Get your deco fix in these vibrant cities across America.
Art deco expresses America's best and worst of times: the exuberant Jazz Age and the Great Depression. Miami Beach's Art Deco District is the largest and best known art deco wonderland, celebrating the Art Basel Miami Beach festival from Dec. 1-4. Manhattan's art deco skyscrapers "dazzle, entertain, amaze," Frank Lloyd Wright once noted. But many other U.S. cities have spectacular examples of this 1920s-1930s style, with a mix of striking geometric patterns, bold colors, streamlined modernized classicism and flamboyant new materials like chrome. Most of these buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are cities across America where you can admire this ultra-popular architecture.
New York City
Think art deco, and the first structures that spring to mind are New York City's Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. The 1930 Chrysler Building is most striking for its nickel-chromium steel pinnacle of zigzags inside crescent-shaped sunbursts and its three-story lobby with red Moroccan walls and inlaid wood elevator doors. The 1931 Waldorf Astoria is another famed example. But lesser-known must-sees across the city that never sleeps include the 1931 salmon-colored General Electric Building, whose pink marble lobby has a vaulted aluminum ceiling in sunburst motifs, and the 1927 Fred F. French Building, which features a bronze lobby with elaborate art deco designs.
Downtown Pittsburgh has several grand art deco sights. The 1927-1929 Koppers Building has striking art deco designs, especially its ornate three-story marble and bronze lobby. The 1931 Federal Reserve Bank building, with stunning cast aluminum figures and grille work, was recently converted into the Drury Plaza Hotel Pittsburgh Downtown. Two former bank vaults have been transformed into meeting rooms, and the building's former firing range has become an indoor swimming pool. Plus, the Omni William Penn Hotel's Urban Room is an art deco masterpiece with gilt-trimmed black Carrara glass walls and 15 murals designed by Ziegfeld Follies set designer James Urban.
Part of Charm City's charms can be seen in its art deco buildings. The Baltimore Trust Company Building, completed in October 1929 on the eve of the stock market crash, was virtually abandoned for almost a decade. The 34-story skyscraper with setback terraces is adorned with Mayan statues, reliefs and a gilded roof, plus it has a mural-filled lobby. The Senator Theatre, a well-restored 1939 art deco classic, still operates today and even uses its 40-foot silver screen. Its materials epitomize the era, with touches such as black marbleized Carrara glass, fluted aluminum, glass blocks and red neon.
Washington, District of Columbia
The nation's capital features a host of art deco gems. Several government buildings earned their own style, "New Deal federal architecture." A superlative example is the 1935-1936 Department of the Interior building. Its exterior and interior, with more than 40 Depression-era murals, became known as a "symbol of a new day." The exterior of the 1932 Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill also earned its own style name, "Greco Deco," for its streamlined classicism. At Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, visit the 1941 Terminal A, with its glass balustrade along the mezzanine, concrete polychrome mosaic panels and 30 artworks on display from the era.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, a Blue Ridge Mountain arts haven, offers a wealth of art deco buildings. Two of Asheville's top art deco jewels, both from 1928, are its imposing pink city hall and the S&W building, a former speakeasy and cafeteria. City hall's octagonal tiered red-tile roof showcases pink marble with green and gold feather decoration. S&W's brightly colored facade has glazed terra-cotta panels, slate, glass and wrought iron, topped by a blue-and-green tile parapet.
Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach's Art Deco District, with about 800 historically significant structures in a 125-square block area, is the country's largest concentration of 1920s-1930s architecture. According to the National Register of Historic Places, the Art Deco District "was one of the earliest National Register listings (1979) to recognize the importance of the architecture of this period." The classic art deco style has variations such as Mediterranean Revival or "Med-Deco." Unique Miami Beach touches are pastel facades, curved corners, portholes, concrete overhangs above windows and rocket ship shapes. Make sure to visit the Art Deco Welcome Center of the Miami Design Preservation League to learn more.
"Chicago really shines in its quality and variety of art deco structures," says Amy Keller, executive vice president of the Chicago Art Deco Society. The 1929 Carbide and Carbon Building embodies the extravagance of the Roaring '20s, with polished black granite, green and gold terra-cotta and a tower covered with 24-karat gold gilt. The building's shape and coloring resemble a champagne bottle. Today, the building has been converted into a Hard Rock Hotel. Plus, the 1929 Chicago Motor Club, now a Hampton Inn, was originally lauded as a "temple of transport" with its three-story lobby mural and opulent lobby bar, which showcases a real 1928 Ford Model A.
Tulsa has an entire downtown Deco District and even a Tulsa Art Deco Museum located in the 1931 Philcade Building, one of America's first indoor shopping malls. Epitomizing art deco's use of rich materials, the museum's first two floors are covered with glazed terra-cotta ornamentation and the lobby is rich with mahogany, bronze, glass and terrazzo. Downtown Tulsa also features one of America's finest examples of "ecclesiastical art deco," the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church. Stylized versions of praying hands are displayed throughout this building of metal, glass, terra-cotta, limestone and granite. It's also uniquely one of the world's few art deco buildings designed by a woman, Adah Robinson.
Houston's city hall is "WPA Deco," a Depression-era project funded by the federal Works Progress Administration. Metal grilles above all entrances of the 1939 building showcase images of lawmakers, including Thomas Jefferson, and the lobby features magnificent ceiling murals. Meanwhile, the 1927 Esperson Buildings, a 32-story structure commissioned by Mellie Esperson, honors her mogul husband, Neils Esperson, and its adjacent 1941 annex bears her name. And the 1929 Gulf Building, now the JPMorgan Chase Building, is significant for both its art deco exterior facade and interiors. Its original elaborate interior spaces boast stained glass and gold-leaf, plus eight frescoes depicting scenes from Texas' history.
It probably comes as no surprise that Los Angeles boasts some of the best art deco movie theaters, including the 1927 Grauman's Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatre). The theater established an exotic style, with bronze dragons along jade-colored pagoda roofs, gold ornamentation and cinnabar terra-cotta surfaces. Meanwhile, the 1931 Wiltern Theatre features a sunburst ceiling with rays representing skyscrapers and the 1931 Sunset Tower Hotel epitomizes art deco's ZigZag Moderne style. Plus, the Georgian Hotel was an early speakeasy, with infamous patrons like Bugsy Siegel. Other masterpieces are Bullock's Wilshire Department Store (built in 1928) and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple (established in 1929).