An Architectural Buffet Awaits in South Beach

By: Philip Morgan

The menu of architectural delights includes samples of the art deco, streamline modern, Mediterranean revival and Miami modern styles.

Drive up Miami Beach from south to north and you’ll see plenty of examples of the architectural styles that dominated the first half of the 20th Century.

Art Deco

This 1930s style was characterized at first by a three-section symmetrical façade, the middle section dominating the flanking sections with step parapets and other decorative flourishes, including concrete "eyebrows" over the windows. A classic example is the Leslie Hotel on Ocean Drive.

Streamline Moderne

This evolution of art deco drew inspiration from technological advances, including cars, ships, airplanes and even the radio. Corners are rounded and the "eyebrows" curve around them. Buildings are less decorative and symmetrical. Porthole windows evoke cruise ships. The Essex House, with its tower a bow to radio, epitomizes the style.

Mediterranean Revival

Vacation homes built in the 1920s evoked the palatial estates of the Mediterranean basin. Arches, wrought iron, decorative columns and clay tile roofs characterize the style, which carried over to hotels of the 1920s. Casa Casuarina on Ocean Drive, former mansion of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace, is an example.

Miami Modernist

After World War II, advances in technology and materials enabled architects to create curving canopies of concrete and big balconies, two features of Miami Modern, or MiMo, architecture (known as mid-century modern elsewhere). A lush example is the Fontainebleau Hotel, designed by Morris Lapidus. It opened in 1954, and and an expanded Fontainebleau opened in 2008 after a $1 billion renovation.

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