Think of North Beach — that funky slice of MiMo architecture, French street names and waist-expanding Argentine bakeries — as a forgotten younger sibling, the one that flourishes while attention falls elsewhere.
Overlooked by those besotted with South Beach’s nightlife and Mid-Beach’s towering buildings, North Beach is, finally, coming into its own. It’s being pushed along by the vision of its residents and neighborhood associations, an influx of Latin Americans, the redevelopment hopes of Miami Beach government and the wonderful confluence — for now — of reasonable beach rents and enough parking spaces.
Franziska Medina calls the feel of the neighborhood “a lesson in modesty and restraint.”
She should know: As a volunteer for the Miami Design Preservation League, she guides tourists and locals on walking tours of North Beach every first Saturday of the month.
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On a steamy fall morning, Medina points out the buildings, most of them multifamily dwellings, that display the very distinct features of Miami Modern. The post-World War II style of architecture originated in our back yard as it adapted the modernist architectural movement to the subtropical climate of South Florida.
Born in Germany, Medina began visiting North Beach with her family more than 20 years ago. It was love at first sight.
“The beaches, such blue waters. Everything so close to nature, and quiet,” she rhapsodizes.
So she moved here seven years ago, enamored of the neighborhood’s walkability. “It is close to the beach. We have good restaurants, and I don’t have to get in the car to buy a carton of milk.”
But it’s the collection of low-slung MiMo apartment buildings, with their garden patios and soaring pylons, that most excites her.
“You walk anywhere and see one example after another of this sense of joy and relief that came after the war. It is a hopeful architecture.”
Bound by bay and by ocean
But before a primer on MiMo, a quick history and geography lesson:
The North Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach is bound between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, from 63rd Street to 87th Terrace, the city limits.
Though Miami Beach was incorporated as a town in March 1915, it wasn’t until July 1924 that its boundaries were extended three miles northward. However, North Beach’s first known building — the U.S. Lifesaving Service’s Biscayne House of Refuge, located around 72 Street and Collins Avenue — predates that. First opened in 1876, the House of Refuge was one of several building along Florida’s east coast that helped shipwrecked sailors.
By the mid-1920s, the Deauville Casino on 67th and Collins attracted tourists who wanted seclusion during Prohibition, but it wasn’t until after World War II that the building boom overtook North Beach.
The Deauville Casino, used by both the Coast Guard and the Army during the war, was eventually demolished to make way for the Deauville Hotel in 1956. Instead of military brass, it would attract civilian celebrities, including Ed Sullian, who hosted The Beatles in a 1964 live telecast from its Napoleon Room.
North Beach has other well-known MiMo gems, an impressive and unusually intact collection of mid-20th century apartment buildings, schools and worship houses.
In fact, the North Shore Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, a roughly 61-block area that is home to almost 600 buildings constructed between 1935 and 1963. Most are apartment buildings, small tourist hotels and some commercial structures clustered along Collins Avenue from 73rd to 75th streets.
The North Shore Historic District joined the Normandy Isles Historic District, also part of North Beach, on the National Registry.
The Normandy Isles district spans two partially man-made islands in Biscayne Bay (Isle of Normandy and Normandy Shores). It is usually remembered by outsiders for its French-named streets (Rue Notre Dame and Marseille Drive), a tribute to the homeland of developer Henri Levi. Though the buildings here include many styles, the majority are, definitely and proudly, MiMo.
North Beach is certainly not as famous as South Beach. And its residents and business owners are perfectly OK with that.
“North Beach,” explains Jeff Oris, Miami Beach’s economic development director who is overseeing a North Beach revitalization, “was always meant to be more family-oriented.”
This is the first installment of an occasional series called Where We Live, highlighting various South Florida neighborhoods. Follow Ana Veciana-Suarez on Twitter @AnaVeciana.
Where to go
A sampling of North Beach’s attractions, from tour guide and resident Franziska Medina and others.
Lou’s Beer Garden, 7337 Harding Ave. (New Hotel): Locals-favorite gastropub. Made Esquire’s list of best places in the country to have a drink.
Moises Bakery, 7310 Collins Ave.: Venezuelan empanadas are tops.
Buenos Aires Bakery & Café, 7134 Collins Ave.: Authentic Argentine products, from yerba mate to sandwiches de miga.
Las Vacas Gordas Parillada, 933 Normandy Dr., Bigger-is-better Argentine steakhouse.
Manolo, 7300 Collins Ave.: Tasty churros, but also burgers, pizza, pasta, hot dogs and other simple comforts.
Sazon Cuban Cuisine, 7305 Collins Ave.: Open daily.
Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, 6970 Collins Ave.: A Miami minichain legend.
Sawaddee Thai-Sushi and Coffee Corner, 6968 Bay Dr.: For when you can’t decide.
Prima Pasta, 414 71st St.: You want the beef carpaccio. Trust us.
George’s Restaurant & Lounge, 300 72nd St.: Italian restaurant run by a brother and sister since 2000.
North Shore Park Bandshell, 7251 Collins Ave.: A prime example of MiMo architecture, renovated three years ago and attracts a variety of cultural activities, including food trucks on the fourth Wednesday of the month.
The Boardwalk: Running the length of the beach up into Surfside.
Temple Menorah, 620 75th St.: Designed by Gilbert Fein with an addition by Morris Lapidus, it is believed to be the first house of worship to welcome Cuban Jews in the early 1960s.
Normandy Isle Park and Pool, 7030 Trouville Esplanade: Park is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
North Shore Open Space Park, along Collins Avenue from 78th Street to 87th Terrace: Lovely park, quiet beach.
MiMo on the Beach Guided Walking Tour by The Miami Design Preservation League, with the support of the North Beach Development Corporation, is the first Saturday of every month. Visit mdpl.org or call 305-531-3484.