The Greater North Miami Historical Society


Time Line
Board of Directors
Contact Us
Local Historical Sites
Local Places
Membership Application Form
North Miami Map
Time Line













Push to Make Old Buildings Cool Again in Miami Beach


Published: May 16, 2004


MIAMI BEACH, May 15 Unlike the sleek Art Deco hotels that draw hordes of hipsters to South Beach, the International Inn, a few miles north, looks like another aging concrete-block motel, just this side of seedy. But look harder and glimpse a budding architectural trend that some here hope will have Deco's cool cachet before long.

It already has a catchy name: MiMo, short for Miami Modernism, which two design buffs coined five years ago for the building style that flourished here in the postwar boom of the 50's. Think space-age optimism and touches of whimsy. Think massive, swanky and quaintly cheesy, like velvet paintings or showgirl headdresses.

A growing group of preservationists, politicians, developers and tourism promoters are angling for MiMo (pronounced MY-mo) to become a revered symbol of Miami Beach just as Art Deco did in the 80's, when a movement took off to restore the crumbling Deco buildings of South Beach and use their distinctive design as a marketing tool. The renovations proved instrumental to the revitalization of South Beach, starting with Art Deco's prominent role in "Miami Vice." Now, people are hoping MiMo can do the same for the northern half of Miami Beach.

"There is an enormous ocean of popular culture that can be enlisted in getting people to make positive associations with 50's architecture," said Randall Robinson, a planner for the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation who, with Teri D'Amico, an interior designer, created the term MiMo. "It's a matter of time and manpower and money to do it."

Mr. Robinson and Ms. D'Amico have led a fight to save MiMo buildings, and while they have not always succeeded classic MiMo hotels like the Bel-Aire and the Royal York were demolished in recent years they have unquestionably raised MiMo's stature. In January, the Miami Beach City Commission created a MiMo historic district along 12 blocks of Collins Avenue, the city's main drag. That will protect a cluster of large oceanfront hotels like the Sherry Frontenac and the Radisson Deauville, built in 1947 and 1957.

The North Beach Development Corporation, a nonprofit group, has jumped on the bandwagon, exploring ways to market MiMo and with it, North Beach, which the group is trying to revitalize. As part of a "MiMo in May" celebration, the group has printed MiMo walking tour maps and offered more formal tours and lectures. Meanwhile, a MiMo photography exhibit is on display at Miami International Airport and will move to the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee later this year.

"We're trying to bring people's attention to the fact that indeed it's very attractive architecture," said Jeannie Tidy, the group's executive director. Ms. Tidy said that as a preservationist in New Orleans, she had helped rekindle appreciation for shotgun houses that had fallen into neglect, and that she hoped to do the same with MiMo buildings.

Marketing MiMo is more of a challenge than marketing Art Deco, Mr. Robinson said, because MiMo buildings are spread over a much larger area, not just Miami Beach but Sunny Isles, Bay Harbor Islands and North Miami, to name a few other places, and are less uniform in appearance. On Collins Avenue, they are interspersed among indistinctive condominium towers whose style Mr. Robinson likes to call "NoMo," as in "no more." The historic Art Deco district in South Beach, on the other hand, is compact and more cohesive: all pastels and streamlined symmetry.

To some, Art Deco buildings are also more immediately appealing, with their elegant ornamentation and smallish size. They also look like antiques, and for Miami Beach, incorporated in 1915, they are; most Art Deco buildings here went up in the 1940's. Mr. Robinson said that many who live among MiMo buildings do not value them because they are newer and in many cases more plain. Many rely on light and shadow for decorative effect instead of ornamentation, he said.

"It's about taking what they've got and changing the point of view on it," Mr. Robinson said.

People like Christina LaBuzetta, a location scout, are trying to help that change come faster by promoting MiMo buildings for use in film, television and photography shoots. Ms. LaBuzetta, whose company, Location Resources, is based here, said she had persuaded the producers of "CSI: Miami," on CBS, to incorporate MiMo buildings into the show's first season in 2002-03.

"They didn't want to do Deco because `Miami Vice' did Deco," Ms. LaBuzetta said. "This is something new and cool and still kind of undiscovered." Ms. LaBuzetta also got American Eagle, a clothing company, to shoot its spring catalog at the International Inn, where rooms are $56 a night versus well over $300 at the Delano, a hot Deco hotel in South Beach. She said it took her a while to recognize and appreciate MiMo.

"It so reminds me of where we were 20 years ago with Deco," she said. "Nobody appreciated it, and there was a movement to tear a lot of it down. You have to have an eye for MiMo; that's where it's at right now."