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Now in our third calendar year
PCR #111 (Vol. 3, No. 19) This edition is for the week of May 6--12, 2002.

La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
Florida's Amazing Architecture Installment #1:
The Tropical Deco of Miami Beach--Part I

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The Sunshine State has some of the world's most elegant, diversified and notable architecture in the world. Examples would include the opulent hotels of the late 1800's and early 1900's built by the east coast railroad magnate Henry Flagler and the west coast railroad magnate Henry Plant; the historic homes and structures of St. Augustine, some dating as far back as 500 years ago; the magnificent works of Addison Mizener; the Mediterranean beauty of George Merrick's Coral Gables; the Cad'zan or "House of John" that was the estate of John and Mable Ringling; and the grandiose "Fountainbleau" and "Eden Roc" motels by Morris Lapidus.

But in both volume and quality, nothing architecturally surpasses the Tropical Deco found in Miami Beach, particularly in the South Beach area known now as "So Be".

What is the significance of Art Deco?
Art Deco as we know it today was derived from two sources. The first source was born during the first two decades of the 1900's in Europe, primarily in Paris, France. It was a reflection of refined taste as illustrated in the drama and design of Diahilev's "Ballet Russe", in the exoticism of African and Oriental arts, and by a love of sensuous textures using rare and expensive materials such as ivory, ebony, mother of pearl, semi-precious stones, exotic woods, crystal and marble. It also capitalized on images of mystical and romantic animals such as peacock, greyhounds and borzois. It also symbolized the fluidity of nature through fountains, gladiolas, shells and other organic motifs.

Concurrent with the development of Art Deco was the Futurists in Italy who were enamored with speed and motion, and challenged the space-time restrictions of the picture plane. The Cubists further energized that plane with suggestions of a new dimension and geometry, and the artists Dali and Cocteau created mind-challenging works of surrealism. This style would also incorporate the esoteric works of the Moors, Aztecs, Mayans and Assyrians as well as the Raphaelites.

The second source for Art Deco came from the assimilation of the European style into the American culture in the 1920's and 1930's. World War I was largely responsible for importing the most contemporary European cultural developments for the American public.

As Art Deco began to permeate American design, sleek and shiny cars and trains became favorite images. Lightning bolt zig-zags added angularity. Human figures in stylized postures came to the fore. This explosively popular form of design would not have an official name until a Design Fair was held in Paris, France in 1925. The fair showcased this emerging style in a presentation called "Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes", or as it was foreshortened to, "Art Deco"

This Fair also turned out to be a stunning shock to the United States-American designers had nothing to contribute to it that was representative of the U.S. character. America was still transfixed by antique periods of styles such as American, Colonial, Spanish, Tudor, 18th Century French and English and Italian Renaissance.

The American Response
America responded to the challenge by combining a "modernism" with Art Deco. With the Roaring 20's, this new art form incorporated streamlined visions of aerodynamics, through the transfer of imagery from movies, animations, and from the science fiction technologies inspired by the works of H.G. Wells and Buck Rogers movies. The use of new industrial materials such as chrome, glass, polished bronze and stainless steel became common design components. Early purveyors of this burgeoning movement would include LeCorbussier, I. Chanin, Buckminster Fuller, Norman Bel Geddes and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Creation of "Tropical Deco" in Miami Beach
As a result of all of these influences, the architecture of the "old" Miami Beach, which was constructed primarily during the 1930's, resulted in streamlined, culturally derivative style imbued with a sense of fantasy and animation. The hotels and apartments of old Miami Beach share many of the elements intrinsic to Moderne design. Flat and curved walls; the use of glass block; circular windows and metal railing. Through ornamentation, a more Tropical look evolved forming the creation of a hybridized "Tropical Deco". The basic design intent of these structures was to evoke the aura of the ocean fronting them, through the use of "porthole" windows, deck-like balconies, and flagstaff finials. The use of "Floridiana", tropical motifs and colors, were also an imperative design element to be integrated into the holistic design intent and visual effect of "Tropical Deco".

Florida Folk Heroes--The "Tropical Deco" Designers
The primary architects or designers responsible for the "Tropical Deco" treasure trove of Miami Beach would include, but not be limited to, Albert Anis, L. Murray Dixon, Roy F. France, Henry Hohauser, Anton Skislewicz, Harry O. Nelson, Kichnell and Elliot, Edward A. Noland, E.G. Cobelli, T. Hunter Henderson and sculptor Gustav (not Perez but) Bohland. Most of these men never completed a formal training in architecture, and were probably more from the "design-build" school of construction contracting and actual owners of the structures. They came from Eastern Europe, the American Mid West, New York City and Florida. Although little is known about them, their incredible architectural legacy has delighted and will delight and enthrall millions and millions of people throughout the ages.

Next Week in Part 2 of the "Tropical Deco of Miami Beach", La Floridiana takes an in-depth look at "Tropical Deco" saviors who saved many Deco structures from extinction, fought hard for creating one of the largest Historic Districts in the nation, and breathed new life into a run-down ghetto that was once the now-fashionable South Beach of Miami Beach.

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.