(MIAMI BEACH) -- -- Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) activists fought against all odds 30 years ago to save Miami Beach's Art Deco architecture from bulldozers and demolition, and few could have imagined the impact their efforts would have on the city's future. Led by founder Barbara Baer Capitman, the League won its landmark battle on May 14, 1979, when the Art Deco District was named to the National Register of Historic Places - the first time a 20th century district was recognized as "historic" by the U.S. government. Since then, every element of South Beach's renaissance may be traced back to this defining moment.
A movement that was criticized as foolish by many, it ended up spearheading the turnaround of a community that was in crisis. Shortly after MDPL's landmark preservation victory, South Beach began a dramatic evolution. Neglected and abandoned buildings were transformed into hip properties, spurring the new "boutique" hotel trend. Ocean Drive was revitalized, and sidewalks were broadened, creating a bustling café society. International fashion catalogues and film and television crews pounced on the Art Deco backdrops, and Miami's next wave of immigrants were models, celebrities, directors and photographers. In the decades that followed, South Beach thrived.
"What would South Beach be like now, 30 years later, if all of these Art Deco buildings had been demolished?" said MDPL Chair Barry Chase. "Victory in 1979 was the turning point for Miami Beach. It's a preservation success story - and a historic district -- unlike any other in the United States."
To commemorate this 30th anniversary, the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) will celebrate on May 14th with two events. David Vela, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service (the agency that oversees the National Register of Historic Places), will be the keynote speaker at a morning reception. Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower and visionary developer Tony Goldman will speak about what it was like then and the impact the historic designation made on Miami Beach. Also attending are many early pioneers from South Beach's revival that followed 1979's preservation victory. Mayor Matti Herrera Bower will unveil a bronze plaque honoring the 1979 historic designation, to be placed at the site of the new Art Deco Welcome Center when it reopens at Ocean Drive and 10th Street later this year.
MDPL will unveil the 30th anniversary commemorative Art Deco artwork, created by Michael Young, along with an "Art Comes to Life" installation featuring models in vintage swimsuits recreating images from the painting.
Later that evening, MDPL will host an Open House Celebration for the community, featuring the exhibit "Victory! The Past Has a Future," documenting preservation activities throughout the last 30 years with never-before-seen photos, images, articles and memorabilia from the Barbara Baer Capitman Archives/MDPL and the Kinerk-Wilhelm Collection, plus rare archival TV news footage from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives.
"Preserving our nation's heritage sites is beneficial in many ways - culturally and economically," said David Vela. "Miami Beach's Art Deco District is a living museum teeming with a vibrant residential population, businesses, tourism and entertainment. South Beach has become a worldwide symbol of America through films, its culture and the millions of tourists that visit the District every year, and it is a testament to how preservation can benefit our communities."
"Art Deco is the heart and soul of South Beach, and Miami Design Preservation League carries forth its spirit," says Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower. "This anniversary is an opportunity to rediscover our Art Deco heritage, and the City of Miami Beach proudly joins MDPL in celebrating this milestone. Our community's success story is a tribute to MDPL's championing our historic district. Preserving the community's architecture, character and integrity led the way to the economic and cultural revival we all benefit from today." Tony Goldman, COO of Goldman Properties, adds: "Those of us who have been here from the beginning truly respect and appreciate the invaluable leadership role that MDPL has played in the enlightened preservation and revitalization that saved the irreplaceable historic fabric of Miami Beach."
Boasting the world's largest concentration of Art Deco architecture (more than 700 historic buildings), Miami Beach's Historic Art Deco District is unique because it's a living museum - teeming with a vibrant residential population, business, tourism and entertainment unlike any other historic district in the United States.
Since MDPL's founding in 1976, the League has conducted more than 350,000 walking tours of the Art Deco District for tourists from all over the world, national and international media, visiting dignitaries, students and residents. MDPL has held 32 Art Deco Weekend® festivals in Miami Beach. The League was the world's first Art Deco society. Capitman's early efforts led to the formation of Art Deco preservation groups throughout the United States, Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand.
The Miami Design Preservation League is a non-profit preservation and arts organization devoted to preserving, protecting and promoting the architectural, cultural, social, economic and environmental integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District (Art Deco District), as well as other areas of the city and South Florida, wherever historic preservation is a concern. MDPL was the first Art Deco Society in the world. For further information, visit http://www.mdpl.org.
Photo by Lenny Furman