The Art Deco Guru
Ever wonder why hot shot real estate developers haven’t taken over the Art Deco District? How has Ocean Drive retained its world-famous, postcard-perfect architectural style, colorful buildings, and century-old history? Because people like Mark Gordon and other members of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), fight to preserve them. In 1976, the area was deserted and in severe disrepair. Barbara Capitman cataloged all the buildings in this historic area and fought to have them placed on the national list of historic buildings (first of the 20th century). Just alone between 5th and 23rd and the ocean and the bay, there are over 800. She created the MDPL and got the world to notice, and with the allure of Art Deco style, designers came from all over the world to rebuild and created the gem it is today. But the fight is far from over.
We interviewed Mark Gordon, one of the directors of the Miami Design Preservation League. He told us that when he was a freshman at University of Miami in the 70s and first began volunteering, Ocean Drive was a ghost town. During that time, South Beach had fallen into grave disrepair and demolition was looming. The only residents were older people who would sit on their porches during the day (there was no AC in most buildings) and when it got dark, the streets were deserted and filled with crime. Mark told us you could “shoot a cannon down the empty streets”. He admitted that he never believed anyone would want to invest any real money in the area. Boy was he wrong. With Miami Vice and Versace teaming up to film in our beloved town, along with the glimmering ocean and soft sand for miles, this place was on the map and on the road to destination stardom.
Mark never imagined that he would become a part of the Miami Design Preservation League, giving tours, running the museum, and eventually becoming a director. He boasted of their Art Deco Walking Tour ranked as one of the top 2% of things to do in the world; they also got the 2023 Trip Advisor Choice Award for being one of the top attractions in the world. We decided to take the tour – after all, at City Life Guru – we go first. It was so interesting hearing the history about many iconic buildings in the trademark Art Deco colors and architectural style. We heard stories of gangsters using the designs of the entryways and décor to give secret signs to guests for the presence of gambling, saw famous murals of Earl LaPen, and learned of the many efforts by the preservationists to safeguard this precious area of our city.
Listen to Mark’s interview and hear about Senate bills that could turn South Beach into a “condo canyon”, how Ocean Drive once was so empty hoteliers had to pay people to drink at their bar to look busy, and how to get tickets to the world-famous Art Deco Weekend.