Along with having some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Miami is also one of the most architecturally interesting cities in America. The South Florida area specifically has one of the highest concentrations of art deco buildings in the world with over 800 designated historic structures, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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The art deco architectural style originated in the 1920s during the Great Depression, and some of the key characteristics of the aesthetic are pastel colors, geometric shapes like circles and squares, and neon lighting. In Miami, art deco decor took off between the 1920s and 1940s, and in 1979, the city's Art Deco Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Covering just one square mile, the Art Deco District is filled with hotels, art museums, and theaters that act as symbols of the signature style. To fully appreciate this design and architecture movement, check out these five buildings on your next trip to the Magic City.
Miami Beach U.S. Post Office
Designed in 1937 by Chicago architect Howard Lovewell Cheney, per the Society of Architectural Historians, the Miami Beach U.S. Post Office is one of the most unique examples of art deco style in the city. The all-white building features a large barrel-shaped structure with two wings that extend down Washington Ave and 13th street.
Inside the post office's extravagant, circular lobby, there's a working fountain, and above it, the ceiling is painted teal and gold. The lobby also includes a three-paneled mural painted by Charles Hardman that, according to the Living New Deal, shows Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León's arrival in Florida in 1513.
Gabriel South Beach
Located right on Ocean Drive, Gabriel South Beach is a boutique hotel steeped in art deco details. It is spread across four buildings, one of which is the historic Park Central Hotel designed by art deco architect Henry Hohauser. In its glory days, Park Central Hotel was once a hangout spot for Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth.
Today, the hotel's lobby restaurant, Meet Dalia, is a nod to art deco opulence with navy and rose-hued velvet couches, high-back velvet dining chairs, and sculpted gold light fixtures. Though the guest rooms are contemporary, they still feature the signature art deco pastel colors and curved midcentury patio furniture on the balconies.
Set among the shops and restaurants on Lincoln Road, outdoor mall Colony Theatre was first opened as a Paramount Pictures movie theater in 1935. It was designed by architect R.A. Benjamin before undergoing a Miami Modern (aka MiMO) makeover at the hands of famed architect Morris Lapidus in 1983. During these decades, the venue changed ownership and alternated between a movie space and live performance theater. In 2006, the City of Miami Beach took ownership and the theater underwent a $6.5 million renovation to restore the theater's art deco style.
One of the location's standout art deco features is the oversize marquee illuminated in curved neon lights. Inside, the lobby has terrazzo-patterned tile and a gorgeous pastel-colored tropical bird art installation. Today, the theater is home to Miami New Drama, a professional theater company that produces plays and musicals year-round.
Built in the 1930s and designed by Russell Pancoast, the Bass Museum started out as the Miami Beach Public Library and Art Center. In 1964, the structure was dedicated as an art museum after art collectors John and Johanna Bass gave their private collection to the City of Miami Beach.
Though it doesn't look like much from the outside, the palm tree-lined walkway leads up to a limestone building with a ziggurat (or staggered) roofline and slim rectangular windows. Above the museum doors, "Eternity Now" is spelled out in a thin, art deco font and represents the timelessness of art. Inside the deceptively small building (there's actually around 12,800 square feet of exhibition space), there's an impressive collection of contemporary art ranging from paintings and textiles to ceramics.
Shelborne South Beach
The Shelborne South Beach is a sleek hotel that was opened in the 1940s and designed by art deco icons Igor Polevitsky and Thomas Triplett Russell. The beachfront hotel has a distinctive entryway that features a retro curved "Shelborne" logo above a large circular overhang that's propped up by geometric columns. The lobby area has dramatic hanging starburst lamps, midcentury armchairs and couches, and a massive black and white marble check-in desk.
Inside, the all-white guest rooms feature dressers with gold inlay starburst designs, rounded upholstered headboards, and polished white marble flooring. Full of history and modern glamor, Shelborne South Beach is a must-stay in Miami.