The Art Deco district: the city's most emblematic district

Nestled in the south of South Beach, between 5th Street and 20th Street, Miami's Art Deco district is an architectural gem. Visiting Miami and passing through this district means getting to know the city's atypical and historic character. The glamorous architecture is spread out over some 800 pastel-coloured buildings decked out in bright neon lights, built between 1923 and 1943. It is the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world. These walls are a reminder of the finished era of the 1930s. This visual spectacle is the work of car magnate Carl Fischer. A visionary, he embarked on a gigantic architectural project in the 1920s, attracting the rich and famous. After a renaissance in the late 1970s, the Art Deco district became the first 20th-century urban historic district in the US National Register of Historic Places. It was later popularised by the TV series Two Cops in Miami. In short, this is THE most famous district in Miami, where each façade expresses its own inspiration.

A modern architectural building in aqua and apricot colors

- © hbpictures / Shutterstock

What is Art Deco?

Art Deco (short for Decorative Arts) is an artistic movement that flourished in the 1920s. In the United States, it reached its peak during the Great Depression. This architectural style was defined by geometric forms (cube, sphere and straight line), which excluded the embellishments, friezes and floral motifs of its predecessor, Art Nouveau. The movement was intended to be modern and luxurious. It was characterised by clean lines, tropical and pastel colours, striped patterns, neon signs, terrazzo floors and paintings and sculptures in the same style.

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Discover the history of the district

In 1926, a hurricane ravaged the district and Miami had to rebuild. Taken in hand by Carl Fischer, a businessman in the car industry, the district was given a facelift, opting for a futuristic style: Art Deco. Over time, the buildings were left to decay, wearying new generations who were ready to demolish everything in the 1940s.

A few tips for your visit

The Miami Design Preservation offers an Art Deco Walking Tour every day, lasting between 1 hour and 35 dollars per person. If you don't fancy the idea of a guide, you can get an audio guide or a map of the area in French from the Miami Beach Visitors Center.

A vintage car in front of the Avalon Hotel in Miami Beach

- © Altrendo Images / Shutterstock

However, the Miami Preservation League, set up in 1976, was able to carry out a major renovation of this architectural heritage. As a result, pastel colours continue to invade the houses and are now emblematic.

Art Deco architecture in Miami Beach

- © Ivan Cholakov / Shutterstock

Advice from the editor

👉 How do you visit the district?

It's a good idea to start your visit on Lincoln Street at the Visitors Centre, an ideal starting point for discovering the district's iconic buildings. You can also explore the district by bike, which also allows you to explore the residential areas, away from the tourists.

The district stretches from Lincoln Road to 5th Street, and a large proportion of the houses, which can be visited with or without a guide, are on the South Beach side. However, it is advisable to visit them with a guide (often a historian or architect), who can offer his or her expertise and reveal the secrets of the district.

Five buildings to add to your itinerary

  • The Carlyle (1250 Ocean Dr): designed by architect Richard Kiehnel in the 1930s, this iconic Miami building has been the setting for several films, including Scarface in 1983. It is also 100 metres from the former mansion of fashion designer Gianni Versace. The Carlyle underwent renovations in the mid-2000s but still retains a mystique of the Miami of yesteryear.

  • Miami Beach Post Office (1300 Washington Avenue): built in 1937, the Miami Beach Post Office was designed by architect Howard Lovewell Cheney. This curious post office features a round hall topped by a cone-shaped roof with a tiny dome, a glass wall and a stone eagle near the entrance door.

  • The Colony Hotel (736 Ocean Dr): this building is one of the best examples of the modern style in Miami. Designed in 1935 by architect Henry Hohauser, the Colony Hotel has a simple but striking design. It has three levels painted in a beautiful turquoise blue and an inverted T-shaped sign bearing the hotel's name, which glows in a shade of blue at night. The hotel also has a basement that houses a card room, recreation room and cloakroom (which was unusual in the 1930s in Florida).

The Colony Hotel, the most photographed building in South Beach

- © travelview / Shutterstock
  • The McAlpin (140 Ocean Dr): considered the epitome of Miami's iconic Art Deco, the McAlpin is delightfully symmetrical and bursts with turquoise and coral pink colours. It's hard to miss! Designed in 1940, the building is now a 52-room hotel belonging to the Hilton chain.

  • Park Central Hotel (640 Ocean Dr): nicknamed the "blue jewel of Miami" because of its azure paint accents and neon lighting, the Park Central is an icon of the Magic City. Open since 1937, it was also designed by Henry Hohauser. With seven floors and 135 rooms, the hotel also boasts a sculpture garden, rooftop terrace, small swimming pool and chic terrazzo flooring.

Art Deco architecture on the famous Ocean Drive Street

- © Mia2you / Shutterstock
by Faustine PEREZ
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