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January 16, 2011 Miami, MiMo, Travel

Biscayne Boulevard: ‘Tropical Modern’ Paradise

When I was down in Florida for the holidays, my wife and I left the kids with grandma and grandpa and took a cruise along Biscayne Boulevard to take in the MiMo (Miami Modern) architecture. In 2006, the city of Miami designated Biscayne Boulevard from NE 50th Street to NE 77th Street as the Biscayne Boulevard Historic District. “Before the rise of Brickell Avenue, Biscayne Boulevard was Miami’s prestigious suburban address, ” the authors of MiMo: Miami Modern Revealed write. “A string of stylish Subtroprical Modern office buildings lined the street side by side with colorful motels. The strip fell into a long period of desuetude during the 1970s.” The area suffered from “benign neglect” with little new development keeping the mid-century modern structures intact, although many we saw were vacant with lease signs out front. While the area has seen a bit of gentrification, it is still rough around the edges.

Our first stop was the  1963 Bacardi Building by Cuban-born architect Enrique Gutierrez. The iconic blue-and-white ceramic tile floral patterns were done by Brazilian artist Francisco Brennard. Ten years later, Bacardi added more office space in the annex, a two-story office building cantilevered of a central core. The glass murals are a abstract depiction of the rum making process.

There are 28,000 hand-crafted tiles on the building.

Just down the block from the Bacardi complex, we found a vacant mid-century modern apartment building and a cool office building with metal brise-soleil (sun screen).

Further north, we found the 1965 TechnoMarine Building (architect unknown) with its distinctive wave-like screen block. The building houses office upstairs with retail space on the ground level.

While the TechnoMarine Building had some tenants, other office buildings we saw were not so lucky.

The 1962 Gulf American Building (below, architect unknown) had been the most prominent office tower beyond downtown Miami. It eventually became the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Building. It is now vacant.

We took the above picture from the parking lot of the 1953 Biscayne Plaza Shopping Center by Robert Fitch Smith. The center was Miami’s first suburban strip mall.

You can still see some original details such as the floating staircases.

The visually interesting bridges were actually office space.

One of the most prevalent types of mid-century buildings along this stretch of road is the motel. During the 1950s, Biscayne Boulevard (part of  U.S. Highway 1 that runs from Maine to Key West) catered to travelers heading into Miami from the north looking for some fun in the sun.

The 1953 Motel New Yorker by Norman Giller.

Bye from Biscayne Boulevard. Atomic sidewalk markings along the historic district.

2 comments Post a Comment

  1. Tom — January 17, 2011 @ 10:23 am         Reply

    Mike,

    These are great photos; thanks for sharing them!

    Through my real estate and urban planning consulting practice, I do a lot of work across South Florida. I’m in Miami almost monthly, and love this portion of the Biscayne Blvd. corridor north of the CBD. This is a great example of the challenges developers/property owners face in trying to balance the competing and oftentimes conflicting issues of historic preservation, financial feasibility, and market demand in determining adaptive use options for these incredible MCM buildings.

    Tom
    Michigan Park DC

  2. Mid-Century Mike — January 17, 2011 @ 9:21 pm         Reply

    Thanks Tom. It is very interesting what is going on there. There is a lot of potential but is there a real market there for high-end stores and restaurants when there are still so many people struggling in the area? Your analysis is right on the mark.

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