The first vision anyone had for the development of the barrier island across Biscayne Bay was as a coconut farm. Charles and Henry Lum bought up land in what would one day be known as South Beach and built the first house on the island in 1886. About 10 years later Henry Flagler’s great Florida East Coast Railway rolled into the area and entrepreneurs began to see that the island’s 15 miles of sparkling white sand beaches might be put to a better use than as a cocunut grove.
John Collins, Carl Fisher, and brothers John N. and James E. Lummus, began gobbling up land on the island around 1910 and in 1915 they incorporated the town and created the city of Miami Beach. The 1920s brought the first tidal wave of money onto the island. Titans of industry with names such as Firestone and Penney and Champion built mansions on what would come to be known as Millionaire’s Row. A trolley linked Miami Beach to the mainland. Pastimes for the wealthy northern visitors such as a golf course and greyhound racing were established. By the end of the decade Miami Beach was entrenched as one of the great American beach resort towns.
The hotels and surrounding structures that went up to accommodate this tourist trade were designed to foster Miami Beach’s image as a “tropical playground.” In the 1920s most of the buildings were fashioned in an Old World Mediterranean style that was guaranteed to appear exotic to the denizens of crowded industrial cities up north. In the 1930s the architecture shifted to the fanciful Art Deco style with buildings dressed in vibrant colors and illuminated in stylish neon. Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world.
In 1979 Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are more than 800 contributing structures in the district including hotels, apartments and other structures, most raised between 1923 and 1943. We will see more than 50 on our walking tour, all decked out with variations of sleek curves, eyebrow windows, glass blocks, spires, ship-like railings, gleaming chrome, porthole windows and other imaginative affectations. But before we start looking at buildings we’ll begin on a strip of land that has been a park for almost 100 years and where you can see something more famous than Miami Beach’s Art Deco hotels - the beach...
5th Street at Ocean Drive
John N. Lummus arrived in Miami in 1895 and quickly became enamored with the area’s potential. A year later when Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway reached town Lummus was back working as a train dispatcher. Meanwhile his brother James had established a general store in town. In 1912, with visions of beach-front single family homes dancing in their heads, the Lummus brothers acquired 500 acres south of 14th Street and established the first building lots on Miami Beach through their newly formed Ocean Beach Reality Company. In 1915 the Town of Miami Beach was incorporated by the Lummus brothers and fellow developers John Collins and Carl Fisher and the brothers sold the beachfront slab of their land from 5th Street to 14th Street to the city. Buffering the hotels of Ocean Drive from some of Miami Beach’s finest sand, Lummus Park has remained open space for nearly 100 years.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE OCEAN WALK OUT TO OCEAN DRIVE AND TURN LEFT.
425 Ocean Drive
With two acres of beachfront property the Savoy is the only hotel on Ocean Drive located directly on the sand. Victor Hugo Nellenbogen, a Hungarian-American, contributed many Art Deco designs to Ocean Drive and the Savoy, opened in 1935, in considered one of his best.
TURN AND WALK BACK TO LUMMUS PARK TO START TOURING OCEAN DRIVE. STAY ON THE OCEAN SIDE OF THE STREET TO BETTER SEE THE HOTELS.
The Bentley Hotel and Beach Club
510 Ocean Drive
Anchoring this corner at Miami Beach Drive is a 1939 landmark hotel whose art deco architecture has been meticulously restored. Of particular interest is its palm-speckled rooftop terrace.
Beach Paradise Hotel
600 Ocean Drive
Buildings constructed in Miami Beach were designed almost exclusively in the Mediterranean Revival style, an often whimsical interpretation of the Old World. Before the wave of Art Deco washed over Ocean Drive this 51-room boutique hotel opened in 1929.
