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Vintage Art Deco Scenes from Miami Beach

Miami Beach was incorporated in 1915 after John Collins and his partners had spent some time in the area developing land for crops. As Collins and friends worked the land and built canals to get their avocados and other crops to market, the potential for a beach resort became more and more obvious.

Brown’s Hotel, then and now. First St. and Ocean Drive.

By many accounts, Brown’s Hotel was the first one built on Miami Beach. Built by William J. Brown in 1915, Brown’s Hotel began the promotion of the area as a resort for wealthy northerners.

Damage from the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane. Photo from the National Weather Service’s Memorial Page.

Until the hurricane of 1926 brought everything to a halt. After that, Miami Beach struggled to rebuild and promotion of the beach resort didn’t start again until a few years after the 1929 stock market crash.

The Churchill on Indian Creek Drive

That’s when things took off. Investors funded and built many of the small-scale hotels, restaurants, apartments and rooming houses we know Miami Beach for today.

The Shelby at Collins Avenue and 18th St.

In choosing Art Deco design, they built a simpler, more modern building. It was a much tamer design than the excesses of the Victorian era of design that came before it. And there’s no question it was attractive to travelers.

Hotel Granada, Meridian Ave.

The South Seas Hotel, 18th Street

Art Deco design arrived just in time to turn the blank slate of hurricane-damaged Miami Beach into a destination of modern elegance.

The Maxine, Collins Avenue

Where it thrived for decades.

The Olsen on 73rd St.

The Hotel Chesterfield, Collins Ave. at 9th St.

The Raleigh Hotel

Hoffman’s Cafeteria, Collins Ave. at Espanola Way

Even Howard Johnson’s on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami got in on Miami Beach’s Art Deco trend. It still had the orange roofs though! Circa 1939.

The Belmont, Ocean Drive

The Broadmoor, 75th St.

Barbara Baer Capitman

This Art Deco district has had downturns over the years. The 60’s and 70’s things were bleak. The district had become rundown, neglected and some even say dangerous. In 1976, Barbara Capitman, a new resident to Miami Beach, became obsessed with the dilapidated buildings and crumbling neighborhood. It didn’t take too long for her to find other residents, tourists and designers that felt the same. Together, they founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL).  Thank goodness. Their mission was to save these historic structures from neglect, fire and demolition. The MDPL is responsible for making sure the Art Deco District of Miami Beach got on the National Register for Historic Places in 1979. Once again, thanks to the MDPL, the area was on the rise. This time much of it would be known as South Beach. The MDPL continues to care for the district and to make it a vibrant area for residents and travelers. For example, it started Art Deco Weekends in 1977 to bring residents and tourists to the district for a couple of days of events. It’s still going strong; in 2018, there were 85 events for visitors to take part in.

U.S. Highway 41’s southern terminus is Miami Beach. As a U.S. Highway-obsessed lover of architecture, architect’s wife for Pete’s sake, AND a roadside Florida fanatic, I’m ashamed to say I have never seen these dreamy places in person.  I’ve been mere blocks from the Art Deco district (MERE BLOCKS!)) and missed it completely. It’s a shame…shameful, really. But it’s a terrific excuse for another road trip don’t you think?

Sources and further reading:

Miami Beach Art Deco at The Library of Congress
100-year story of Miami Beach – Miami Herald, March 21, 2015
Miami Design Preservation League
Art Deco – Flashback Miami
Wikipedia – Barbara Baer Capitman
Historic American Buildings Survey at the Library of Congress.
Miami Beach Visual Memoirs



  1. If I were wealthy and famous in the 1930s, my go-to place would be Broadmoor by the Sea – only because I like how it looks in the postcard.

    I am such a sucker for art deco architecture. Each one of these places looks fabulous to me.

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