Golden Gal of South Beach

I found myself thinking about an old episode of the “Golden Girls” recently. Remember the one when Rose and Dorothy entered a competition to create a jingle for the Miami tourist board? “Miami is nice, so I’ll say it twice. Miami is nice, Miami is nice…” Those aren’t the lyrics they settled on in the end but I did hum their little tune on a recent visit to South Beach. 

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Miami *is* nice and the residents of South Beach, in particular, have another golden gal to thank for that. Her name is Barbara Baer Capitman. Barbara is the woman known for saving the colourful Art Deco history of south Florida. 

Capitman was born in Chicago and grew up in New York. Her mom was an industrial designer, artist and sculptor. Barbara herself was a journalist who covered New York’s design industry for magazines. In the early 70s, around the time I was born, Barbara moved to Miami and discovered a distinct design history that was in desperate need of help. Hundreds of South Beach’s beautiful Art Deco buildings, built in the 1930s, were being neglected. Some had even been torn down. Barbara wasn’t about to see this stunning piece of American design history decay any further so, she took action.

Barbara Capitman worked tirelessly to draw attention to the importance of Art Deco culture. In 1976, she founded the Miami Design Preservation League. A few years later, the group suceeded in having the Miami Beach Architectural District listed on the National register of Historic Places. 

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Art Deco is a style that was first exhibited in France after World War I. Then it was called Art Décoratifs. Art Deco style was modern at the time with bold geometric forms, bold colours along with exotic touches from ancient Egypt and Maya art. In the 1930s, the style evolved and was known for more curved forms and polished surfaces, chrome and stainless steel. This architecture was found all over the world and Miami Beach is home to the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world. You can understand why Barabara Baer Capitman wasn’t going to let it all crumble to the ground.

Capitman had a vision that one day tourists would flock to see this notable neighbourhood. According to the Miami Beach Architectural District Museum, in the early 80s, Capitman even went on a three month nationwide tour driving her car across the country to tell people about Miami Beach’s historic district and to promote Art Deco style. That trip was all at her own expense. Captiman’s persistence and passion paid off. 

As you stroll down Ocean Drive today, you are surrounded by buildings that take you back in time. Tourists snap photos of everything in sight. Restaurants are blocked with customers. The whole scene is pulsing with energy. On the beach side of Ocean Drive, though, you’ll find a quiet place with a couple of bright green wooden beach chairs. It’s a memorial to Barbara Baer Capitman who died in 1990. There's a very simple bronze bust from a sculpture of Capitman by her mother that was done in 1939 when Barbara was 19 years old. 

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I had my picture taken there. As much as I admired the creativity of Miami Beach's Art Deco deisgners, I felt more encouraged by Barbara’s story. She is truly an inspiration for people everywhere who work to protect the past. So now, I’ll invite you, as I’m sure Barabara would have done, to enjoy more of my photos from South Beach. You can find them in my gallery. Look for a spot frequented by Marilyn Monroe and the hotel where a famous scene from the movie Scarface was filmed.

Until next time,

Rove on.

Jane