Park Central Hotel
640 Ocean Drive
Armed with a Pratt Institute education from Brooklyn, New York architect Henry Hohauser came to Florida in 1932 at the age of 37 and quickly established one of Miami’s busiest practices. The stylish Park Central is one of his signature works, wrapped in corner windows that climb the six-story hotel, the tallest Art Deco creation on Ocean Drive. The Park Central opened in 1937 and for its 50th birthday it received the first makeover of Miami Beach’s hotels. Permanently parked out front on Ocean Drive is a sleek 1947 Buick. It has been claimed that the conga line first weaved into America on the dance floor of the Park Central on New Year’s Eve 1940 under the direction of 22-year old Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz.
The Majestic Hotel
660 Ocean Drive
This Art Deco 49-room hotel was designed in 1940 by Albert Anis who gave his creation no contrasting horizontal elements. Peek around the corner to see what happens when you own a corner property but don’t have the money to carry the decorative ocean-facing facade all the way down the street.
700 Ocean Drive
The classic look of this 1941 Art Deco hotel is enhanced by the vintage Oldsmobile convertible parked out front.
720 Ocean Drive
Henry O. Nelson added this layered confection to the Ocean Drive streetscapein 1937. The Art Deco emphasis on verticality is emphasized by strips of diamonds and circles enclosing a slightly protruding central bay. The crisp facade is one of the few at the beach to not provide any relief from the sun for the windows. In 1946 the hotel was sold and the new owners added 22 rooms in the spreading wing.
The Colony Hotel
736 Ocean Drive
This hotel’s iconic neon-accented sign gives this building a feel of soaring verticality even though it is only three stories. The Colony, built in 1935, was one of the earliest efforts from Henry Hohauser who would eventually design over 300 buildings in town.
750 Ocean Drive
The Starlite was another project by architect William Brown, opened in 1929. The symmetrical facade is broken by a band of tiles on the northern side.
Shore Park Hotel
820 Ocean Drive
E.A. Ehrmann designed this hotel in a restrained Mediterranean Revival style in 1930. The restaurant here is one of several Cuban-themed eateries owned by Latin Pop songstress Gloria Estefan.
826 Ocean Drive
This began as a Henry Hohauser-designed hotel in the 1940s - it was a twin of the Penguin Hotel you will see further up Ocean Drive. That htoel retains much of its original appearance but that pedigree was lost here when it was renovated in 1994 by the Diesel Jeans company with each room individually designed by Swedish decorator and flea market habitue, Magnus Ehrland. The guest book is littered with the names of the rich and famous, headed by Saudi Arabian Prince Faisal who won’t stay anywhere else but the Pelican penthouse when in town. He probably never tires of watching the goings-on in the six-foot tropical fish tank.
860 Ocean Drive
Here, architect Albert Anis served up the Art Deco with a nautical theme for this 1937 hotel. The signature rounded corner tower suggest a lighthouse or perhaps a ship’s crow’s nest. The tower was once condemned and taken down; it was replaced later. Anis kept decoration to a minimum, using glass bricks beneath the tower and continuous eyebrows above the windows.
940 Ocean Drive
Yugoslavian architect Anton Skislewicz designed this classic Art Deco hotel in 1939. After years of running down the property was purchased by Jordache Jeans who poured millions of dollars into a meticulous restoration.
960 Ocean Drive
This is another entry in the canon of prolific architect Henry Hohauser, opened in 1936. During World War II Miami Beach was a major training center for the Army Air Corps and many of the town’s 70,000 hotel rooms were commandeered for barracks, including the Edison.
Art Deco Center
1001 Ocean Drive
Lovers of Art Deco have, in part, America’s Bicentennial to thank for the splendors seen today. Although Florida, being a Spanish colony of course, had no role in America’s fight for freedom from the British, Barbara Baer Capitman and her son John were seeking a way for Miami Beach to participate in the country’s 200th birthday celebration and focused on the community’s unique concentration of 1930s buildings, many of which were not aging well. They formed the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976 and in 1979 the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District became America’s first 20th century Historic District.
