Saturday, February 5, 2011

In A Miami State of Mind; SoBe, NoBe? Collins Avenue From Top To Bottom

My sister and I in Miami, Easter 1957, sporting our pink check dresses 
made by our mother, straw hats, white gloves and saddle shoes!
During our recent winter sojourn to the Miami area (actually a bit north of Miami in Aventura) I opted to take a ride on the local 'S' bus that took me from the Aventura Mall (truly the 8th 'Wonder of the World', conveniently located in south Florida) to South Beach, Miami, 'SoBe' to the natives. The forty-five minute trip cost only $2 but allowed for a comfortable ride downtown past many hotels and condos, historic, new, glitzy and kitschy that dot Collins Avenue from about 192nd Street to Lincoln Road in the heart of South Beach.

My family had vacationed there in 1957 and I had some vague memories of Miami and its grandness and wondered how much still existed or if it was just a fantastical childhood memory. But when I got off the bus at the corner of Collins Ave. and Lincoln Rd. I found myself in deco-paradise and of course immediately had a million questions about the history of the area as I greedily snapped photos of historic hotel signs. Actually referred to as the Historic Art Deco District, South Beach contains the largest concentration of 1920s and 1930s resort architecture in the world when Miami was being developed as a tropical playground for the rich and famous. It was all a bit 'fantastical' and I was enchanted.  My photos follow with a brief description and history of the properties.

The Sherbrooke Hotel on Collins Avenue was built in 1915 and has a futuristic facade with porthole windows in some rooms and deco-style metal railings. Winner of the 2004 Barbara Baer Capitman Award For Excellence In Historic Preservation.

Tiffany Hotel is now named The Hotel (after protests from a jewelry company of the same name), though the Tiffany name still remains on a tall spire atop the hotel. Recently renovated with a rooftop pool and Spire Bar.

Royal Hotel is a 1938 gem revamped by world-famous designer Jordan Mozer, adding a modern take to the Streamline Moderne architectural design. With it's marble floors, tiled bathrooms, down bedding and of course modern amenities like Internet access the Royal was featured in the 2001 edition of "Cool Hotels" and "The Best Designed Hotels in North and South America."

The Hotel Shelley constructed in 1936 is located on Collins Avenue in South Beach, Miami. A bed-and-breakfast hotel with deco-styled furniture and a veranda faces lively Collins Avenue. There's an open bar on the beach every night.

Stardust Apartments is a historical Art Deco building located is the heart of the Art Deco District of SoBe. This property gets the 'kitschy' award (by me!). Best's cheap!

The Blue Moon Hotel was named after the Rogers and Hart ballad by Merv Griffin, a former owner. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Blue Moon is a combination of two smaller hotels and features hand-painted terrazzo floors and arched Mediterranean windows.

The finial tower on the Essex House Hotel on Collins Avenue tops an original 1938 Art Deco hotel authentically restored in nautical moderne, with porthole windows and racing stripes along its sides. The tower spells out Essex in neon and in its day lured many to to the hotel including Al Capone and his friends who played cards in a game room off the lobby.

The Hotel Astor is a renovated boutique hotel on Washington Avenue in South Beach. It boasts the original 1936 Vitrolite wall panels blended with contemporary style and '30s elegance.

The Royal Palm Hotel is another historical art deco hotel with modern amenities on Collins Avenue with beach front access and many rooms with ocean view.

On Collins Avenue Loews Miami Beach Hotel opened in 1998. Loews combines a new 17-story tower with the 60-year-old St. Moritz hotel, fully restored to original Art Deco splendor. Everything is on a grand scale. Built in 1939, the St. Moritz is one of the most exotic hotels in Miami. Architecturally the hotel combines modernism, cubism, futurism with geometrical forms in the Persian and Egyptian style.

The Sagamore was created in 1923 it had nine rooms are housed in the renovated structure of the former Hollywood Athletic Club.

Built in 1947 by architect Robert Swartburg The Delano was purchased in 2009 and its new owners have plans to expand the hotel scheduled for completion next year. The hotel's tower has four wings and is one of the tallest buildings in the area. The Delano was the first hotel in America with an indoor and outdoor lobby.

The Shelborne opened on December 28, 1940. Back then an Oceanfront Penthouse rented for $15 per day from December through June 1941. Well known bandleader, Chet Brownagle and his orchestra played at the opening of the hotel.

Heading back to Aventura I passed many other Miami properties including the
Fontainebleau Hotel (originally designed by legendary architect Morris Lapidus)
where my family stayed or visited back in the late 50s. I remember walking poolside while a
fashion show featuring bikinis, shocking and new then, had my mother whisking us out of there
fast either to protect our virtue or my father's! Wolfie's, a favorite restaurant of ours, is closed.

In 1979 Miami Beach's Art Deco Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  1. My memories include the Eden Roc hotel and the gorgeous seaside park with the flamingos where we had our first taste of "Shirley Temple" cocktails. I also remember changing hotels because the pool was too dangerous, Barbara's horrible sunburn and Easter dinner where we ate fried chicken and baked potatoes including the skin!

  2. Ahhhhh....thanks for filling in the blanks. I always wondered where we had the Shirley Temples...the Eden Roc is still there. I thought we switched hotels because of Barbaras sunburn..she was so miserable that she was crying too much and mom and dad were embarrassed, but the pool thing makes sense. Didn't remember Easter dinner, just Wolfies! Don't you love our photo? I look soooo happy.