Miami Beach Art Deco Area Celebrates History

At the Art Deco Fair held recently along Ocean Drive, crowds gathered to eyeball pastel-colored buildings with rounded corners, neon and glass--funky architecture with people to match.

It was an event that featured impromptu dancing in the fashion of the '20s, '30s and '40s.

Now the Miami Design Preservation League is planning the next three-day fair, beginning Jan. 15. At the recent celebration, bands played while street dancers did the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Peabody and the Fandango.

Nostalgia reigned supreme along the boardwalk.

Neon flamingos of yesteryear wore price tags, as did little tin boxes of the style mother once stored her sewing buttons in, as well as belongings of mine that she urged me to discard as junk--all changing hands for a few dollar bills.

Stars of the TV show "Miami Vice" shared hot dogs and Greek souvlakia with friends along the festive boulevard, and even 80-year-old Cab Calloway put in an appearance.

With the beat, the crowd fell into the mood of an earlier era. Costumed revelers dined on ethnic foods served along the boulevard for this special happening.

Hotels, stores and restaurants embraced the Art Deco theme by remodeling to the tune of more than $10 million. One of these was the Palace Group, which bought the historically rich 1200 block of Ocean Drive and other areas. Already they operate three properties--the Carlyle, the Leslie and the Cavalier--under the banner, the Art Deco Hotels. Another, the Cardoza, is scheduled for a summer opening. Eventually the Palace people intend to do business at eight hotels, including the 10-story Senator on Collins Avenue a block away.

Other refurbished Art Deco hotels operating along Ocean Drive include the Waldorf Tower and the Edison.

Ernest Martin, board chairman of the Miami Design Preservation League, which sponsors the fairs, seemed overwhelmed by the crowds that gathered for the Art Deco doings.

As a fledgling organization 10 years ago, it had only a handful of dedicated members--all on the outer fringes of modern Miami, sounding a lonely voice to preserve the city's Art Deco monuments.

Miami Beach, they pleaded, was where flamboyant architects went out on a limb to create avant-garde buildings that now enjoy worldwide acclaim.

While Art Deco styles are seen throughout American theater houses, Miami Beach is involved in a project that encompasses some 650 buildings in its Art Deco District, an area that's listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Last July the Miami Beach municipality passed a Historic Preservation Ordinance and named two specific areas for preservation: lower Collins Avenue from 5th Street to 16th Street, including Ocean Drive paralleling the Atlantic Ocean, and all of Espanola Way.

The Art Deco movement began in the late 1920s and is expressed by the graceful curvilinear lines with motifs of fountains, nudes and flora. Several years later, Art Moderne, influenced by the futurism of three World Fairs of the '30s, made an impact.

Architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan blended Cubism, Futurism and Expressionism to create a distinctive American style.

The majority of the architects whose works are now preserved had little formal training. Instead, they introduced an exuberant style that was recognized and applauded from New York to San Francisco.

Six architectural firms in Florida were responsible for the majority of the Miami Beach buildings that are being preserved. Most of the structures are highly styled configurations ranging from Mediterranean villas to ocean-liner simulations.

The whole prodigious output took shape during the period after the great hurricane of 1926 and throughout the Depression years.

Next year's celebration promises to set new attendance records, what with still more Art Deco hotels and other structures, revitalized and functioning.

For more information on the Fair, contact the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, 4770 Biscayne Blvd., Penthouse A, Miami, Fla. 33137; phone (305) 573-4300.

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