If you think Art Deco design begins and ends in Miami, think again. South Beach might house one of the most concentrated Art Deco districts in Florida, but Palm Beach County boasts a number of Art Deco structures—you just have to know where to look. “Art Deco is masculine, geometric, and futuristic, and it is the history of South Florida architecture,” says Sharon Koskoff, president of the Art Deco Society of the Palm Beaches. Koskoff founded the organization in the 1980s with the goal of fostering education, preservation, and awareness of Art Deco art, architecture, and culture found in the Palm Beaches. An artist herself, Koskoff accomplishes this mission through her book, Art Deco of the Palm Beaches (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99); lectures; and walking tours of Worth Avenue, Clematis Street, Northwood, Delray Beach, and Lake Worth. PBI.com spoke with Koskoff about the tenants of Art Deco and where to find examples in the Palm Beaches.
|The Delray Villas at 2225 S. Ocean Blvd. exemplify Art Moderne design. Photo from Art Deco of the Palm Beaches.
PBI.com: How would you describe Art Deco to someone who has never heard the term?
Koskoff: Art Deco is masculine, geometric, and futuristic, and it is the history of South Florida architecture. It was developed in the 1930s and 1940s and it represented modernity, progress, speed, and actually a simple way of life. In the beginnings of our architectural history, you also had Mediterranean revival [and] the Spanish style; that is actually more opulent and more prevalent in this area. Our Art Deco is more cherished and more valuable because we have less of it.
What do you love most about Art Deco architecture and design?
The simplicity, the geometry, the perfection, and the variation of theme. You have a few elements—porthole windows, eyebrows, and the rule of three—and how many different ways they achieved that, I find that astounding.
|The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County is a classic example of Streamline Moderne. Photo by Sargent Photography.
Where can you find Art Deco design in Palm Beach County?
Our buildings here in South Florida aren’t concentrated like in South Beach [where] you have a concentrated district. Lake Worth is our most concentrated district in Palm Beach County. The eastern regions of Palm Beach County are where the Art Deco is found because that’s [the area’s] earliest architecture.
One of the things I’m most proud of in Palm Beach County is that our Art Deco buildings are also arts institutions, namely the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, the Lake Worth Playhouse, the Armory Art Center, the Palm Beach Dramaworks building on Clematis Street, and the Boyd Building in downtown Delray Beach which houses a restaurant now (Deck 84), but was built by Gustav Maass and originally housed poets and musicians.
What are the different types of Art Deco buildings?
There are skyscrapers, which are vertical Art Deco, and there’s the horizontal, the Streamline Moderne, and that’s what we have here in South Florida. Steamline Moderne is the absence of man’s idiosyncratic embellishments.
What qualities personify Streamline Moderne?
Just Look at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County in Lake Worth, originally the Lake Theatre, built in 1939 by Roy A. Benjamin. It has rounded corners, and that was a sign of speed because it looked aerodynamic. You see fluted ribbing along the bases [which is another] Streamline Moderne design. You see glass block, and a lot of these [details] are functional because glass block in Florida let the sun in and kept the heat out. You see things called eyebrows; the most common feature in South Florida in modern architecture is an eyebrow. An eyebrow is a flat, linear plane, like a shelf above a window, and sometimes they’re rounded. … You also see on that building groups of three; there are six vertical columns that are geometric [and] pointing upward. Many of these elements we see over and over again. Also very important in Art Deco is a flat roof.
Who were some of the prominent names in South Florida Art Deco design and architecture?
We have three who would be very significant. One would be William Manley King [who] did the historic Art Deco Armory Art Center. … You also have Belford Shoumate, who did private residences in Palm Beach and on Flagler Drive [including] 2631 Flagler Drive and 1221 Northlake Way in Palm Beach. … The other very significant architect is Edgar S. Wortman [who] did a lot of residential homes in Lake Worth.
To learn more about the Art Deco Society of the Palm Beaches or to schedule a walking tour, visit artdecopb.org