The Clevelander Hotel
1020 Ocean Drive
Several of the hallmarks of the 1930s Miami Beach Deco hotel can be seen in this work from Albert Anis in 1938: the three-part vertical composition, sun-battling eyebrow windows and a stepped, or ziggarut, roofline.
1052 Ocean Drive
This boutique hotel demonstrates the vertical and horizontal elements of the Art Deco style in both its sign and form of the building that is dominated by its windows with their prominent eyebrows. It is another work of Henry Hohauser, from 1936.
1116 Ocean Drive
At a time when opulent mansions began appearing in south Florida none was more luxurious than this residence when it was constructed in 1930 by Alden Freeman, an heir to the Standard Oil fortune. The three-story palace was modeled after the Governor’s House in Santo Domingo from the early 1500s and is built partially of coral. After Freeman died the iconic property was purchased by Jacques Amsterdam and converted into an apartment complex for artists. In 1992 fashion designer Gianni Versace purchased the Amsterdam Palace and restored it to a private residence. And not without controversy. Versace wanted a garage and pool so purchased the Revere Hotel next door and tore it down. Preservationists were outraged but the negotiations have been credited with saving another 200 structures. It was on these steps that Versace would be shot to death in 1997 by Andrew Cunanan. Casa Casuarina was then auctioned and turned into a private club.
1144 Ocean Drive
Lawrence Murray Dixon was a native Floridian whose architecture beginnings were in New York with the firm of Schultze and Weaver of Waldorf Astoria fame. He returned to south Florida in 1929 and helmed the busiest shop in Miami Beach, designing 42 buildings and interior decor of 42 hotels in a short time in the 1930s. His clients hoped to draw New York clientele down the coast and Dixon was instrumental in developing a look that reinterpreted urban Art Deco to suit a southern, seaside resort. In 1937, Dixon built the Hotel Victor. After a star-studded youth the Victor suffered a desultory middle age, reduced to bit parts as a weary set for Miami Vice episodes and eventually boarded up and abandoned all together. The Hyatt Hotel people provided a $48 million dollar makeover to restore the Victor to its glory.
1220 Ocean Drive
This is another creation of Lawrence Murray Dixon. opened in 1936. Here Dixon brought a skyscraper sensibility to Ocean Drive with a symmetrical tower with setbacks associated with massive sky-tickling buildings of the era. The facade is dominated by a three-story entrance portal with porthole windows.
The Leslie Hotel
1244 Ocean Drive
The Leslie is a 1937 hotel by Albert Anis. The central bay holds the most visual interest, with bowed windows framed by vertical fluting. All the windows are shaded by eyebrows which wrap around the building.
The Carlyle Hotel
1250 Ocean Drive
Richard Kiehnel and John Elliot formed an architectural partnership in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1906. The firm scored its first Florida commission in 1917 and opened a permanent office in Miami in 1922. More than three decades into their careers Kiehnel an Elliot showed their facility for the Art Deco style with this stylish hotel in 1939. The sides of the building curve sensuously, emphasized by the window eyebrows that trace the undulations around the corner. The Carlyle took a star turn in the 1996 Robin Williams-Nathan Lane movie “The Birdcage.”
1300 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach hotels often were named with a tip of the hat to New York City connections. The Cardozo recognized Benjamin Cardozo, who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by Herbert Hoover in 1932 after a long career on the New York State of Appeals. Cardozo was the second Jew, after Louis Brandeis, to be appointed to the Supreme Court. He died in 1938 and this hotel was built the following year. Architect Henry Hohauser also embraced the curvilinear like the Carlyle across the street, displaying an entire corner rounded off with wraparound windows and eyebrows. The Keystone trim is limestone, dyed to resemble a sparkling white marble.
1320 Ocean Drive
Roy F. France trained in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and practiced in Chicago before migrating to Miami Beach to become one of the principals of the Miami Beach Art Deco Architectural District. For the symmetrical three-part Cavalier, constructed in 1936, France livened the facade with decorative vertical bands and frieze panels. The patterns display an American Indian influence.
