Inside the Washington Post
LA Film Festival 2005

Reinventing South Beach Art Deco

Miami Beach Art Deco hotels have been reinventing themselves since the 1920s, when they first captured the romance and sophistication of J0386177Depression Era indulgence. Big stars performed in uptown clubs, and color everywhere -- pastels outside and bright hues inside -- was the background for glamour. Now the latest hotel grand re-opening is The Victor. In 1980, the Victor's original restoration became a symbol of the potential for a revitalized Art Deco District that by the 1990s again became one of the hottest and most stylish tourism spots in the world.

Ocean Drive was thick with Yiddish and Spanish, decaying residential hotels, and boarded-up properties when entrepreneurs Margaret Doyle, J0386179 Andrew Capitman, their artistic young friends, and historical preservation colleagues in Miami Beach began giving new life to the the Art Deco District in the late 1970s. Louis Miller built the Victor in 1937 and occupied the penthouse. Tenants were middle-class Jews, food was kosher, and an orchestra played for dinner -- at which women wore long dresses.

Here's what else I wrote about the Victor's original restoration in Smithsonian Magazine. When Doyle began the restoration, six rugs had been nailed down over the lobby's terrazzo floor. The front of the lobby had been covered with red-flocked and baby-blue-and-silver wallpapers. Balcony railings and all of the lighting fixtures had been sprayed with brass paint; they included three elongated copper-chromed chandeliers, nine chandeliers representing upside-down Flash Gordon hats, and 16 wall sconces.

Doyle initiated an interpretive restoration, matching wall colors to the varied burgundies and greens and the off-white and gold of the terrazzo patterns and hues in the breathtaking lobby mural by Earl La Pan -- a painting of lush Everglades birds and plants that also came to symbolize the tropical Deco spirit. Chrome chandeliers and fixtures were returned to their original condition, and the cove ceiling in the oval dining room contained its original neon lighting.

Five years ago when I was visiting South Beach, the Victor was again boarded up, the dream lost. Let's hope the latest reinvention will allow the once-vulnerable Victor to endure despite the boom and bust cycles that have continually reshaped South Florida since it was carved out of swamps in the late 19th century.