And The Old Shall Be New

 


By: Iris Chase

Raleigh Pool, referred to as "
The most beautiful pool in the world"
in the pages of LIFE Magazine, 1947


What is it about the attraction we have to the old things in life that make us want to experience those visuals, that music, those smells? Easy…it’s our childhood…it’s times gone by that ring in our ears when we hear the music of Glen Miller…It’s the Chanel #5 that is still a great seller because it reminds us of our Mom when she got all dressed up…It’s the smell of old pot roast recipes that makes our mouth water even though we may be vegetarians….all this has magic…all this has our youth …and if it stays just a little bit longer in our lives, then perhaps our youth stays too…at least in our minds.

So is it with structures…old houses, old sky scrapers, old inns, old hotels and all the old materials and characteristics that we mimic in today’s restorations…the tiles, the colors, the texture of stucco… "Ah yes, I remember it well"….Nostalgia, should it ever leave our emotional lives, we would lose a great deal of melancholy, happy/sad, joy and pain…grief and wisdom…We need to be reminded…so much so that we crave many things that remind us of yesterday or simply of a time in which we can place ourselves for a moment and romanticize… and even escape.

That is why I chose to move to Miami Beach. It has the ocean…that is my childhood. And it has all those 50s hotels where all my school friends went to spend their Chanukahs and Christmases. Now was my chance to LIVE next to them. And then there are the gems—The Art Deco Hotels…they were built before my time but yet they are so familiar to me. I must have seen that architecture as a child…I certainly remember my mother’s collection of Art Deco perfume bottles that were lined up on her mirrored vanity. Perhaps these buildings look a lot like those perfume bottles…all pastel colors of pinks and blues and lavender…my favorite being an Art Deco peachy pink crystal cut glass with a very tall stopper, not unlike the top of the Chrysler Building in NYC. So perhaps it is the "sentimental journey" that we take that is so important…that stirs our love of "Oldies But Goodies."

So who among us are the sentimental ones? It is not just the architects, photographers, artists, dancers. singers, preservationists… It could be you…

Miami Beach is to a great extent what it is today because of the artistic nature of its environment and those who came here recognizing the beauty of its natural resources. Those of them that could imagine building on that, did so and today we still treasure those remaining structures. They came in the 30s and continued to build throughout the 50s…….I thank them often…almost every time I gaze at or enter one of their buildings….And now we have so many more people to thank….Those who came to see it ….and to save it….and to restore it…..and to paint and to photograph it in their own interpretations- those who write about it and tell the world...And those that come and pass the word…Thank you, thank you, thank you….you have all added to the beauty and success of Miami Beach.

So let’s visit Miami Beach….Miami Beach is a collage of exciting buildings and exciting people…many tourists that thirst for the sights… and many residents that create them by preserving them restoring them and building businesses here to support them.


1920 Coral Rock House


The Delano Hotel

Let’s start with the famous Raleigh Hotel….You remember Esther Williams? Well she was filmed doing her famous strokes in the Raleigh Pool. (I remember seeing her films at Radio City Music Hall in NYC). Well that pool has been restored to its original beauty. Now a whole new generation of Hollywood Stars swim in it for recreation and toning. To name a few, Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Calvin Klein, Robert DeNiro etc.

The interior of this Art Deco Hotel has been updated but with full respect and allegience to the original ambience that was created when it was built in 1940 by L.Murray Dixon.

Many of the talented people that now live here first came to photograph or to paint the images that they so admired. Paul Clemence is a well-known photographer who found the shapes of the Art Deco buildings so mesmerizing that he has photographed so many beautiful images, not in the vibrant colors in which they are coated, but in stark black and white. In fact, his collection of South Beach photographs became so sought after, that he recently published a book that is a collection of his works entitled "South Beach Architectural Photographs", Schiffer Publishing. The Delano Hotel is one of his most popular images. The black and white photo of this Collins Avenue Art Deco Hotel is particularly appropriate since the Delano, redesigned by Philippe Starck, is a monument to the color white. Walk inside and you will see the whiteness flowing against the dark wood walls and flooring. The interior is no longer the way it was back in the 40s, but it is grand and full of surprises.

Another artist that came here for the purpose of capturing his favorite sights is Mark Rutkowski. And now he lives here and paints here. He is known best for his paintings of South Beach buildings. Take for example, his depiction of The Park Central Hotel (located on Ocean Drive)…It had to have looked no different in the 1930’s!

So you see, the Art Deco style captures the hearts of a variety of artists with a variety of skills and with styles that are very different. I always felt that this era was very open to playing with design and it is apparent that the playing and experimentation has continued throughout the years.

  Perhaps what is so delightful about this Tropical Art Deco paradise is that you can partake in modern day routine experiences while being in an exciting environment of the past. That in it self spells FUN. Where else can you find an Art Deco building, beautiful inside and out, once a ballroom, where you can have a pastrami sandwich in the middle of the night? I’m talking about Jerry’s Famous Deli. There are more examples of Tropical Art Deco buildings in South Beach than anywhere else in the world. They have been saved, restored, added onto, embellished (and unfortunately, sometimes demolished). They have been photographed over and over by the best photographers in the world, and published in the most well thought of magazines and newspapers. And now what we have growing here (aside from our beautiful palm trees) is a large pool of talented artists and architects that have made Miami Beach their home. The hotels that lost their luster during the 70s and 80s have been re-born thanks to these talented people and thanks to The Miami Design Preservation League for protecting our finest features from demolition. Hollywood now comes here for fun. It is hot. It is cool. It is old. It is youthful. To all those people who don’t give up on what is worth saving---what should be shared and seen by other eyes--you are an unselfish group and we thank you for all the "sentimental journeys" that you have provided.


The interior of the Raleigh has been updated, but with full respect and allegiance to the original ambiance that was created when it was built in 1940s by architect L. Murray Dixon.

 
 

About the Author:
Iris Garnett Chase is the Resident Artist of the Miami Design Preservation League and the author of South Beach Deco: Step by Step (Schiffer Publishing)

The Miami Design Preservation League is located at 1001 Ocean Drive and offers tours of the Art Deco District as well as Art Deco treasures and gifts in its shop.


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