What began as a grassroots festival to bring awareness to South Beach’s movement to preserve its plethora of neglected Art Deco buildings and hotels, has grown into the largest celebration of historical structures from the 20s, 30s and 40s-era. Today, Art Deco Weekend has evolved to include musical performances, fashion shows, walking tours, movie screenings, lecture series and antique cars. Over 400,000 people attend annually and it’s a must-see event for locals and tourists alike.
Initially, the impetus to recognize South Beach’s Art Deco architecture was spurred on by activists Barbara Baer Capitman, John Capitman and Leonard Horowitz, who founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) in 1976. Two years later, they held the first Art Deco Festival, which was actually a week long event. As the festival grew, so, too, did the preservation movement, and since 1992, South Beach’s Art Deco buildings are no longer in danger.
This victory, however, has not meant the end of the Art Deco-related festivities. To the contrary. The annual celebration boasts record crowds and multiple events. For one weekend each January, Ocean Drive is closed to traffic as vendors sell antiques, art pieces, photography, vintage clothing—even funnel cake. There is a stunning display of Art Deco-era cars at the southern end of Ocean Drive, which evoke that bygone time with sleek lines and over-sized headlights. It’s a festival in every sense of the word, and some complain the event has become too commercialized.
True Art Deco aficionados prefer to delve into the more “serious” events surrounding the weekend, namely the lecture series. As each year is themed, the speakers highlight the finer points of the topic.
Another component of Art Deco Weekend is the Music Festival, which is led by Musical Director Doug Wimbish, who handpicks lively musicians to jazz up the soiree. There is also a film series, with era-appropriate movies like “Annie,” “Chicago,” and “The Great Gatsby.” And the fashion component, which was introduced in 2011, has proven to be quite popular, with local designers presenting Art Deco-inspired clothes during a runway show.
Of course, the best way to appreciate the Art Deco treasures South Beach has to offer is to see them up close. There are various walking tours offered all weekend, all led by local architects, historians and preservationists. Via these tours, you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of Miami’s Art Deco architecture and its importance. Plus, there are themed tours that span the Art Deco District through the lens of organized crime, gay and lesbian, Lincoln Road, Jewish Miami, neon lights, Espanola Way and even a cocktail “crawl.”
Altogether, the weekend is a true appreciation of how South Beach’s Art Deco architecture has impacted the oceanfront resort destination. This streamlined style of buildings was influenced by the ocean, sand, foliage and weather. Today, due to the hard work of the MDPL, Ocean Drive, and the surrounding streets, is aglow with the neon and pastel colors of these colorful edifices. South Beach has the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the United States, and the Art Deco District was understandably placed on the National Register of Historic Places for this very reason.
Regardless if you are coming for a history or architecture lesson or just to have fun, guests of Art Deco Weekend always enjoy the era-appropriate antiques, clothes, cars, fashions, music and general vibe. The three-day event is free and family friendly, with many activities for children. There’s also a party-like atmosphere, with many Ocean Drive restaurants offering food and drink specials. Since Ocean Drive is closed to vehicular traffic, there is ample room to experience the sights and sounds of the event. It’s also a great opportunity to make a whole day of it, between the various lectures, live concerts, shopping, people watching, food stands and browsing.
Art Deco Weekend is a uniquely Miami style soiree, and you can expect to see drag queens, stilt walkers, tourists and locals. There is a happy vibe that permeates the entire weekend. It’s considered one of the major highlights on our annual calendar, and for good reason.
Jan 17 – Jan 19, 2014
37TH ANNUAL ART DECO WEEKEND
Miami Beach – Art Deco District/South Beach