If it were not for the Miami Beach Preservation League, a group committed to saving Greater Miami's architectural treasures, there would be no Art Deco District (officially, the Miami Beach Art Deco National Historic District), nor as many surviving examples.
*Bolded names and numbers in the text below correspond with our map of this walking tour.
One way to see some of its outstanding expressions is to go to the Art Deco District Welcome Center (1001 Ocean Dr., tel +1 305 672 2014) on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m., when league volunteers lead 90-minute walking tours. You can take the same tour on your own any day of the week by renting an audiotape player at the center between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., which guides you along the route. (A credit card or cash deposit is required.) You can also find the buildings easily on your own as the historical district—running from 6th to 23rd Streets—encompasses some 800 structures.
A good place to begin is toward the southern end of Ocean Drive, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, and head north. Among the handsomest buildings here is the Park Central Hotel (1) (630 Ocean Dr.), completed in 1937. Its terrazzo floors and front steps, vast lobby, and etched glass details recall the luxurious backdrops of pre-World War II Hollywood musicals—no coincidence, as the vogue drew inspiration from films of that era.
Venture into the gorgeous lobby of the little Colony Hotel (2) (736 Ocean Dr.), which has a fireplace faced with green Vitrolite and a Ramon Chatov mural romanticizing South American rural life. Nor should you bypass the lovely terrazzo floor, molded ceiling treatments, and beautiful light fixtures in the lobby of the Waldorf Towers Hotel (3), farther along Ocean Drive at No. 860.
In the next block at No. 940, the Breakwater Hotel's (4) 1939 facade mimics a Central American Maya temple. At night, neon lights on its concrete spire spell BREAKWATER in vivid blue. It shares a swimming pool with the adjoining Mediterranean Revival Edison Hotel, which opened in 1935. At this point you will have reached the Art Deco District Welcome Center (5), where you can pick up maps and get information. Walk around it; the back side mimics the bridge of an ocean liner.
Cubism inspired the 1937 Victor Hotel (6) (1144 Ocean Dr.). Purists appreciate the three-story Leslie Hotel (7) (1244 Ocean Dr.) for its classic simplicity.
The Carlyle (1250 Ocean Dr.) went up in 1941, its architect using the wide lot to stretch the deco style horizontally. Side by side in the 1400-block are two of the most exuberant expressions of it you will find on the Beach: the Crescent Hotel (8), built in 1932, and the McAlpin Hotel next door, completed in 1940. Continue to the junction with 15th Street and turn left. On the other side of Collins Avenue is the three-story Haddon Hall (9) (1500 Collins Ave.), the beach's finest streamline building.
Walk south on Collins and turn right onto 13th Street. Opposite, at No. 1300 on Washington Avenue, is the Miami Beach Main Post Office (10), a wonderful and rare example of deco federal, which opened in 1939. Details inside the spacious circular rotunda include a beautiful historical mural. Turn left and continue down Washington Avenue. Another streamline beauty, the Astor Hotel (11) (956 Washington Ave., at 10th), is more restrained. Take Tenth Street back onto Collins Avenue. The nautical moderne design of the 1938 Essex House (12) (1001 Collins Ave.) epitomizes art deco's intense infatuation with ocean travel on the great moderne ships of that age.
Continue south down Collins for a look at beautiful The Hotel (13) (801 Collins Ave.). With its metal spire and neon, this is one of the finest expressions of art deco spirit on the island. It recently reopened as a small luxury inn.