Echoes of Art Deco

The jazz age architectural style known as Art Deco left a legacy of glamour and modernity

From the start, Mediterranean Revival was one of the foundational styles by which Coral Gables rose from its Pleistocene bedrock and pine forests. In 1925, along with a team of artists, architects, landscapers, dreamers, and marketers, George Merrick founded the Coral Gables Corporation to develop and finance his tropical planned paradise.

It was the same year that the Internationale Exposition des Arts Decoratifs burst upon the cultural scene in Paris, suddenly confronting antecedent design genres with a bold new style called Art Deco. The result in American cities (including Coral Gables) was what architecture historian Richard Guy Wilson has described as “an eclectic coexistence of traditionalism and modernism.” Mediterranean Revival collided with Art Deco — and the rest is history.

280 MIRACLE MILE (1948) Designed by William H. Lee in streamline moderne style as a luxe movie palace, this historically designated building has been repurposed as a performing arts center known today as the miracle theatre, home to the Actors’ Playhouse. (Photo courtesy of Maryannhull/Murnor Studio)

Art Deco captured the rhythm and zeitgeist of the era. The new style showed up in hotels, theaters, skyscrapers, ocean liners, offices, and houses. It was manifest in art, fashion, jewelry, furniture, and even music. Envision New York’s Empire State Building or Chrysler Building; jaunty automobiles like Cadillacs, Cords, and Pierce-Arrows; and exquisite transatlantic ocean liners like the Normandie. Listen to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” as its jazz-infused notes proclaim: yesterday was then; this is now!

Down among the sheltering palms of Coral Gables, Art Deco hit home… literally. But as the roar of the 1920s diminished with the Great Depression, Art Deco morphed into a less flamboyant version of itself (Art Moderne) in which a new generation of place-makers emphasized horizontality over verticality. Stretched linear forms, minimal surface decoration, porthole windows, and glass-block walls simplified Art Deco’s complex geometry in keeping with the new economic reality.

The reality today is that many of our between-the-wars structures are still in existence. Homes from the period still add a dash of panache to our avenues and boulevards — with an illuminated Deco marquee still announcing theatrical productions on our main commercial thoroughfare.

While the buildings shown here by no means comprise an exhaustive tally of our Deco/Moderne architectural treasures, they open a window on yet another signature style that makes the City Beautiful… well, beautiful. With this 20th century style, Coral Gables embraces the new and the old as it continues down the road to what’s next.


This historically designated home displays many of the characteristics of deco/Moderne architecture: Banded columns framing the entrance, a curved flank, and signature use of glass block. It was designed by William H. Merriam, who also designed the Coral Gables Woman’s Club. (Photo courtesy of Sherry Shu Zhang)

1101 NORTH GREENWAY (1937)

This two-story residence designed by Paist & Steward is punctuated by both rectangular and round windows, notably in the button-like design of the main entry door, perhaps reminding us that polka dots are forever.

1261 NORTH GREENWAY (1936)

Art Deco

The central mass of this two-story home designed by V.H. Neldenbogen is flanked by two symmetrical wings, giving it (with its two signature porthole windows) unique physical presence.


Art Deco

This horizontally expansive home features a dominant center surrounded by two horizontal wings. Designed by architect Gene E. Baylis, the house presents an atypical circular/angular composite version of deco moderne architecture.


Art Deco

The four-sided “Goddess of the Seas” column at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club was created in bas relief by noted American sculptor Ralph Hamilton Hume. It’s a tactile yet symbolic fusion of the plastic arts and the nude female form.


Art Deco

This unassuming one-story office building is notable for the two incised Deco wall panels above its main entrance. Designed by C. Leroy Kinports (Who also designed the 1933 Mediterranean Revival home of feminist trailblazer Roxcy O’Neal Bolton), 1750 Ponce suggests the emerging “less is more” aesthetic of the 1950s.


Art Deco

The asymmetrical massing of windows, main entrance, and a side curvature housing a grand interior staircase distinguish this stunning two-story Art Deco residence — both outside and inside.

1217 NORTH GREENWAY (1933)

Art Deco

While the “Gold Diggers of 1933” was proving to be one of the top-grossing movies of the year, architect L. Murray Dixon was designing one of the city’s classic moderne homes. Its symmetry and use of interlocking geometric forms make it one of the cultural touchstones of the time…. As was the black-and-white film.

Story written by Karelia Martinez Carbonell, the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, and Bruce Fitzgerald. Photos courtesy of Vicki Cerda.