Claude Walker | Bicentennial-By-Buttons

“Eye-opening & inspiring tour; valiant guides; faulty sound”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed January 4, 2012

What better time to experience SoBe's neon-drenched Art Deco District than at sunset?

The Miami Design Preservation League's 90-minute tour treks a few blocks west to Washington, back to Collins, then a long meander up and down Ocean Drive. We did the hike during holiday week, so the crowds were dense (both our tour group and the always-lively street scene).

Our tag-team tour guides were well-informed about the sprawling history of Art Deco. They did a valiant job despite faulty personal sound systems, as they successfully escorted 30 people across Ocean Drive while dodging Segways, cellphone-yakking roller-bladers & red Ferraris.

We learned about various forms of Art Deco: early Miami Beach, Mediterranean Revival, Tropical, Streamlined Modern, MiMo, etc. We saw different building styles and materials, such as the A-B-A format, terrazzo, glassblock & jellyfish lighting.

We discovered frozen fountains, eyebrows and hidden murals with crouching gators. We especially enjoyed peeking into the lobbies of many Ocean Drive classics.

The guides shared dramas, such as the batttle of wills & egos of Hohauser and other early architects, Versace's murder, the heroic efforts of preservationists.

I would have liked to venture further west, and hear more about the bold typefaces used in the hotel sigs. The guides may have dwelled a bit long on Mediterranean Revival for my taste, and their crackly mics didn't do their expertise justice.

But this is a terrific tour - I'll see South Beach with a keener eye now - especially as the sun sets and neon begins to glow.

Visited December 2011

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