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Tropical escape, part 1

May 10, 2016

FLORIDA.

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!

Ft. Lauderdale

This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.

Palm tree and ocean at Ft. Lauderdale beach.

This is what we came so far to see!

People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.

Man facing the sunset on Florida beach

Where we come from, we face the ocean at sunset.

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.

Condos line the beach at Ft. Lauderdale

Condos north and south, as far as the eye can see.

Miami Beach

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).

Congress Hotel, Miami Beach

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.

Detail of COngress Hotel entry showing pastel-painted frozen fountain motif

The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.

Cream and gray Art Deco facade of Hotel Sheely

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.

Art Deco building that resembles a boat

Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?

Whit Art Deco building on corner, with tall mast sign.

Mast atop Tiffany building with neon letters

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!

Staircase made of polished yellow and green polished coral

Art Deco lobby of Tiffany building

The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.

Sherbrooke Hotel looks like an ocean liner

Detail of Sherbrooke sign in Broadway typeface atop hotel

Sherbrooke’s sign in Broadway typeface

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.

Fancy detailing on the Taft Hotel

Icing on a wedding cake

A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.

Gray, carved palm motif frieze on white building

The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.

Breakwater Hotel with famous vertical sign

A very Miami Beach color scheme–blue and yellow

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.

Art Deco Banana Republic store with black and white striped awnings

Right at home in the palms

Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.

Shiny, patterned aluminum diner with glass block corner window

Like a jewel box …

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.

Small house build of rough coral limestones

One of two coral bungalows

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.

Cream and orange vintage car in front of Mediterranean style building.

Nice when your car matches your restaurant’s awnings.

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.

Colorful lifeguard station at Miami Beach

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.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From → Travel

10 Comments
  1. I can see how First Class would be a difficult thing to give up…even though I’ve never flown first class, I’ve seen it in films! 🙂 I’ve been to Captiva Island, FL, but otherwise haven’t seen any of the areas you’ve shared. Thanks for the armchair travel.
    xo,
    Karen

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Karen! Someday we will return and explore the Gulf Coast … someday after we save up enough miles to go first class again! 🙂

  2. Beautiful buildings. I love art deco. It’s a good thing that you got your visit in before the sea levels rise even more, and Miami Beach disappears forever. I look forward to seeing the pictures of the Everglades as well. I have been to Florida many times, but I have never been to Miami or the Everglades.

    • We are old enough that Miami will exist for the rest of our lives … but maybe not for subsequent generations! Then again, look how long Venice has hung in there. I hope to get the rest of my Florida posts out a little quicker than that first one!

  3. Anita permalink

    I can just see your smug look as I walked past you on that flight! Everyone up there has it. It makes me laugh because most are business salespeople who have lots of miles. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry was upfront while Elaine was in the back struggling. SO FUNNY! Anyway, I enjoyed the Art Deco pictures! I learned a lot from it. Thanks!

    • There was a guy sitting behind me making calls to the office. I wished he would stop because I was on vacation and he was reminding me of work! Then I thought that I only have about 11 months to go … 🙂

  4. Great post, wonderful pictures, I’ve never been to Miami, but I’ve been to the Everglades and to many cities/islands on the gulf coast. that’s so awesome you only have 11 months to go!!! i’ve never flown 1st class… alas… 11 hours to hawaii is pretty brutal in steerage, but it’s worth it once you get there.

  5. Vintage Miami, so film worthy. You hit all the high spots and low one, too. First class, well done. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music.

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