Tropical escape, part 1
The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.
In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.
For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.
But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!
This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.
People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.
We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.
We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.
The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II. What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.
The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.
Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).
This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.
The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.
The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.
Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?
Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!
The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.
This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.
A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.
The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.
A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.
Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.
We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.
This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.
After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).
Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.
We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.
So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.
Next stop: Everglades National Park.