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.