Miami Beach was founded 101 years ago by Carl Fisher, who propelled his community into an enduring international destination. It draws more than 8 million visitors each year and has 89,000 year-round residents. Few of them seem to use English as their principal language. A bridge connecting Miami Beach to the mainland occurred in 1914. I read some of this in the Art Deco Museum at 1001 Ocean Drive. As I explored its not-so-great exhibits, I watched several people choose not to enter. They were making the right decision.
The city fell on hard times during the 1920s and by the 1940s its now-celebrated Art Deco period ended. It’s height was the Streamline Moderne era that began with the stock market crash and ended with World War II’s onset. A major hurricane in 1926 sent Florida into an early Depression. Some might say that hard times continue. Wandering off Ocean Drive, Ruth and I found closed businesses, buildings that don’t exactly gleam, etc.
The Miami Design Preservation League came along in 1976 to save this area’s architectural heritage. The members quickly had the Art Deco district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Miami Beach has 12 designated historic districts and 4 National Register areas. It’s hard to tell which buildings are largely original but have been redone from mostly re-creations that promote tourism.
I suppose the 90 minute walking tour offered by the Miami Design Preservation League that leaves from this welcome center would have cleared up some of my questions, but it was late in the afternoon and one wasn’t suggested to Ruth & me. Perhaps the fact that the 40th Art Deco Weekend had just concluded had something to do with this. The ladies in charge of the museum and the visitor center at its entrance assured me that it was very successful. We missed a Jazz Age Lawn Party by not attending.
The museum that we DID see seemed hastily put together. Getting something out of it required a lot of reading with a dry, historical thrust. I quickly tired of the costumed mannequins, kitschy memorabilia, and historic postcards.
Ruth & I tried to walk the length of Ocean Drive to get into a more festive mood. But we quickly got tired of young women trying to lure us into less-than-gourmet restaurants serving huge, oversized drinks to patrons who seemed like they’d rather be elsewhere. Faux fun is no fun. Perhaps we would have benefited from waiting ’til after dark when the area supposedly comes to life and dances.
We passed what appeared to be the only historic residence on the street. It used to belong to Gianni Versace, who life came to an unfortunate end here. Now a restaurant, its staff appeared to have been told to discourage curious tourists who want to talk about the building’s past instead of ordering an expensive meal. This made sense but further reduced interest in Miami Beach.