Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Miami Beach Art Deco

By Claire

We left Miami this morning and headed to Miami Beach-- a separate city, not just some sandy appendage of the metropolis across the bay.  SoBe, or South Beach, is the heart of Miami Beach. It's the American Riveria, funky and eclectic and hip and young and eccentric and historic. Its residents are artists and writers and models and musicians.  I loved it.  Arriving early, we wandered around the main drag and Ocean Drive, where our Art Deco walking tour would begin.  We had been told to allow at least 1-1/2 hours for the 25 mile drive across town, due to the vagaries of Miami commute traffic.

Ocean Drive

The beach is amazing--huge, white and scattered with cabañas.  The water is a beautiful aqua.

Cute lifeguard station

Uh oh, is Dexter nearby?

Even the Miami Police Department is housed in a nice building

Our tour began inside the Miami Design and Preservation League Building. This is a Mid-century Modern, or Miami Modern, as they call it.

Directly behind it, is the Beach Patrol Headquarters.  It was designed to resemble a cruise ship.

Our guide, Kenn Finkle, told us that Miami Beach used to be referred to as "God's Waiting Room" because everyone was old.  He remembers his grandmother sitting on a webbed beach chair on the porch of her hotel, along with a number of other old ladies.  After they all died off (that's what he said), younger people began coming and the whole area changed. The area went through many stages and eventually fell to ruin during the sixties when drugs were sold everywhere and many of the old hotels were vandalized and nearly destroyed. 

Barbara Capitman became a preservationist in 1975 as a means of making new friends after the death of her husband, William, at 53.  Within four years, despite opposition by the Miami Beach city manager and Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Capitman and her Design Preservation League won listing of the mile-square district on the National Register of Historic Places, providing federal tax incentives for restoration. The area is the only district with 20th-Century architecture in the register.
This Mediterranean Revival-style Edison Hotel is where Clark Gable was billetted during WWII.  They had to keep moving him around because he was being bombarded by autograph seekers.

This all white Art Deco style is what all the buildings were until the eighties. Note the "eyebrows" over the windows.  The term "art deco" was coined in 1966, after an exhibition in Paris, 'Les Années 25,' sub-titled Art Deco, celebrating the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts) in Paris that was the culmination of style moderne. 

An example of the marquee style--The Congress Hotel

Detail from The Congress Hotel

Another formerly all white building--it wouldn't sell so they "spruced" it up with a touch of blue. But, it is still on the market. Interested in a condo unit for a million bucks?

Porthole style with curves

Gianni Versace's house. The Italian designer was gunned down on the steps of his mansion, the only privately owned residence on Ocean Drive.  It is the 3rd most photographed private residence in the U.S., after The White House and Graceland.  It now houses a restaurant on the ground floor.

A mix of Miami Beach styles

Hotel Victor is one of the most celebrated and revered of all South Beach resorts since it's original opening in 1937.  The historic hotel's origins date back to the work of famed French designer Jacques Garcia, an artist whose striking creation of the gorgeous Parisian hotel known as Hotel Costes gained renown for him overseas.

The first scene in the first episode of Miami Vice was filmed in front of this hotel, The Carlyle.

Lummus Park, where Sonny Crockett chased down some bad guys--directly across from the Hotel Carlyle.

1939 Cardozo Hotel, where Frank Sinatra filmed "A Hole in the Head."  The hotel is named after Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.  "Owned by International Superstar Gloria Estefan and her Grammy Award winning producer–husband, Emilio, this prestigious hotel possesses the couple’s flair, pizzazz, and multi-cultural ambience." 

Tallest building in the area
I guess it's easier than paint

Parking Garage
Nice cars

I'm trying to imagine this all white

Our guide referred to this as a "monstrosity."  The regulation about new buildings is that--though they need not copy adjacent buildings--they should not conflict with them.  This structure seems to flout that rule.

Love the curves and eyebrows

Designed by Henry Hohauser and built in 1938, the Essex House Hotel and Suites Miami Beach is said to be one of Hohauser's best designs. The hotel has been painted to bring out its nautical modern quality.

The rules of restoration in Miami Beach refer only to the outside appearance of buildings; owners are permitted to do pretty much what they please with the interiors.  I suspect this is a general rule, as we have encountered this in other locations on the trip.  This makes sense; otherwise it would be even more difficult to re-purpose and revitalize the buildings for modern clients and guests who have come to expect amenities not originally available--air conditioning, for example.  Otherwise, the buildings would likely be destroyed and lost. 

Inside Essex House.  Those mail slots sure would come in handy for absentee ballots.

Note the lobby's original fireplace and mural of the Everglades from the thirties by Earl LaPan.  And therein lies a story.  When he originally did the mural, tourists were so unaware of Miami Beach, confusing it with the Everglades, that they believed alligators cruised the streets at night, eating the unaware.  So, the owners insisted that this Everglades scene contain none of these exotic creatures.  Wanting the commission, LaPan reluctantly agreed.  After many years, hard times and significant deterioration, new owners heard the artist was still alive and wanted him to restore the work.  He had one stipulation:  That they let him include his alligator.  He was thrilled at this opportunity to complete the painting as it was intended 50 years after the fact.  He died 3 years later.  If you look very closely, above the rear of the canoe, where the water meets the land, you can just barely make out a dark squiggle--that is the alligator. 

Our tour went beyond 2 hours and we were hungry.  We found a café nearby and both opted for the tamale casserole which turned out to be more of a soup with white rice and plantains.  Outstanding!

We heard reports of Hurricane Sandy heading for the east coast of Miami.  Our next destination is in the Keys so we were concerned.  I checked weather reports and contacted our condo in Key Colony, but no one seemed particularly worried and the weather reports are mostly for a tropical storm with some wind and rain.  It was 88º so it isn't anything like a winter storm.  We decided to go ahead.  Unfortunately, after the stress of getting out of Miami--the traffic is murder--we saw a large digital sign warning us of a major crash about 40 miles ahead in the Keys.  Sure enough, the traffic eventually came to a standstill and stretched as far as the eye could see.  It probably delayed us an hour, and we finally came upon an enormous motor home that had crashed and burned.  We don't know what happened, and just hope the people inside made it out safely.

We did finally arrive at the Continental Inn, our vacation spot for a few days.  Each of the units is privately owned and ours is very nice. The bathroom and kitchen are quite new.  We were delighted to be greeted by a Welcome Bag of starter items, including coffee, trail bars, salt and pepper and two bottles of water.  It has a complete kitchen with eating area, a living area with sofa and chair, and a sleeping area with a king size bed.  We overlook the pool.  The best part is that with our AAA card $10 discount and fall prices, it's only $85 per night!  We plan to enjoy ourselves and ride out the storm.  After all, if we survived Le Mistral in Provence in a camper, we can surely weather this.  I just hope we don't lose power.  At least I have my Kindle and my reading light.  We certainly won't freeze.  The low tonight will be 79º.

You know what they say about architecture, it's like frozen music.  ~  Izzy Moreno (from Miami Vice)