Ten Most Underrated Miami Architectural Sites and Buildings
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When tourists visit Miami, three things await them: beaches, butts, and Art Deco buildings. In fact, the beautiful pastel hotels and restaurants in South Beach have been South Florida’s most iconic architecture since their construction in the golden age of the 1920s. Apart from the Freedom Tower, the American Airlines Arena or perhaps the ubiquitous, strongly white-modernist mansion, nothing else remains in your head that is reminiscent of the magical city.
However, there is more to architecture than just the most famous buildings. Across the region there is a multitude of underrated designs in different styles: brutalist libraries, Mediterranean mansions, Spanish colonial churches and much more.
Here are ten of our favorite hidden gems and underrated highlights of Miami architecture:
1. Central Baptist Church. Many cities have great old churches like Central Baptist, but it’s surprising to find one in the middle of downtown Miami’s skyscraper jungle. Although it is next to College North Metromover station, this building is best appreciated from another stop: Park West. From the platform with the Freedom Tower on the left, the classic facade and the red-orange dome of the building are barely visible, a living island in a sea of concrete and steel. It’s like being in our own little basilica in Florence. It’s just a shame we had to spoil the view. 500 NE First Ave., Miami.
2. Broward County Main Library. The grandiose, concrete-heavy style of brutalism has been hated and loved in equal measure since its inception in the 20th century. Fans love its monumental timelessness and raw beauty, while critics consider it dehumanizing. The Broward County Main Library, designed by Robert Gatje of legendary Marcel Breuer company in the 1980s, shows how to get the style right. An exterior clad in coral rock and foliage balances the intensity of the concrete, and its wide-open, five-story atrium lets in light, making the cavernous space warm and inviting. Brutalism was intended for such large public spaces. 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
Tailgaters in front of the newly renovated Hard Rock Stadium.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
3. Hard Rock Stadium. When commuting from Broward to Miami on the turnpike, you will likely pass by the home of the Miami Dolphins. There wasn’t much to see until last year. Spiral ramps and video screens indicated a large concrete toilet. After a $ 500 million renovation last year, the newly christened, white-roofed Hard Rock Stadium is not only a great place for sports, but also a remarkable, stylish building, comparable to the bone-white skeletal structures of the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava or even Frank Gehry’s New World Center in Miami Beach. With towers looming over the North Miami-Dade landscape like ship masts, the flat, square roof looks like it could be its own heavenly playing field. 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens.
The Wolfsonian, decked out for a temporary exhibition.
Courtesy of the Wolfsonian
4. Wolfsonian FIU. Ever walk down Washington Avenue past the Wolfsonian and wonder why this warehouse has such an ornate facade. OK, you probably didn’t use these exact words, but it’s no surprise if the structure has turned your head. The building that now houses the Florida International University’s Museum of Design and Decorative Arts was built in 1927 as the Washington Storage Company, a facility where rich snowbirds can store their paintings and furniture – like a public warehouse but not public . When philanthropist Micky Wolfson remodeled the room, he kept the exterior sandstone carvings, and now everyone can see art that was once hidden in vaults. 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach.
5. Emanu-El Temple. There’s no shortage of beautiful old churches in Miami, but what about synagogues? After all, South Florida is home to the second largest Jewish population in the United States, and there is no more visible memory than the Emanu-El Temple. Modeled on the Great Synagogue of Oran, Algeria (now a mosque), Emanu-El, with its impressive dome and columnar arabesque facade, is a landmark of Jewish history and presence in Miami Beach. It’s also across from Fillmore Miami Beach and the New World Center, so you can watch a show right after the service or soak up the charm while sitting outside for a free concert. 1701 Washington Ave., Miami Beach.
Coral Gables Town Hall
Photo by Averette / Wikimedia Commons
6. Coral Gables Town Hall. It’s easy to make jokes about Coral Gables. If you judge “city beautiful” simply by the headlines, it seems like a city full of rich, snooty idiots with a strange, irrational hatred of pickup trucks and, more recently, medical marijuana. But one thing they have is taste. Just look at the immaculate City Hall, an ornate Mediterranean-style structure with a bell tower and Corinthian limestone colonnade. It’s an undeniably beautiful building. Perhaps the city’s tendency to pass ridiculous laws comes from the town hall, which makes them feel less like officials than kings. 405 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables.
The pump house on Miami’s Upper Eastside, now Cafe Roval.
Courtesy of the City of Miami
7. Pump house. Arguably the most beautiful structure ever designed for a waterworks, it was built in Miami during the housing boom in the 1920s to provide water for the residents of the new Bay Shore suburb, now known as Morningside. After annexing the city and abandoning the facility, the city traded with owners – teachers, doctors, perhaps a serial killer, and even a cult leader – throughout the 20th century and fell into deep disrepair until it was finally renovated by barber JB Kilpatrick in 2006. The quaint house is now home to restaurateur Mark Soyka’s Café Roval, which the New Times named the best romantic restaurant in Miami this year. 5808 NE Fourth Ct., Miami.
Courtesy Deering Estate
8. Deering Estate. When it comes to gorgeous old Miami mansions, James Deering’s Vizcaya tends to get all the attention. But James wasn’t the only Deering to make a claim in Dade County: his older brother Charles built a property further south in Palmetto Bay. He built the stunning stone house, a Mediterranean villa straight out of Romeo and Juliet, to keep an art collection with works by Rembrandt and El Greco. The waterfront property also features a three-story cottage and one of the few prehistoric burial mounds in the county. 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Palmetto Bay.
9. Fowey Rocks Light. If you are going to visit this page you may need to get a little wet. Seven miles southeast of Key Biscayne, beyond the eastern edge of the bay, stands this conical lighthouse, built in 1878 and automated in 1975. It’s certainly not the prettiest structure on this list – there wasn’t much to see in 1935. The lower deck was washed away in a hurricane – but the stark, skeletal structure has a creepy, punchy appeal. With a shipwrecked man sitting 200 meters under the light, the place could even be haunted.
Coral Gables Congregational Church
10. Coral Gables Congregational Church. Wait a minute, are we in Coral Gables or San Diego? This church is such a fine example of Spanish colonial architecture, with remarkable porcelain white carvings above the entrance and on the bell tower, that you might personally be convinced it was a mission in Southern California. The gable is not lacking in historical churches – there is also the Church of the Little Flower – but the Congregational Church is perhaps the most distinctive stylistically. The interior is equally impressive, with rich wood supports and tile floors that take you straight to the climax of Vertigo, Face / Off, or maybe even The Godfather. 3010 De Soto Blvd., Coral Gables.
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Douglas Markowitz is a former music and arts editorial intern with the Miami New Times. Born and raised in South Florida, he studied at Sophia University in Tokyo before earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of North Florida. He freelance writes on music, art, film and other topics.