Art Deco District Has Special Allure

By Karen Rubin

It seems as if almost overnight – well, over the past decade – Miami’s South Beach Art Deco District has emerged as a showcase for designer hotels. More than two dozen boutique hotels now line Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and the streets in between, which are home to the largest collection of Art Deco buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the architectural integrity fiercely protected, this extraordinarily beautiful setting rivals the beach that has come to be known as “America’s Riviera” as the main allure. The Art Deco District is a paradise for anyone who appreciates architecture and art.

Indeed, the historically preserved Art Deco architecture serves as the perfect vehicle for smaller-scaled, one-of-a-kind boutique hotels. With fewer than 100 rooms, they offer a more intimate, personalized, even luxurious experience and are stunning canvasses for gorgeous design.

You literally immerse yourself in the art… Livable Art, is what I call it, and nowhere more so than at The Hotel, a veritable three-dimensional canvas.

I felt it as I entered The Hotel of South Beach (formerly The Tiffany), built in 1939 by master architect L. Murray Dixon.

Dixon may have laid down the lovely lines of the building, but the art comes in when the property was taken over and completely re-done by urban developer/preservationist Tony Goldman and his daughter Jessica Goldman-Srebnick, a former fashion industry executive.

The Goldmans tapped innovative fashion designer Todd Oldham to create the interior design, marking perhaps the first time an American fashion designer was chosen to create every interior aspect of a hotel. The result is livable art. The colors, the shapes, the lines, the textures and lighting stir the senses, as the finest couture can.

The Hotel reopened in 1998 transformed into a true jewel – so much so that the Tiffany Company took exception and barred the hotel from using the Tiffany name. Still, its true pedigree is on view in a historically protected lighted spire that still stands atop the building, proclaiming Tiffany. The historical integrity is certified by The Hotel’s membership in Historic Hotels of America (along with its sister property, another Art Deco treasure, the Park Central Hotel, located on Ocean Drive).

Once you cross the threshold, you realize that The Hotel is anything but a passive structure. It is a three-dimensional canvas. The visual elements excite the senses, evoke an emotional reaction. That is what art is about. The Hotel is so striking, that when I first arrived, I was compelled to drop everything and simply explore.

It was already nighttime, and luckily, I found the rooftop pool, emerald-shaped at the center of a sea of color, affording a cinematic view of the streetscape, aglow in neon lights.

The rooftop pool at The Hotel is a vision of color, designed by Todd Oldham (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Oldham’s lighting and color treatments are captivatingly beautiful – tie-dyed herringbone canvas cabana curtains in bright sea-green colors shot through with yellow, mirroring the panoramic views of the ocean just beyond, like a floating wall.

During the day, the private cabanas are perfect for rooftop massages. Canvas sofas complete the oasis.

At the end of the floating wall, Oldham retiled the outdoor shower in dark green, turquoise and blue artisanal tiles made with carbon carbonate in 25 hues, so they glow like jewels.

The streetscape outside our window at The Hotel (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Also on the roof is the Spire Bar & Lounge, created in 2004, a stunning oasis with gorgeous views of the ocean and cityscape. Spire Bar & Lounge features a special drink menu, including the hotel’s signature electronic martinis. Oldham’s casual elegance style is on display here as well In – high tops, tables and canvas-covered overstuffed sofas and chairs of solid white, accented with handmade orange and pink woven ribbon pillows. Sheer white fabric that flutter with the ocean breeze hang from the main wall.

Todd Oldham's shapes and colors provide a dazzling scene at the bar at The Hotel (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Oldham’s love of color and hand-crafted artisan detail is apparent throughout The Hotel. He comes back periodically to keep the property vibrant and fresh, “re-dressing” The Hotel. For anyone who appreciates interior design, this is like Vogue coming out with the new season’s line.

And so when we arrived, there were new touches to enjoy, particularly in the stunning plein air restaurant, Wish. Wish is a tropical oasis, where umbrellas look like leafy flowers protecting the tables – the colors are inspired by the crest of a wave – blues, greens, turquoise shot through with golden yellow, amid lush landscaping set off by stunning lighting.

The lobby lounge is a symphony of color and shapes and light with these artful fixtures that Oldham designed – circular, high-tech small amber lights surrounded by bronze, gold and green-toned tiles created by artisans exclusively for The Hotel.

There are all these gorgeous spaces that are so inviting. Even a simple breakfast nook conveys an aesthetic charm.

The artfulness of the visual presentation extends to dining, as well.

Wish features the culinary creations of Executive Chef Marco Ferraro, formerly with Jean-Georges in New York City (training under the iconic Jean-George Vongerichten) and Le Muscandin, the acclaimed Michelin two-star restaurant in Mougins.

