One of the wonderful things our community at sea does is to bring aboard world experts who can lecture and/or lead tours, explorations, and expeditions as we circumnavigate the globe every two years. Before sailing into Miami Beach we had a terrific illustrated slide lecture on the founding of Miami and the development of the city by Professor John Stuart of FIU (Florida International University), who is also a practicing architect. [The first land in Miami Beach was purchased in 1870; the city was chartered in 1915 and became a city in 1917, largely through the leadership of John Collins and his wife. Development was rapid until the hurricane of 1926, with building and tourism picking up again in the mid-1930s. Investors then constructed the mostly small-scale, stucco hotels and rooming houses, for seasonal rental, that comprise much of the present Art Deco historic district.]
The focus of the lecture was on the Art Deco architecture which thrived there in the 1930s and early 1940s in what is now known as South Beach. After we docked in Miami, we joined Professor Stuart on a bus ride to South Beach where we had a guided tour of the Art Deco district and then a guided tour of the Art Deco artifacts at The Wolfsonian (museum), detailed in our upcoming blog.
South Beach has one of the world’s most concentrated collections of Art Deco buildings, many of which have been preserved and refurbished on the interior (landmark status — which many of the buildings have — precludes any changes to buildings’ exteriors).
The Essex House Hotel is a 1938 Streamline Moderne gem by Henry Hohauser and features a tour-de-force of Deco in the well-maintained lobby, featuring a cinematic mural by a self-taught artist.
Our guide, John Stuart, is Associate Dean for Cultural and Community Engagement, Director of Miami Beach Urban Studios, and Professor at Florida International University. His most recent book, The New Deal in South Florida: Design, Policy and Community Building, 1933–1940 (Gainesville: The University Press of Florida, 2008) was co-edited with political scientist and FIU professor John Stack.
Professor Stuart also serves on the planning commission for Miami Beach and is intimately familiar with the renovation projects that have taken place and are in the planning stages for the area. All-in-all, a terrific walk through architectural history with Miami’s most knowledgeable architect about the area — educational and fun.
South Beach’s Post Office, designed by Howard L. Cheney in 1937, reflects the austere, classically inspired institutional architecture popular in Europe in the late 1930s.
The highlight of the interior is the mural by Charles Hardman depicting the meeting of the Spanish Conquistadors and the Native Americans, the two groups in battle, and the signing of a nominal treaty between the Native Americans and the U.S.
The Taft Hotel is an Art Deco building designed by Henry Hohauser. It is located in Miami’s Art Deco District and is noted for its geometrical design. The Taft Hotel has the characteristic Art Deco tripartite symmetry, as well as abstract zigzag and curvilinear designs on the facade.