Guide Robyn doing an art deco tour in South Beach starting from the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach and heading to Ocean Drive
If starting from the Loews Hotel, I start with introductions outside the lobby doors
situating the guests in front of a beautiful fountain.
Then we walk on the right side of the driveway (easier to walk than the left),
down to the front of the hotel, there is a shady nice little corner in front of pretty
foliage, and I introduce the Julia Tuttle story. It makes sense here to begin the
tour with the woman responsible for opening up Miami to us all! It also gives
commentary right away as walking to Espanola Way without formal commentary I
feel isn’t as effective. The story sets the tone for the entire tour.
Cross over Collins at 15 th and then walk to Espanola Way. I have them note the
Clay Hotel on the corner and that I will refer to it in a just a minute. We walk
swiftly through Espanola Way to the shady area at Drexel where there is plenty of
room and it’s super quiet and very shady and lovely. Here I discuss the entire
beginnings of Espanola Way bringing in E.B.T. Roney and his vision for a Spanish
Village. Then I include juicy stories of Al Capone- his gambling ways at the Clay
and more and Desi Arnaz-his wild parties that commenced on Espanola Way and
the song he developed for us here in Miami Beach-The Miami Beach Mambo!
People love it when you can bring in characters from the past especially if the
stories are good and juicy!
I review Mediterranean Revival architecture as the style that came before Art
Deco and much more here.
Then I allow my guests a slow stroll back up through Espanola Way and then we
make our way to Washington taking a glance at the Clay on the corner.
Cross over Washington and then I stand on Washington across from the Senor
Frog. I think this building is an interesting piece to include in commentary since it
started as the famous Hoffman Cafeteria and has been so many things! I
introduce the concept of Nautical Art Deco and we look at how the whole building
looks like it is moving like a ship. I actually do a demo first with two of my guests
as well! I choose a woman and man (usually married or just together as a couple).
I recreate when Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet from the movie Titanic
stood on the ship’s bow with his arms over hers. I say to my guests,” What does
this remind you of?’ They all usually guess right away-TITANIC! Then I point to
Senor Frog and say this is an “Ocean Liner that didn’t sink!” My guests love that
introduction and sets up Nautical Art Deco in a fun way. I let them know we will
see another example of this a bit later in the tour. I don’t go deeply into Art Deco
at this point, just a fun tease.
Then I go through the Alley! I think this a very critical part of the tour and one I
know a lot of other tour companies do not do. I first explain that we are entering
some place very special as the concept of South Beach has pretty much been fun
in the sun! But this entire complex encompassing the Carlton Hotel, the Betsy and
this connecting Alley shows the direction of South Beach as more than just beach
time. I talk about the owner of the Betsy and his decision to purchase the Carlton,
renovate and create a mecca of arts and culture with a literature emphasis. I even
go as far as to tell them that if you book a room at the Betsy, on your pillow at
night you will receive a bookmark with a lovely poem instead of the usual
chocolate mint! I explain what goes on here during our Art Basel week and then I
proceed to show and explain the Poets Rail wall sculpture.
I talk about all the wonderful acclaimed poets and the excerpts from their works
on the sculpture, but then I point out one in particular-Muhammed Ali! He had
deep connections to the city of Miami and my husband Allan, shared with me
these incredible stories about him and the famous Fifth Street gym. I tell
everyone not only was he beloved he in Miami and all the cool stories about him,
but that beyond his being a champ, he was considered a poet! I read off the Poets
Rail, his famous little poem and I try my best to actually imitate him! My guests
that day loved it! People love pop culture and can relate to it.
Then we stop at the Orb! I say, “Usually our beach balls are found on the sand,
but here, we actually squashed one between two buildings!” And they can see
that the Orb indeed looks like a squashed beach ball. I go into the history of how
the Orb came to be, and that the connection between the two buildings of the
Betsy and the Carlton is just a simple hallway, not an obvious bridge which is
actually an architectural miracle. I go into a discussion on how two really different
styles of architecture-Georgian and Art Deco, seamlessly flowed from one building
to the other-very unique! I end with that for me, it looks like the two buildings are
kissing each other!
Then we cross over Ocean Drive to stand in the shade under a palm tree directly
across from the Betsy to discuss the famous Betsy Ross, now known as the Betsy
South Beach. I start off with that, “Ocean Drive also has another name-The
Avenue of Dreams. And when you dream, you often dream about many things.
Well, that’s Ocean Drive-anything goes, it can be different style of architecture,
not just Art Deco! So even though the Betsy is a completely different style than
the famous Art Deco, it’s actually Georgian, it fits South Beach!” Then I talk about
the outside architectural elements and some Betsy stories and how the style fit
the times as the country approached WWII. I discuss how the hotel was used
during the war.
Then we move on to the highlight of the tour-A complete detailed discussion of
Art Deco! I say, now you have experienced the real early days of South Beach with
Espanola Way, the times after Art Deco with the Betsy, the Alley and the future of
South Beach, and now we will immerse ourselves in the golden period of South
Beach-the development and preservation of Art Deco!
I stand in front of the Cardozo and Cavalier and begin with how Art Deco began
and go through my entire discussion of everything Art Deco, the upswing of South
Beach, its decline, Barbara Capitman and Leonard Horowitz, Miami Vice, Bruce
Weber, etc, etc. I compare and contrast the Cavalier (1936) with the Cardozo
(1939) with some fun stories about each. I talk about Classic Art Deco and then
Streamlined Modern Art Deco and show how a few years difference between
these two buildings present different architectural styles.
Then to Casa Casuarina (Versace Mansion) with commentary as I usually do on
the public tours. Everyone always love this. I also add a quick contrast between
the Bon Air next door which is an Art Deco/Mediterranean Revival combination
style as contrasted the mansion which is just Med. Everyone loves that the
downstairs restaurant is owned by Pitbull.
I end with that it is very fitting that we are ending our tour today at 11 th street
otherwise known as Leonard Horowitz Place ( and I don’t forget to tell them that
one block over 10 th street is Barbara Capitman Way)because the man who had the
idea of bringing color to Art Deco, the man who brought us pink, yellow, green
and blue gives us South Beach today as one of the most colorful places in Miami if
not in the whole country!
This tour can be 1 ½ hours. To make it a 2-hour tour, we can add a visit inside one
of the hotels and perhaps a stop for gelato or coffee.