He has created alluring new appetizers ($14-$21) include Ferraro’s take on a classic – gazpacho (watermelon is involved); poached seafood of calamari, clams, mussels and shrimp, slow poached in a mason jar then poured onto a sidecar of white corn polenta; a whimsical foie gras served with almond crumbs and paired with blueberry compote, wasabi and white chocolate; and a Maine lobster ravioli.

Wish, the garden restaurant at The Hotel (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

The interior restaurant dining space is surrounded by lush foliage that compliments green velvet sofas and velveteen banquets, the original terrazzo floors and Oldham’s hand-cut golden mosaic mirror.

New entrees ($28-$46) include a Kurobuta porkchop, oven-roasted and served with a parsley puree and stuffed eggplant; pan seared skate with grapefruit, mizuna, ginger and foie gras; local snapper steamed and served with squash, artichokes, tomato and basil; a crispy-skin organic chicken served with root vegetables, Thai basil and pineapple-cardamon sauce. New dessert selections ($9-$12) include a French toast stuffed with cr�me fraiche and served with a fresh fruit salad dressed with red wine-passion fruit syrup; vanilla frosted cheesecake; and vanilla pot de cr�me topped with chopped, fresh oranges and pink peppercorns. (Reservations can be made at 305-531-2222 or 305-674-9474.)

Besides having such visual appeal, The Hotel is sensationally livable – it has earned a Four Diamond rating – which is to say it offers every amenity and luxury a boutique hotel can offer, starting with the warm hospitality of the front desk, the helpful concierge and valet and personalized service that can be described as doting. There is twice-daily maid service with nightly turndown, room service.

The four-story boutique hotel offers 49 deluxe rooms and four suites, with lush bathroom amenities by The White Company of London, remote cable television with movie channels, DVD, video library and CD stereo system, a mini-bar, wireless internet, coffee maker, luxurious bedding and furnishings with those exquisite Oldham colors and patterns. The bathroom is a work of art, as well, with tile mosaics and fixtures.

If you fall in love with Oldham’s creations, you can actually purchase many of them at the on-site gift shop.

The Hotel also offers a well-equipped fitness room, small meeting/banquet facilities, multi-purpose business center, and the concierge can help arrange everything from golf to fishing or an in-room massage.

The Hotel is on Collins, just a block away from the beach (beach towels as well as beach chairs are provided).

The Hotel is being expanded. Goldman owns a residential building adjacent to The Hotel and there are plans to renovate it into an all-suite, adding about 20 units.

The Hotel, 801 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139, 877-843-4683,

America’s Riviera

Collins Avenue, graced by Art Deco buildings (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

My enchantment continues as I leave The Hotel to explore Collins Avenue, lined with many of these Art Deco showplaces, and then cut over to Ocean Drive.

In fact, the best reason to stay over in South Beach, is because the Art Deco District is beautiful by day, but stunning at night. Almost fantastical. Definitely cinematic. No wonder so many films have been made here, like “The BirdCage” (Is that “Goldman” or “Coleman”? I can’t resist when I hear that Goldman Properties owns The Hotel).

Collins Avenue, graced by Art Deco buildings (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

The energy, excitement, neon glow, music and movement fill the street. It’s almost like a street party, with one entertainment place after another.

Known as the “American Riviera”, South Beach is actually an urban beach resort. The ocean is separated by sand, dunes, a line of palm trees and grass, a wall, and then Ocean Drive, along which are the most happening of nightspots that don’t shut down in the day. That’s what is so remarkable about South Beach – and something I didn’t expect.

The atmosphere in South Beach is electric (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

The beauty that is the South Beach Art Deco District owes a lot to Tony Goldman. Goldman Properties has been restoring historic buildings in architecturally significant neighborhoods in New York and Miami since 1968, renovating Manhattan’s Upper West Side and the Soho district in the 1970s, Miami Beach’s Art Deco district in the 1980s and New York City’s Wall Street in the early ’90s. The company’s most recent projects include the redevelopment of Wynwood, Miami’s emerging arts district, an historic city project in Philadelphia (Historic 13th Street), and the redevelopment of the historic Four Point Channel district on the wharf in Boston.

Indeed, as I explore the Art Deco District, I come upon The Park Central Hotel on Ocean Avenue, with its commanding beachfront location, which was Goldman’s first restoration in the Art Deco District.

The Park Central

The club scene on Ocean Avenue in South Beach (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Designed by master architect Henry Hohauser, and originally built in 1937, in its heyday The Park Central was a favorite Miami Beach destination for Hollywood royalty including Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Rita Hayworth.

