaring towards Miami Beach.
Essex House is a great example of Nautical Moderne and another masterpiece by Floridian architect Henry Hohauser. With a prow that seems poised to set sail on the corner of Collins Avenue and 10th Street and a smokestack-style neon sign above, the 1938 building was designed to resemble a landlocked ocean liner. The natty racing stripes that wrap around the building also continue inside the lobby, while a rare mural painted by Earl LaPan sits over the original fireplace. Lapan worked on more than 300 paintings across South Florida, but many of his works were sadly removed or painted over. This one was restored by LaPan himself in the 1980s – it’s rumoured he added an alligator to the painting in the upper left-hand corner.
This three-story building has had many incarnations, most famously as Chris Blackwell’s South Beach Studios in the 1980s, which attracted A-list talent such as Bob Marley and Aerosmith. The 1939 building was designed by another notable architect of the era, L Murray Dixon, and features his trademark ‘eyebrows’ over the windows. The Marlin has recently had a multimillion-dollar makeover, with 33 boutique rooms and suites available.
Just beyond the boundaries of South Beach you’ll find The Cadillac Hotel, designed by Roy F France. The 1940s building was constructed to resemble one of the brand’s premium motors, from its chrome center trim emblazoned with a glistening hood ornament to the car bonnet-style portico over the driveway. It stands proudly as one of the tallest Art Deco buildings on the beach, with prime views from its oceanfront tower. It’s now owned by the Marriott hotel group, but it still retains its Art Deco charm, with terrazzo floors and palm-embossed ceiling adorning the lobby.