The visual identity of Miami Beach comes from the world’s largest concentration of art deco buildings, which are found in an area bound by Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue between Fifth and 23rd streets. This part of Miami Beach became a designated urban historic district in 1979.
The neighborhood was born when automobile magnate Carl Fisher discovered the then-wild barrier island in 1910. Fisher looked at the mangrove forest-covered island and envisioned an American Riviera. Having bought a house here, he started talking up the charms of the place, spending a fortune developing and promoting the island. By the 1930s, it had become one of America’s chicest seaside resorts, with other developers building hotels and apartment houses in the then-fashionable art deco style. Many of these were designed by architects Henry Hohauser and Lawrence Murray Dixon, who established their own visual code based on streamlined curves, window “eyebrows” and a height restriction of three stories.
When the jet age launched the era of inexpensive travel, American vacationers started looking further afield. Miami Beach lost its allure as a resort town and became a low-budget retirement colony. Many art deco buildings were demolished or fell into disrepair. This changed with the historic preservation movement at the end of the 1970s, and when Miami Beach became a set piece for the wildly popular 1980s television show “Miami Vice.”