CELEBRATION OF MIAMI ART DECO
Saving of Miami Art Deco buildings has just been celebrated for the 40th time.
Christmas and New Year holiday period enjoyable with family sure, but I must say that I do rather look forward to getting away once 12th night has passed? One choice for both a climate and cultural change is a hop, if rather long hop to the warmth of Florida.
This if not the Orlando theme park type of experience, this is another hop but this time its back in time to the 1920’s and 30’s. The period of flappers…this is Art Deco and a deco at it!
A delightful insight to the period when a swamp that was South Beach, Miami was cleared and the first of many angular styled concrete hotels were raised to provide a warm holiday destination for the chilly Northern US citizens, mainly from the rich and middle class.
They were looking for two things… Warmth and alcohol!
With trains delivering them in large numbers from the inclement North in around 24 hours, the warmth and tropical climate was a great relief and the chance to invive in alcohol and was an added bonus in those days. Later road and air transport followed too.
In the footsteps of these first Miami tourists every year in early January the City holds a three-day event called the Art Deco Weekend and the main hotel area of South Beach becomes a Mecca for enthusiasts of the style that is… Miami Art Deco.
Ocean Drive gets closed to traffic and a tented village appears virtually overnight to line the road opposite the many famous hotels on the other side. The fact that the hotels are still physically there in the 21st century is somewhat of a miracle. Back in the 1970’s this was an extremely run down area with many of the period properties badly in need of repair and reconstruction and hardly any guests.
SAVING MIAMI ART DECO
Barbara Baer Capitman and Leonard Horowitz founders of the Miami Design and Preservation League battled to get the whole area listed as they felt that what this area of Florida had was unique. Today they are thought of as saviors of the Art Deco district but not only for the city of Miami but throughout the world, and they have two streets named after them leading off Ocean Drive.
The period of the 1920’s and 30’s and its architecture was not that highly regarded back in the 1970s so the work that they did was remarkable and today the whole area is thriving and the style and its legacy is still there to be admired in a pretty complete way. If the planners and developers had struck back then the chances are that there would be no Art Deco on South beach perhaps one or two buildings holding on dwarfed by high-rise hotels or apartments the type that flank the area now. Saving the area from building development has allowed the development of a different kind, tourism! The draw that is South Beach has given rise to a firm following from those who admire the clean angular lines of the style and the arts and fashion that accompanied that period.
The Art Deco Weekend brings in a collection of connoisseurs from all over the world, I personally met people from Brazil, Argentina and Austria but heard accents from Russia and Italy too. These people come to pay homage and experience a distinct design idea and see what has been left, and there are plenty of examples left to admire. These are living, breathing buildings, hotels in the main, with features and rooms still reflecting the style of those distant days of post First World War optimism.
Walking and there is a whole lot of walking to be done. The defined Art Deco district is situated around the streets of Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue just criss-crossing this area you could acquire a few blisters, as I did. Many of the building are iconic and appear in all sorts of publications featuring the style; be that day or night as they do take on a different look with their period styled jazzy neon signs. Along with the chance to have guided walking tours, there are exhibitions music and fashion shows linked in the whole event along with talks from experts on the style and history. The tented village is also a key part with many exhibitors selling antiques or fashion items in the art deco style.
Saturday does host a parade that features local groups and bands, as well as many old cars from the around the 20’s right up to the 1980’s and a DeLorean car complete with a McFly (we are not talking a pop band but film character) number plate!
Back to the Future! It certainly was as some vintage Ford cars made their way up Ocean Drive as good looking and polished as the day they were driven out of the sale room’s back in the 1920’s!
One woman selling a whole range of clothes from the 20‘s 30‘s and 40‘s seemed to do very well with her period sexy underwear being some of the first items to fly off the racks. Items such as old sunglasses were popular as the sun did shine for nearly all the three days, just a hint of cloud but with temperatures in the top 60’s to low 70’s this is a pretty good time to be away from a chilly Europe too.
As a base the Art Deco area is fairly central to enjoy seeing a little further a field of the Miami area after the event has finished. There are local city and boat tours that can show you more of the modern conurbation of Miami. A boat trip around the waterways can give you an impressive view of the modern Miami skyline it can also give you an insight into the world of super rich pop and film stars who just love the waterfront homes that sell for multi-millions be that Pounds or Dollars.
With its Cuban influence a visit to Little Cuba a very colourful Latin area of the city here, Spanish is pretty well the first language, but Mojitas and Cuban food go down well in any tongue.
A great and very British way to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the area is to flag down a double-decker tour bus, just like the ones in London. The hop on, hop off idea rates as a pretty good way to see a whole load of points and places of interest. From the top deck you can take pictures to your hearts content not the case on some tour buses that whisk you around from a sealed in environment. The circular routes the buses take is to a pretty long list of locations and you can get off enjoy the environment that takes your interest, get a meal, take pictures and then get back and on to the next place at around $40 per day its so flexible and cheaper than taxis.
The Everglades National park is a short trip from South Beach, there take an airboat ride, wrestle an alligator or at least watch how they catch them. You could take a day trip travelling down to the most Southerly point in the USA, Key West passing Key Largo, Marathon and crossing 7 Mile Bridge on Route 1 on the way there. Next stop would be Cuba itself… if they could perhaps build a 60-mile bridge?
Just like the Americans from the chilly north who came south on Route 1, why not do something similar with an Atlantic crossing to take in some colour and culture next January in 2017 in the ‘Sunshine State’ that is when your relatives have packed up and left!