1330 Ocean Drive
This 1938 hotel received an award-winning conversion into a multi-use facility in the 1990s. At that time the building received a terraced three-story addition atop the seven-story original.
Winter Haven Hotel
1400 Ocean Drive
Albert Anis blended the qualities of both the Art Deco and Streamline Modern design movements into this 1939 hotel. It retains the classic three-part appearance with intersecting horizontal and vertical elements. n 2008, the Winter Haven’s Ocean Drive exterior was given a face lift to restore and repair the unique stucco eyebrows and prominent symmetrical stepped façade.
1418 Ocean Drive
This hotel began life in the 1940s as the Golden Dawn Hotel. Designed by Henry Hohauser, this later Art Deco design dismisses the vertical element altogether in anticipation of the clean lines of the International style that was to dominate 1950s and 1960s architecture. Rechristened “The Penguin,” the 44-room hotel was renovated in 2006. It is best known around town for the Front Porch Café in the lobby which has been voted the “best breakfast in town” for many years.
1420 Ocean Drive
The first thing you notice about this 1938 boutique hotel is its asymmetry. Architect Henry Hohauser introduced curvilinear elements to his square box building - rounded eyebrows sneaking around the corner and the Allen wrench facade decoration. There are also a string of bubbles above the third floor windows.
1424 Ocean Drive
If your sensibilities were jarred a bit by the asymmetrical facade of the Crescent Hotel you will be soothed by the perfect symmetry of every element of this Lawrence Murray Dixon creation from 1940. In this small package you get horizontal and vertical intermingling, curved eyebrows, geometric shapes and stylized signage.
1440 Ocean Drive
Lawrence Murray Dixon stepped out of the Art Deco whirlwind to give the expansive Betsy Ross Hotel a Colonial Revival feel with twin pediments at the ends and a two-story, four column entrance portico. The hotel opened in 1942 and after a 2009 facelift - and name change - it stands as the lone surviving example of Florida Georgian architecture on Ocean Drive.
1460 Ocean Drive
The Drake, opened in 1937, is one hotel that didn’t survive and has been converted into condominiums. It did, however, receive a freshening makeover in the 1990s.
TURN LEFT ON 15TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON COLLINS AVENUE.
Jerry’s Famous Deli
1450 Collins Avenue
This Miami Beach landmark began life in 1940 as Hoffman’s Cafeteria. Henry Hohauser created an Art Deco building that can be described as Nautical Moderne. The entire structure can be seen as a tugboat with mock wheelhouses and a smokestack if one wants. Other sea-going themes include a trio of portholes at the stepped parapet on each side and flagpoles waving.
TURN RIGHT ON ESPANOLA WAY AND WALK TO THE CORNER OF WASHINGTON STREET.
1445 Washington Street
Miami architect Robert E. Collins designed this 980-seat movie palace in a Streamline Moderne style in 1938. Now on the National register of Historic Places, the Cameo has been a three-level nightclub for over a decade. look up to see a carved facade panel.
CROSS OVER WASHINGTON STREET.
between Washington Avenue and Drexel Avenue
Newton B.T. Roney was a Camden, New Jersey lawyer and political player who first stopped in Miami in 1909 when returning from a trip to Cuba. He would return in 1917 and the following year he was a full-time resident buying up important properties on seemingly every corner of town. By 1920 Roney was energetically building his own properties and by 1925 he owned more than 200 business properties on Miami Beach. His most inspired developing foray was to create a touch of Old Spain in 1925 on two blocks of Espanola Way. He hired Robert Taylor to design his “Spanish Village,” ostensibly as an artist colony. Today the street, awash in rust and beige stucco and red tile roofs, is the oldest intact original street in Miami Beach.
WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED EXPLORING ESPANOLA WAY RETURN TO WASHINGTON STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
The Clay Hotel
1438 Washington Street at Espanola Way
In operation since 1925, gangster Al Capone is said to have headquartered his Miami gambling operations from rooms in The Clay. Today the gun-toting toughs have been replaced in part by young travelers taking advantage of the hostel part of The Clay.
Miami Beach Post Office
1300 Washington Avenue
This is one of the last of the hundreds of post offices constructed by the Depression-era Works Projects Administration - and one of the best. Howard Lovewell Cheney, a Chicago architect, won the commission and delivered an Art Moderne design focused around a corner rotunda with a decorative cupola centered atop. Inside muralist Charles Hardman adorned the round walls with scenes of Florida history and a ceiling mural offers a stylized Florida sun. After a 970s refurbishment all remains today.
Cinema Theater/Mansion Nightclub
1235 Washington Street
The theater behind this unassuming sandwiched facade has witnessed the gamut of entertainment through the years. The streamlined Art Moderne interior was the handiwork of Scottish-born Thomas White Lamb, one of the foremost American theater architects in the early 20th century. In addition to motion pictures the 1,200-seat theater played host to one of the longest running Yiddish vaudeville shows in history. When its days as a movie palace had run its course the Art Deco interior was lamentably gutted and the space was reborn as a club. Prince owned the place at one time. During another stretch the old theater was Club 1235, a gay bar featured on an episode of Miami Vice. Most recently it has been the home to the high voltage Mansion night club.
Old City Hall
1130 Washington Street
Carl Graham Fisher was an automotive pioneer whose firm supplied virtually every headlamp used on early automobiles in the United States. A tireless promoter of the horseless carriage, Fisher was a principal in developing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and conceived and helped develop the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental highway. When that was finished he rotated his vision 90 degrees and dreamed up the Dixie Highway from Indiana to Florida and spearheaded the bulk of its construction in a year. Fisher soon focused his attention on that southern terminus of the Dixie Highway - Miami, and more specifically the still virtually unpopulated barrier island across Biscayne Bay about to be reached by the new Collins Bridge. Fisher became one of the major players in the Florida land boom of the 1920s and after the Hurricane of 1926 swept across Miami Beach he financed the construction of this towering City Hall as a show of confidence the town would roar back. As his fortune was estimated at $100 million at the time, Fisher could well afford the tab. Fisher was right about the future of Miami Beach but he didn’t see the stock market crash of 1929 coming his way and he lost his entire fortune. He spent the last years of his life before dying of a brain hemorrhage living in a small cottage in Miami Beach, doing odd jobs for friends. As for City Hall, it was designed in Mediterranean-flavored Renaissance style by Martin Hampton, a South Carolina-born architect who settled in Miami in 1914. Having traveled extensively in Spain, he was a master of the Mediterranean Revival style, which he adapted to the Florida landscape. The eight-story tower stands on wood and reinforced concrete piles. Atop the tower stand four urns, reportedly to defy any future hurricanes. It has worked so far and the city government never had to deal with another big blow while it resided here until 1977.
FROM THE CORNER OF 12TH STREET AND WASHINGTON STREET, WALK BACK TO COLLINS STREET (TOWARDS THE OCEAN) ON 12TH STREET. AT COLLINS STREET, TURN LEFT.
1200 Collins Avenue
With its tripartite form and symmetrical massing the Marlin looks like it escaped from Ocean Avenue. This is a Lawrence Murray Dixon design from 1939. The frieze panels in the central section depict underwater scenes.
1220 Collins Avenue
The lavishly decorated Webster is a 1939 creation of Henry Hohauser. He didn’t give the hotel sun-shading eyebrows but that won’t matter to guests anymore as the building has been converted into an upscale French retail operation.
TURN AND WALK SOUTH ON COLLINS AVENUE, CONTINUING PAST 12TH STREET.
