As a kid, I remember sitting at our dinner table on a Saturday night, eating a fried chicken TV dinner with the little apple cobbler dessert,(Remember that? My favorite part!) with my Mom and Dad intently watching the television as the camera floated over the blue waters and up onto the white sands of South Beach. That familiar voice would say “Live! From Miami Beach…it’s the Jackie Gleason Show!” That was my first awareness of Miami Beach, Florida.
In the 1980’s, it was Don Johnson running around chasing thugs and drug lords through delapidated old building ruins, and Scarface machine gunning everybody who dared to linger on the streets in the wrong neighborhood. By the late 1990s, things had changed and the beautiful people moved in. What was once a run down section of town flourished, and it has become a major destination for the wealthy. Robin Williams starred in the movie “The Bird Cage,” giving us a glimpse of the new South Beach, a hip stretch of oceanfront lined with restaurants, shops, night clubs, and hotels.
It’s a wide, four mile stretch of warm, clear Atlantic waters with soft, white sands, palm trees, and manmade skyscrapers right along the coastline. It’s easy to spend a day here surfing, swimming, riding jet skis, or lounging under an umbrella.
Every lifeguard stand is uniquely designed, and painted in different colors all along the shoreline, giving it all a bit of whimsy.
Amazingly, this entire beach is manmade. Originally, this area was covered with mangroves, and was developed by a rich car racer who saw the potential for a vacation area for the wealthy. In 1926, the level five Miami Hurricane came through and devasted the entire Miami shoreline completely destroying South Beach. The Great Depression took place right after that, causing a severe worldwide economic depression through the 1930’s. There was no money to rebuild.
As the economy started to turn, people were looking to move ahead, turning away from the depression and towards something new and modern to forget the woes of the prior years. In 1925, an International Decorative Arts and Modern Industry exhibition in Paris was showing the world the future of what was to come. It was fresh; it was new; it was modern. The designs had a strong vertical down the center with symmetrical horizontals on each side. There were strong horizontal design elements (called eyebrows) which provided shade over windows. Visually, you could fold these buildings in half, like a book, and they would be identical. There were strong verticals with curls at the top symbolizing frozen fountains. There were gentle waves taken from Egyptian styling. Many years later, this style would come to be called Art Deco.
Between 1923 and 1946, South Beach was ready to be rebuilt, done in this new style, adapted from the influences at the Paris Exhibition. Because this was the tropics, there were slight modifications…Art Deco styling with a twist of nautical tropical to reflect the feeling of South Beach. Added were the circular windows of port holes and tubular railings from ships, and rolling waves like the ocean.
All along Ocean Drive, the main street that parallels the beach, is the largest collection of Art Deco Buildings in the world that remains today…over 800 buildings, with an additional 400 historically significant others stand within a seven square mile area. Walking down Ocean Drive is like walking back in time into the 1930’s.
These cupcake boutique buildings are simple concrete and stucco with cosmetic decorations to create the Art Deco nautical tropical feel. Here are a few of the amazing buildings you’ll see with the Beach on one side of the street, and these adorable three story buildings on the other.
If you love art, and architecture, come to South Beach and see these amazing buildings. Strolling down these streets will take you back to a time in our history which doesn’t exist anywhere like it does here.