In 1985, Tony Goldman, of Goldman Properties, fresh from reinventing Manhattan’s Soho, discovered Miami Beach’s Art Deco District and recognized its potential to become America’s Riviera. He acquired 18 properties, adding one property per month to his portfolio, but he focused on this beachfront gem as his first Miami Beach renovation project. Honoring its original grace and style and respecting its unique history, Goldman opened the doors to the faithfully restored Park Central in 1987. In 1993, the Park Central Hotel became the100th member of Historic Hotels of America and the first in South Beach.

Today’s Park Central, the “Grande Dame” of the Art Deco District, has the sophistication of a boutique hotel and the unpretentious feel of a seaside inn. It offers many vintage touches including a nostalgic spin on music, with jazz and pop standards from the 1930s and 40s. The hotel’s rooftop lounge provides panoramic ocean views and a private oasis to relax in plush wicker lounge chairs, surrounded by potted palms. On Sunday and Thursday evenings, guests enjoy the Rooftop Cinema program – a free screening of classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood, mixed with more contemporary films, presented al fresco with complimentary designer popcorn (that will assuredly make you forget what decade you are living in).

The Park Central, the "Grand Dame" of South Beach's Art Deco District (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

The oceanfront swimming pool is decorated with a vibrant mural painted by the Spanish artists group Jus D’art.

The Park Central offers 113 deluxe rooms and 12 living room suites, an elegant 1930’s Grand Ballroom-style lobby, and innovative Florida-style meeting and event rooms.

Consistent with Goldman’s reverence for history, they re-designed the original Park Central furniture and installed the original vintage black & white Gleason Romer prints of Miami Beach in the ’20s and ’30s, evoking the golden days.

The Hotel, a 1937 Art Deco jewel, with its iconic Tiffany spire (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

For dining, the Park Central features Quinn’s Caribbean Fish restaurant for cocktails and dinner in the elegant lobby, while Casablanca, next door, serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service.

(Park Central Hotel, 640 Ocean Drive, 305-538-1611, 800-727-5236,

Both The Hotel and Park Central offer the choice of several packages (low season is May 1-Dec 15; high season is Jan. 1-April 30):

A two-night Girlfriends Getaway includes complimentary room upgrade; tasting menu paired with wines at Wish; complimentary beauty gift bag; town car transportation to and from Miami International Airport (25 minutes drive); a Macy’s 11% discount car; Saturday morning yoga class atop the rooftop pool area; and free rooftop al fresco movies at the Park Central on Thursdays and Sundays.

A two-night cultural package features the Miami Design Preservation League guided architectural tour, an Art Deco coffee table book; complimentary self-parking; Access to Bass and Wolfsonian museums, and the movies.

A two-night Romance Package includes town car transportation to and from MIA, glass of iced champagne, in-room or rooftop massages; Todd Oldham-designed tie-dyed bathrobes; and sumptuous dinner with paired wines at Wish.

Miami Design Preservation League

The movement to save these Art Deco treasures originated with Barbara Capitman who organized the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976, laying claim to being the oldest Art Deco Society in the world.

The non-profit organization is devoted to preserving, protecting, and promoting the cultural, social, economic, environmental and architectural integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District and all other areas of the City of Miami Beach where historic preservation is a concern.

The League regards the architecture and design of the Art Deco District as a “Living Hands-On Neighborhood Museum,” and offers a 90-minute walking tour at 10:30 a.m. to explore Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern (MiMo) design found within the Architectural Historic district. The walking tour encompasses both exteriors and interiors of landmark properties. Walking tours depart from the Official Art Deco Gift Shop at 1200 Ocean Drive every morning except Thursday ($20/adults; $15/students and seniors; children under 12 free).

The best reason to stay over in South Beach is to become immersed in the stunning shapes and colors of the Art Deco District at night (© 2009 Karen Rubin).

Thursday evenings, walking tours are also offered at the sunset hour on Ocean Drive. Groups gather at the Art Deco Gift Shop starting at 6:30pm and wander at dusk through the neon lit sights around South Beach until 8 pm.

On the first Thursday of each month, the group also sponsors “Lively Libations,” a heady blend of architecture and alcohol at key destinations all over the District. (There is no charge for this event and the parties kick off Thursdays at 7 pm.)

For more information, contact the Miami Design Preservation League at 305-672-2014 or visit

For more information on Historic Hotels of America, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, call 800-678-8946,

For more information about visiting South Beach and the Greater Miami Beach area, contact The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), 888-76-Miami

Monday, 21 September, 2009

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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