1131 Collins Avenue
For this boutique hotel Lawrence Murray Dixon abandoned symmetry and mixed up the horizontal and vertical elements. Save for a trio of stacked porthole windows on the first floor he bundled the vertical band (now a double row of glass bricks but originally a honeycombed pattern), the door and the rooftop finial to one side and placed the continuous eyebrows and stripes to the other. The Kent opened in 1939.
1119 Collins Avenue
Again Lawrence Murray Dixon created an asymmetrical confection for the Palmer House in 1939 with a vertical decorative band interrupting the flow of the eyebrowed windows. Look up to see bas relief starbursts.
1111 Collins Avenue
The name may say 16th century but the space needle finial on this 1939 hotel anticipates the late 20th century. This streamlined wraparound hotel was created by Lawrence Murray Dixon in 1939. The side facades are graced by continuous eyebrows above the windows and even sport a sly set of eyebrows above the upper floor vents. The corner curve is highlighted by coral-colored decorative stone.
1001 Collins Avenue
The nautical-themed Essex House is considered one of Henry Hohauser’s best Art Moderne designs. The 1938 streamlined hotel boasts generous horizontal “racing stripes, porthole windows below the roofline and a rooftop finial announcing the Essex name.
1000 Collins Avenue
This is one of Lawrence Murray Dixon’s earlier Collins Avenue hotels, from 1935. Rather than the streamlined curved corners that were to proliferate on the street the Fairwind, which opened as the Fairview, presents crisp lines and sharp corners.
TURN RIGHT ON10TH STREET AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO THE CORNER OF WASHINGTON STREET.
1001 Washington Street
This is the Washington Storage Building, constructed in 1926 mostly to serve wealthy northerners to store valuables during extended stays in Miami Beach. By the 1980s the largest tenant was investment banker Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., a Princeton graduate and investment manager who had spent decades amassing object representing European and North American design. In 1885 Wolfson purchased the Mediterranean Revival building and pumped it up to seven stories to create a 56,000 square-foot facility. In 1997 Wolfson donated the collection and building to Florida International university that now operates the Wolfsonian Museum, a collection of late 19th to mid-20th century decorative arts.
RETURN TO COLLINS AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
953 Collins Street
Henry J. Maloney was an architect who specialized in the Mediterranean Revival style in the 1920s and he never embraced the Art Deco wave of the 1930s. The Edward was one of his last - and largest projects. It opened in 1935 and trumpeted the inclusion of its swimming pool, not yet a mandatory hotel feature. The Edward used to stay open in the summer off-season and a room could be had for a dollar or two. Today the Edward carries on as residential property.
901 Collins Avenue
The expression of Nautical Deco reached its zenith in 1948 with the construction of this land ship. The corner prow features a sleek parapet at the top and porthole windows and street level. The Sherbrooke received an award-winning makeoverin 2004.
844 Collins Avenue
This hotel opened in 1931 as one of the first in Miami Beach. With its 75th birthday approaching it received a $1.5 million dollar renovation. The vertical elements are strong here, particularly the ornate treatment given the entrance.
808 Collins Avenue
This stylishly restrained 1936 hotel from Albert Anis is distinguished by two sets of wavy lines that are carried around the corner. White is truly the law here - inside theappointments are just about all white.
The Hotel of South Beach
801 Collins Avenue
This is another Lawrence Murray Dixon design from a very busy 1939. Here he emphasized the verticality of this corner hotel with a series of ribs at the corner, topped by a neon sign spire. When the famous New York jewelers objected to hotel’s name the owners lost the right to call the guest house “Tiffany” but kept the tower.
London Arms Hotel
727 Collins Avenue
Architect Donald G. Smith re-imagined the Neoclassical style for the tropics with the London Arms Hotel in 1941. It boasts a rusticated base, square pilasters, arched windows, a broken pediment, and an engaged bit of balustrade at the roofline. There are also classical urns and carved details above the center entrance.
CONTINUE TO 5TH STREET AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN LUMMUS PARK.