The glass tower at the Setai Hotel is modern, but its geometric facade and angled balconies echo South Beach's historic Art Deco look. Part of the Setai is built around the original 1930's Dempsey Vanderbilt Hotel on Collins Avenue.
On a tropical playground, what's more glam than a grand Art Deco hotel?
All that geometry, all that streamlined symmetry, all those sunbursts and ziggurats, evoke a more orderly yet lavish moment in history. Big bands, sequined dresses with mermaid fishtails and coupes of the bubbliest champagne. Palm trees, ocean liners and white sand beaches...
I got a whiff of the Deco life in South Beach this week. There are hundreds of Art Deco hotel and apartment buildings there, built between 1923 and 1943, the largest collection of Deco resort structures in the world. Many have been restored and repainted in their original tropical hues.
And Serendipity and I were right in the middle of it all, having a jazzy girls' getaway.
Let’s a take a walk down Ocean Drive, the epicenter of beachfront Deco. Palm trees and rolling surf on your left, and on your right, a few of my favorite hotels.
The Breakwater Hotel, built in 1936 by Yugoslav architect Anton Skislewicz, is the chicest of the chic. I love the bright cobalt and lemon color scheme and the oh-so symmetrical, rectilinear design of the facade. After decades of decline, the Breakwater surged back to life with a Bruce Weber ad for Calvin Klein’s Obsession.
Here’s the historic Colony Hotel, a 1935 classic designed by Henry Hohauser, one of Miami’s most prolific Deco architects. The original neon sign shines blue at night, as does the watery neon band that runs across the inverted triangles at the top. The simple blue and green trim makes for a cosier, less ostentatious stucco facade than some others in South Beach.
The Waldorf Towers, I have to say, is not exactly like the Waldorf in New York. Designed by Albert Anis in 1937, its rounded corners exemplify the more aerodynamic lines of the International Style. Is the tower a room for rent or just a lookout?
The Park Central Hotel once was known as the “Blue Jewel” of Miami Beach. Built in 1937, it, like the Colony, was designed by Henry Hohauser. Lots of symmetry here, with Deco arrows drawing the eye upwards.
The Congress Hotel is actually five properties in one. Here’s the 1930's original with its modest Deco façade. "Eyebrows" jutting over the windows provide shade from the blistering sun, while the sign looks almost like a movie marquee. And yes, that's a bikini-clad mannequin posed alluringly in the door...
A few steps on there's another property that looks like an an ocean liner with nautical railings and “portholes” in the floor, a theme often seen in Deco-style resorts. The man above is cleaning the rooftop pool.
The Cavalier Hotel, designed by Roy France and built in 1936, pops with brightly painted friezes on the facade. One source attributes the geometric patterns to American Indian designs, while others say they're based on the Mayan temples at Chichen-Itza in Mexico.
We're walking, of course, but almost everyone else is cruising down Ocean Avenue in in gleaming Dodge Ram pickups and BMW convertibles with the sound turned up all the way. I'd love to get the behind the steering wheel of this creamsicle Bel Air, but it’s permanently parked outside one of the rowdy sidewalk restaurants.
And therein lies a tale.
As glamorous as these hotels look, Ocean Avenue has a raffish underside.Giant day-glo lollipop cocktails are 2 for 1 at Happy Hour…
...and leering psychedelic flamingos hide in the tropical shrubbery.
Psychics hand out cards on street corners, coconuts from the palms across the street are sold from grocery carts, and at the Hotel Boulevard, there are always vacant rooms.
Does anyone have the keys to the Thunderbird?