Miami Icons: The Colony Hotel, the Most Famous Art Deco Building on Ocean Drive

Categories: Architecture

Colony-1.jpg
Karli Evans
San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis has the Arch. Las Vegas has its retro welcome sign. It seems like every city has an iconic structure to represent itself to the rest of the world. Every city but Miami, that is. The Magic City is full of architectural gems, and maybe that's why no one building has come to define it. But that's left this town without a symbol of its own. In our Miami Icons series, we're aiming to fix that. Today, writer Travis Cohen argues that the Colony Hotel's Art Deco history and Ocean Drive location have earned it icon status.

For better or worse, when most people think Miami Beach, they don't think about Normandy Isle and seven-one or Surfside or Sunny Isles They think about South Beach. They think about half-naked women with perfectly sculpted bodies coated in deep summer tans. They think of candy colored super cars. They imagine SoBe as a scattershot settlement of clubs overflowing with beautiful people who meander towards the shoreline at 4 a.m., bedecked in barely buttoned Armani shirts and short Valentino dresses that have crawled up a long length of thigh, as they search for a palm tree to vomit on beneath the neon moonlight. And what is the backdrop for this glamorous scene? None but the Historic Art Deco District of Miami Beach and all those lovely pastel palaces along Ocean Drive.

And even if the ideas and attitudes towards South Beach that locals and tourists hold don't exactly match up, nobody can contend that the Art Deco architecture is an intrinsic part of the Beach's personality as a city. Most of that style was designed by a man named Henry Hohauser, who was responsible for a great many of the buildings that still stand on Ocean Drive and the surrounding sections of the Deco District. And out of all his classic creations, there's hardly a one that can be said to be more of a well-known staple in the recollections and postcards of South Beach than the Colony Hotel.

colony-2-karli-evans.jpg
Karli Evans
The Colony, designed in 1935, was one of the early buildings erected during the Art Deco renaissance that revived Miami Beach after the great hurricane of September '26 leveled the city in its infancy. The facade is emblematic of the Art Deco style - simple and symmetrical, with bold geometric elements like the inverted "T" that bears the hotel's name and the horizontal eyebrows that hang over the windows in order to give a little extra shade to the tenants as they watch people strutting in the sunshine.

It's playful and tropical in the daytime, but come the night, it's vibrant and garish and pulsating with the allure that has drawn people to this oceanfront playground since the 1930s, growing all the more atavistic and openly wild over the years. And while the scene itself has undoubtedly changed more than anyone could have imagined 80-some odd years ago, the low-lying face of South Beach has remained intact -- and the Colony's iconic blue glow has buzzed over the bustling sidewalk below without missing a beat.

Next time you have a chance to pop into any of the 16-million novelty shops on South beach, take a look at the racks of postcards. Eight out of 10 are going to be pictures of Ocean Drive, lit up in all its nightly extravagance. And almost every one is going to have the Colony Hotel dead smack in the middle, like neon Jesus at a far less somber last supper.

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Colony Hotel

736 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach, FL

Category: General

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13 comments
voxveritas
voxveritas

This POS garbage hotel has been riding that sign since 1935.


I worked here for about 6 months and the place is disgusting. All the floors and walls are warped wood, untreated and rotting with mold. The downstairs restaurant storage area is INFECTED with SWARMS of COCKROACHES..


The rooms are swarming with BEDBUGS, that they refuse to fumigate. (if someone complains they just put them in another room and put someone else in the bug infested one, they never once called a single exterminator, no matter how many bug complaints they got).


Every single front office employee is stoned off their ass 24/7, they get high and have sex in empty rooms. 


The ONLY THING they got going for them is that STUPID SIGN. Me suspects that code enforcement and fire inspectors and pressured by someone high up not to shut down this ICONIC LANDMARK (lmfao).


They should keep the sign, and condemn the hotel. 

DrumRollPlease
DrumRollPlease

Customer review from Trip Advisor:  "The lobby smells like straight dead fish. Every damn time you walk outside they ask if you want to see their menu."

BearBear
BearBear

Pancakes. I simply like pancakes.

miamitrev2
miamitrev2 topcommenter

How can something on/in Miami Beach be a Miami landmark?

Luis R. Perez
Luis R. Perez

That hotel is the biggest piece of shit I ever stayed at. They haven't updated that hotel since they built it. The only thing that works is that sign out front..

Michael Sillince
Michael Sillince

The homeless people on Miami Ave downtown ! You can't miss them when you enter or leave the city ! Or SPACE ! After all its what most people come to miami to do !

Cary Gonzalez
Cary Gonzalez

Bacardi Building. The Colony Hotel is in Miami Beach, not Miami.

Tony Prieto
Tony Prieto

I assume this means that they'll tear it down in a few years.

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