Interest in classic mid-century design and style has been building for decades, coinciding with a general distaste among many for the throw-away culture of the late 20th century that continues unabated. At the core of the modern esthetic is the one-of-a-kind architectural movement that followed World War II and flourished until the upheaval of the late 1960s.
This golden age of style coincided with other classic movements – such as Tiki, Googie and Atomic Age – all morphing into one gigantic era that arguably produced mankind’s first true culture of cool. It took the success of TV’s Mad Men to bring “mod” style to the 21st century masses, but support from an enthusiastic core of supporters has never waned.
In Palm Springs, Calif., arguably ground zero for vintage mid-century modern architecture in the United States, the eighth annual Modernism Week is in the midst of an 11-day celebration expected to draw more than 25,000 retro enthusiasts. Featuring bus tours, cocktail parties, lectures and films, Modernism Week is billed as “the only such event in the country.”
That distinction ends in March, when Mod Weekend makes its debut in Fort Lauderdale. Like California, Florida is a treasure trove of shining examples of the movement. Both experienced construction booms during the ’50s and ’60s, the height of the era. And Fort Lauderdale, like Palm Springs, is a hotspot for mid-century style, from its distinctive beachfront hotels to its vintage housing developments.
Scheduled for March 15-17, Mod Weekend will celebrate the city’s mid-century modern treasures with a double-decker bus tour of historic buildings, an antique fair, a car show, architecture films and lectures, two Intracoastal Waterway boat cruises, and a closing party at South Florida’s Polynesian jewel, The Mai-Kai restaurant (circa 1956).
Mod Weekend is being organized by editor John O’Connor and Tropic magazine, the voice of South Florida’s architecture, interior design and art communities. The publication showcases the area’s exquisite architectural gems with insightful articles and spectacular photography while also championing efforts to preserve South Florida’s mid-century history that was nearly swallowed up by development over the past decades.
Co-sponsor of Mod Weekend is North Beach Village, a newly redeveloped area of Fort Lauderdale Beach just south of Sunrise Boulevard and the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. It has one of the largest collections of mid-century modern architecture in Fort Lauderdale and until recently was in a serious state of disrepair. But Swedish investor Par Sanda has spent tens of millions of dollars buying and renovating small motels, apartment buildings and undeveloped land as part of a grand vision of a European-style village where visitors and residents can enjoy the low-rise classic buildings, plus new shops and restaurants.
Mod Weekend kicks off on Friday, March 15, with a “Mod Men” opening party from 7 to 10 p.m. at the soon-to-open Tranquilo, a newly revamped mid-century hotel in the heart of North Beach Village. It costs $25 to attend the costume-optional party with a 1960s TV theme and special pop-up art galleries. The Tranquilo, Aqua and Royal Palms will also offer a special Mod Weekend rate for guests.
Organizers are selling “platinum passes” for $125 that give you entry to all the events. But all the activities are also priced a la carte with several free and low-priced options available. There’s no charge for “Beach Blanket Babylon,” held Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in North Beach Village and featuring a vintage auto exhibition, outdoor antiques market, guided tours, and more.
The extensive day tours cost $50 per person and run for two hours. An “Eco-Sensitive Boat Tour” of the Intracoastal Waterway and Fort Lauderdale’s Venetian-style canals will be held Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m., giving guests a unique look at the area’s mid-century development. On Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon, the double-decker bus tour “Six Buildings You Need to Know” will stop at The Mai-Kai as well as five other mid-century landmarks, such as the iconic “Yankee Clipper” (now the Sheraton Beach Hotel) and Pier 66 (now the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six) hotels.
In addition, a film series will be held Saturday and Sunday evenings at the vintage Gateway Theatre on East Sunrise Boulevard (est. 1951). Curated by the Architecture and Design Film Festival of New York, the showings will include guest speakers such as festival director and architect Kyle Bergman. Tickets are just $8.
And last but not least, the “Tiki Madness at The Mai-Kai” closing party is scheduled for 8 p.m. Sunday and costs $25. The restaurant’s original A-frame on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale was created in 1955 by a master of mid-century architecture, Charles McKirahan, who also designed many other area buildings of the era. The Mai-Kai serves as celebratory temple of vintage Polynesian Pop and is considered the last remaining example of a true mid-century Tiki supper club. Its extensive grounds feature eight themed dining rooms seating nearly 500, a 150-capacity bar/lounge that submerges guests in a sunken ship, a gift shop, lush tropical gardens, and an authentic Polynesian floor show that has run continuously since 1961.
You can make reservations now at ModWeekend.com for all of the ticketed events plus get hotel contact info. Space is limited at some events, such as the tours, so it’s recommended you book in advance.
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