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Miami: Five of the city’s best Deco delights

By: Maxine Sheppard

September 1, 2015

Ocean Drive © Nathan Forget.png

Ocean Drive, Miami © Nathan Forget

Miami’s South Beach claims the biggest and best collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, luring visitors from around the world to its pretty-in-pastels oceanfront.

As a metropolis built entirely in the 20th century, Miami has been synonymous with Art Deco since the mid-1920s when both the city and the architectural style began to flourish. Most Art Deco structures were built during the 1930s and 1940s and are characterised by their curved edges, neon lighting, stepped rooflines, porthole windows and overall symmetry. Tropical influences – which led to the Miami movement being labelled Tropical Deco – are apparent too, in the form of sorbet colours, aquatic embellishments, and design elements similar to those found on great ocean liners.

Occupying the majority of Miami Beach between 6th and 23rd streets, the Art Deco Historic District is one of the most important concentrations of 30s and 40s architecture in the world. With 960 historic buildings, the best areas to explore are the boutique hotels of Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue and the commercial strips of Washington Avenue and Lincoln Road. The whole district is easily walkable, and the Miami Design Preservation League run 90-minute tours at 10.30am every day – easily the best way for aficionados to learn more.

Alternatively, take a self-guided audio tour and stroll along at your own pace. Here’s five of our favourite Miami masterpieces to look out for along the way”¦

Colony Theatre

Colony Theatre Miami © Fresh Meat Productions on Flickr.jpg

Colony Theatre © Fresh Meat Productions

An Art Deco landmark with a prime location on Lincoln Road, the Colony Theatre first opened its doors in January 1935 as part of the Paramount chain. By the end of the century the venue had fallen into disrepair, but re-emerged as a 415-seater performing arts space after the completion of a $6.5million, three-year renovation in 2006. Highlights of the restoration include the lobby and its murals, all flooring, and the entrance and façade which were repositioned to face Lincoln Road.

Essex House Hotel

Essex House © Martin Hearn on Flickr.jpg

Essex House Hotel © Martin Hearn

Peach-and-white striped Essex House is a 1938 gem by famed South Beach architect Henry Hohauser and one of the best examples of Streamline Moderne in the city. Featuring all the typical deco characteristics – portholes on the upper floor, “˜eyebrows’ above the windows to provide shade, a neon tower, seamless rounded corners – its well-preserved exterior is a South Beach classic.

Miami Beach Post Office

Miami Beach Post Office © Phillip Pessar on Flickr.jpg

Miami Beach Post Office © Phillip Pessar

With a central circular cupola and single storey wings, the Miami Beach Post Office on Washington Avenue is more austere than many of its neighbours. Designed in 1937 in a pared-back Art Moderne style, the lack of external detail contrasts with the interior lobby where highlights include a fountain, painted ceiling and three-panel mural depicting historic Florida battle scenes.

The Carlyle

The Carlyle © Ann Baekken on Flickr.jpg

The Carlyle © Ann Baekken

With its sweeping curves and imposing vertical shafts above the entrance, the Carlyle has long been one of the most recognisable buildings on Ocean Drive. Designed by influential architectural firm Kiehnel & Elliot in 1941, the hotel’s virtually unchanged façade remains a sought-after backdrop for photo shoots and location scouts, having starred in numerous adverts, tv programmes and movies such as Scarface and The Birdcage.

The McAlpin

The McAlpin © Alejandro Forero Cuervo.png

The McAlpin © Alejandro Forero Cuervo

Sitting between the Crescent and Ocean Plaza, the painstakingly preserved McAlpin is one of a trio of similar hotels on this particular block of Ocean Drive. Like both its neighbours, the meticulous styling brings an effortless simplicity to the overall design, but the combination of perfect symmetry, clean lines and pink and turquoise accents edges the McAlpin just in front.

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to Miami from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Are you in love with Miami’s Art Deco architecture? What are some of your favourite buildings in the city? Share your tips in the comments below.

Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places