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Art Deco galore in South Beach

If you have an interest in Art Deco design, South Beach Miami has a treasure trove of historic buildings to see.

Recently I had a chance to take an Art Deco tour in South Beach, hosted by Christine Michaels of Art Deco Tours.  We were a small group–only six-so it was possible to get into buildings that couldn’t accommodate larger tours and I got to ask all my questions.

Art Deco originated in the 1920s in Paris at the  World Expo, although the style didn’t get its name until the 1960s.  The Art Deco buildings in South Beach were mostly built in the 1930s.

To some extent, the fairly simple design was a reaction to the excesses of the Mediterranean buildings popular at the time.

 South Beach went through an up and down history, with many of the gorgeous structures destroyed in urban renewal.  Fortunately in the 1970s, Barbara Capitman waged an all out war to save them.  She was successful and we can enjoy them today.

 So, what’s the big deal about Art Deco and how can you tell if you are looking at an Art Deco building?


First of all, the underlying themes are streamline, motion and luxury.

Typically the buildings are symmetrical with sections of threes.  They often have cantilevered eyebrows over the windows, providing important shade at the time of no air conditioning.  Frozen fountains, or large decorative panels designed to mimic the idea of fountains, thought to be the height of luxury are often seen in historic Art Deco decor.



 Sometimes you see nautical features like the round windows and many international themes.   According to our knowledgable guide, “Art Deco borrowed from international motifs including Egyptian ziggurat (also known today as zigzag) after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Art Deco also used Mayan and Aztec Indian symbolism. Miami was feeling quite worldly at this point”.

I loved seeing it all.  I also loved the fact that many of the hotels are furnished in the Art Deco Style with some including original light fixtures and furnishings.


When you go into an Art Deco building here it is important to look down at the terrazzo floors. They were designed with gorgeous patterns and colors but very practical. They could withstand flooding of salt water which happened frequently in the early years.

A building that particularly interested me include the Commodore, because the automotive inspired medallions are supposed to have stimulated Jean-Paul Gaultier to create Madonna’s famous bra.   I also liked the Cadet  Hotel because Clark Gable was stationed there during W.W. II.


The Hotel Victor broke the rule of symmetry but demonstrates the use of portholes, which get larger in later buildings. They are another sign of luxury, referencing the grand ocean liners of the time.  I also found the Post Office to be interesting.  It is known as Depression Deco because of its lack of embellishments.

 And finally a building in the process of being restored stopped us in our tracks.  Clearly the regulations require leaving the facades alone.


Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Mar 27, 2012 Reply

    Interesting – I like that this blog teaches me something new about both southern Florida and art deco – thanks!

    • posted by
      Mar 27, 2012 Reply

      Thanks, Kate, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. 

  2. posted by
    Mar 27, 2012 Reply

    Enjoyed info on art deco–never heard of it before. I like the simplicity and simple lines, so interesting

  3. posted by
    Mar 27, 2012 Reply

    Took that same tour last year -loved it!
    Thanks go another look, Susan.

  4. posted by
    Mar 28, 2012 Reply

    Fun to read about South Beach architecture.  Unfortunately, the Mediterranean look has creeped back into Florida architecture.
    Maybe there will be another rebellion.

  5. posted by
    New World Center in South Beach Looks to the Future | DesignDestinations
    Apr 2, 2012 Reply

    […] But after seeing a huge white shoebox  on the site on my map, I realized, “Hmmm, this is it.”  Not what I expected.  Not from Frank Gehry and not in Art Deco land in South Beach.   […]

  6. posted by
    Apr 6, 2012 Reply

    Susan, I love South Beach. Fantastic photos. It’s my pleasure to add some of your stories and to tell my travel flock out your work. Most special and wonderful.
    World Travel List/Trip Rambler

  7. posted by
    Miami on my Mind | DesignDestinations
    Apr 9, 2012 Reply

    […] Here’s a few of the photo highlights of my three day visit encompassing the wildness and total banality of this sliver of a space on the Atlantic ocean.First, the Art Deco hotels and homes are definitely work a look see.  In fact, take a tour.  Read about one here. […]

  8. posted by
    Call Fashionistias. Don’t miss Gaultier exhibit. | DesignDestinations
    Jul 21, 2012 Reply

    […] But the clothes. Wow.  The “underwear as outerwear” theme that Gaultier started with this iconic bra for Madonna is on display along with a number of other pieces in this theme.  Made me think about the hotel in South Beach that claims to be the inspiration.  (Click here for that post). […]

  9. posted by
    Don’t Miss Eataly in Chicago | DesignDestinations
    Feb 24, 2014 Reply

    […] Architecture Foundation has a terrific downtown walking tour. It is a different experience than a Deco tour in Miami (click here to read about) but well worth doing if this era of design interests […]

  10. posted by
    Art Deco | The French: Myths and Realities
    Nov 5, 2014 Reply

    […] Skyline” and “Where the Password is Deco“. For influences in Miami, see “Art Deco Galor in South Beach” […]

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