For decades, South Florida has been a haven for Americans wanting to escape bad debts and bad weather in favor of welcoming sunshine and friendly beaches.
Rolling down Ocean Drive in a pristine 1934 Ford Victoria, with its curved steel and glass, a couple could park in front of Miami Beach's Colony Hotel and land in the middle of a scene resembling a backdrop from the book, The Great Gatsby.
That's exactly the scene the Miami Design Preservation League is trying to create this weekend, as its 33rd annual Art Deco Weekend rolls around from Jan. 15-17, 2010.
With this year's theme, “On the Road: Art Deco Celebrates the Motorcar,'' supporters invite all to hit the highway and be a part of the escapism of the '20s and '30s.
“You have cars from the same style and era parked in front of a building, like it was decades ago,'' said Mel Mann, head of the South Florida Antique Automobile Club of
America. This weekend, the auto club is ready to shine as it takes to the road in a parade showing off fancy hood ornaments, hubcaps and streamlined design. The parade begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16 on Ocean Drive.
But that doesn't mean the architecture will get short shrift.
Miami Beach's renown Art Deco District will be on full display, with tours touting the distinct architectural style found in the Architectural Historic District that started more than three decades ago when Barbara Capitman and a small group of artists, architects, designers, writers and educators formed the preservation league.
The league worked to save, restore and promote the Art Deco District that now stretches over Miami Beach. Under Capitman's leadership, Art Deco Weekend was created and the district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Capitman and then-Executive Director Diana Camber even gave Andy Warhol a private tour of the district in 1980. Now the league gives guided tours, private tours, bike/Segway tours and provides information for self-guided tours daily.
“In Art Deco buildings, symmetry, porthole windows, eyebrows, curved edges and elements in groups of three are important,'' said Iris Chase, author of South Beach Deco Step by Step.
Some buildings were designed to look like modes of transportation.
“Jerry's Famous Deli on Collins has been built and made to look like a cruise liner,'' said Veronika Pozmentier, a volunteer tour guide with the preservation league.
Architecture and transportation were linked. The motorcar from that era was similar to the style and design of architecture.
“The first automobiles were very utilitarian,'' Mann said. “But between the 1930s and
1940s, automobiles turned into being all about style. There were swooping lines, a flowing look and curved glass.''
New methods allowed for advancements.
“Prior to the 1930s, curved glass did not exist,'' Mann said. But, all of a sudden, it became an integral part of the automobile.
The customization that Ford and other companies afforded their customers allowed for cars to be as unique as their owners.
“They had radio knobs that looked like airplane propellers and even used real wood,”
Chase said. “With cars now we focus on safety and design. Back then, they weren't worrying if you had a car crash. The aesthetic is what mattered.''
In comparison to some of today's automobiles, these cars are worth millions.
“Imagine a 1929 Rolls Royce. It's worth a half million dollars. Some of these cars are worth in excess of a million,'' Mann said.
Guy Lewis will show off his prized 1936 turquoise Ford Cabriolet in the parade.
“I got it a couple of years ago,'' said Lewis, formerly U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida and member of the antique automobile club that will snake down Ocean Drive. “It's been cared for as a member of the family,'' he said.
He estimates it's worth a little over a hundred thousand, but “back then it probably cost about $500 to $550.''