A Walking Tour of Art Deco Miami

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The visual identity of Miami Beach comes from the world’s largest concentration of art deco buildings, which are found in an area bound by Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue between Fifth and 23rd streets. This part of Miami Beach became a designated urban historic district in 1979.

Today, the art deco buildings that were spared the wrecking ball have been renovated and are now a major tourist attraction.

The neighborhood was born when automobile magnate Carl Fisher discovered the then-wild barrier island in 1910. Fisher looked at the mangrove forest-covered island and envisioned an American Riviera. Having bought a house here, he started talking up the charms of the place, spending a fortune developing and promoting the island. By the 1930s, it had become one of America’s chicest seaside resorts, with other developers building hotels and apartment houses in the then-fashionable art deco style. Many of these were designed by architects Henry Hohauser and Lawrence Murray Dixon, who established their own visual code based on streamlined curves, window “eyebrows” and a height restriction of three stories.

When the jet age launched the era of inexpensive travel, American vacationers started looking further afield. Miami Beach lost its allure as a resort town and became a low-budget retirement colony. Many art deco buildings were demolished or fell into disrepair. This changed with the historic preservation movement at the end of the 1970s, and when Miami Beach became a set piece for the wildly popular 1980s television show “Miami Vice.”

Today, the art deco buildings that were spared the wrecking ball have been renovated and are now a major tourist attraction.

The best way to discover art deco Miami is with a two-hour walking tour by Art Deco Tours, which we enjoyed on our last visit to the city. We met our guide, Christine Michaels, at the café in the Wolfsonian museum, and she introduced herself by saying, “I am Miami! My mother is from Ecuador, and my father was a Polish Jew.” Charming, lively and funny, she led an insider’s tour of some of South Beach’s most beautiful buildings that was both fun and absolutely fascinating, given her on-the-ground knowledge of every place we went. This tour of Miami Beach is a great way to learn that there’s a lot more to this storied beach town than just lying on a towel on the sand all day.

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