Art Deco District: Ugly duckling to beautiful swan (includes video story)

Miami’s Art Deco Historic District, once known as an abandoned crime-ridden place to visit, is now famous for its interesting architectural elements, colorful buildings, and century-old history.

The styles from the 1920s and 1930s remain vibrant in this piece of Miami Beach. Its unique architectural style drew thousands to South Beach, Jan. 13-15 for the annual Art Deco Weekend, a celebration of the district and era that produced the architecture.

“One of the reasons South Beach has become an elaborate place to visit is because we have the most Art Deco buildings in one place in the world,” said Mark Gordon, guest experience director at the Miami Design Preservation League. “In 1926 there was a hurricane and it wiped this place clean.”

Decades of neglect would have caused Miami’s Art Deco district to be demolished if it weren’t for a preservationist named Barbara Baer Capitman, founder of the Miami Design Preservation League. 

The district contains more than 800 designated historic buildings that also represent other modern architectural styles from different eras of Miami’s history. 

“Barbara Capitman, an activist, and her husband, a professor, gets a job at a little-known university back in the 80s called FIU, but he suddenly passes away and when he passes away she finds herself distraught,” said Gordon. “And her family urges her to get involved in something and back then Miami beach was run down.”

Through Capitman’s hard work and perseverance, Art Deco gained national protection, motivating designers and developers to bring their own original style.

“Where everybody saw a seaside slum, Capitman saw a seaside resort that had the potential to be rebuilt and so she founded the Miami design preservation league in 1976,” said Gordon. “She started cataloging the buildings. By 1979, she did such a great job at this that it was the first area of the 20th-century buildings that got put in the national list of the historic registry.”

This non-profit organization is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the appearance and integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District.

Celebrating their 46th annual Art Deco Weekend on Ocean Drive this past weekend with 150,000 visitors.

“There’s just so much beauty here and as children, we used to stay at the Beacon Hotel before they even had their restaurants,” said Lisa Barriga, local resident. “Miami Beach just has so much history you can’t see anywhere else in the world.

One of the outer edges of the Art Deco Historic District, Lincoln Road, is Miami Beach’s pedestrian-only promenade and outdoor mall and is lined by restaurants, shops, bars, and more. 

Art Deco is known to be a hot spot party place, where celebrities and tourists tend to visit places like the Clevelander Hotel on Ocean Drive and the 1930’s Spanish-style mansion where Gianni Versace famously lived and died. 

“It’s incredible to come back and see what new buildings they have, or how they re-modeled other buildings,” said Felipe Calderon, a tourist from Argentina. “I think it’s why people love to come to Miami beach or Lincoln road because you never know what new things you’ll see.”

Lauren Wurts is a Latina Junior at FIU majoring in Journalism/ Communications. She hopes to work as a news reporter and work her way up to Producing. She is bilingual and enjoys covering entertainment, sports and activism stories.