World Art Deco Day

By Louise Irvine

World Art Deco Day is celebrated internationally on April 28. To mark the occasion, Sharon Koskoff, President of the Art Deco Society of the Palm Beaches, organized a walking tour of Lake Worth Beach, highlighting its rich architectural heritage. On route, she pointed out the elements to look out for in Art Deco buildings. She also talked about the importance of sport as the theme of this year’s events to commemorate the 1924 Olympic games in Paris.

The Paris International Exhibition of Decorative Arts was held in 1925 and gave its name to the Art Deco movement. The streamlined geometric motifs of the machine age replaced flowing Art Nouveau lines inspired by nature and the female form. Sharon pointed out the horizontal “eyebrows” above the windows and doors on many of Florida’s Art Deco buildings, designed to shade direct sunlight and keep interiors cool. She explained that the features of the facades often come in threes - three windows, three bandings or three steps on the Ziggurat-shaped pediments. Art Deco buildings usually have flat roofs, and the Streamlined Moderne buildings of Florida have rounded columns influenced by the aerodynamic designs of ships, trains and automobiles.

Sharon took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of Lake Worth Playhouse, which was built in 1924 and is the oldest building on the register of the Art Deco Society of Palm Beach County. The original building was destroyed in a devasting hurricane in 1928, but the theater was rebuilt the following year. As part of the preservation project in 2008, Sharon designed the blue neon marquee in Art Deco style. Next, we visited the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County on Lake Avenue, which was created as a theater for “High-Class Motion Pictures” in 1939 and now presents exhibitions featuring work by local artists. We went past the downtown site proposed for the future WMODA Museum and Cultural Arts Complex and shared the excitement for this new addition to the LULA arts district.

Conversations about the importance of sport during the Art Deco era and the 1924 Olympic Games led to the stylish porcelain figures of bathers and athletes in the WMODA collection. Recreational swimming became very popular in the United States, and the tropical climate of Miami Beach lured sun-seekers by train and motor car. Ocean Drive is world famous for its beautifully preserved Art Deco-style hotels built for the influx of tourists from the north. The success of American swimmer Johnny Weissmuller, who won three gold medals at the Paris Olympics, drew attention to the sport, and he went on to become even more famous, playing Tarzan of the Apes in 12 movies.

Only 135 women competed in the 1924 Olympic Games compared to 2,954 men. They participated in swimming, sailing, fencing, tennis, golf and archery. The number doubled in the 1928 games held in Amsterdam, with new athletics and artistic gymnastics events for women. Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, a 19-year-old typist, was the most outstanding athlete of the 1932 Los Angeles Games, winning medals for javelin, hurdles and golf. Her goal was to be “the greatest athlete who ever lived,” and by 1950, she had won every title available for women.

Jesse Owens was another Olympic legend who won four gold medals for track and field in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a record unbroken for 48 years. The Rosenthal and Hutschenreuther factories in Germany made several porcelain figures of athletes and gymnasts in the 1930s inspired by the body culture movement, which advocated health conforming to nature, as seen in the 1925 silent movie Ways to Health and Beauty.

See all the Art Deco porcelain figures at WMODA in Hollywood when the museum reopens. Watch for more details about next year’s Art Deco World Congress in Paris and local celebrations in the City of Hollywood, founded in 1925.

Sharon Koskoff will be participating in the Open Studios weekend organized by Palm Beach County on May 18 and 19.

Open Studios 2024 | Cultural Council for Palm Beach County (

Learn more about the proposals for WMODA in Lake Worth Beach

Watch excerpts from the 1925 silent movie Ways to Strength and Beauty.