The Man Behind The Pastels Of Miami's South Beach

Nov 15, 2013

Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood is a popular destination for tourists who head to Florida as temperatures start to plummet up north. And when they get there, the first thing many of these “snow birds” notice are the colors: A palette of pastels.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Julia Duba of WLRN has the story of Leonard Horowitz, the man who forever changed the color of South Beach.


  • Julia Duba, reporter and producer WLRN. She tweets @jbduba.
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Let's turn now to the Miami Beach neighborhood of South Beach, a hot destination for tourists heading to Florida to escape the cold and increasingly drab in the winter north. And when they get to South Beach, one of the first things many of these snow birds notice: the colors.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yellow, pink and blue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Red, green, purple, yellow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I see a lot of white mint green and turquoise.

YOUNG: It's a stark contrast to back home.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Gray because there is a lot of buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Brick buildings and red and brown.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You have more of your browns, your taupes, those types of colors.

YOUNG: And that's pretty much what South Beach used to look like. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WLRN's Julia Duba has the story of one man who changed the color of South Beach forever.

JULIA DUBA, BYLINE: In the 1970s, the population of Miami's South Beach was aging, so were its buildings. They were beige and brown. Some were covered in graffiti. Others were abandoned altogether. Then, Leonard Horowitz came along.


LEONARD HOROWITZ: I'll take care of the buildings. I'll do the frosting on the cake because these look like they're going to be a lot of fun to play with.

DUBA: That's a recording of Horowitz from the film "Pastel Paradise." Horowitz was a young man in his 20s. He wore big glasses, shopped in thrift stores and sported a thick mustache every once in a while. He designed furniture and studied architecture in New York City. But when Horowitz when 29, his dad cut him off when he found out his son was gay. So Horowitz moved to South Beach, where his friend Lynn Bernstein says he quickly formed an unlikely friendship.

LYNN BERNSTEIN: Here you have this young guy who is just so outgoing, and then Barbara who was much older and much more - not introverted, but she had a more quiet kind of aura.

DUBA: Barbara was Barbara Capitman. She was in her early 50s when she met Horowitz, and Bernstein says they were an odd pair.

BERNSTEIN: But, really, what brought them together was their common interest.

DUBA: That common interest was saving Art Deco buildings. Ernie Martin was head of community development for Dade County at the time. He remembers the moment Horowitz and Capitman showed up at his office.

ERNIE MARTIN: They were somewhat eccentric in their appearance and in their presentation, and in their - the way they dressed.

DUBA: Martin says Horowitz wore a Hawaiian shirt and baggy pants. Capitman's hair was a mess.

MARTIN: They were sort of dismissed as not being appropriate to be entering the office to seek funding. But I said, you know, let's listen to what they have to say.

DUBA: Martin says Horowitz and Capitman told him they had a goal: get South Beach on the National Registry of Historic Places. And Horowitz would do it by highlighting the neighborhood's Art Deco architecture, with color. Again, Lynn Bernstein.

BERNSTEIN: He looked at the sun and the sky and the seas and the beach and pulled out these colors and put them together on this palette.

DUBA: A palette of pastels: teal greens, periwinkle blues, peachy pinks. And Horowitz chose as his canvas, Friedman's Bakery, a building on the corner of 7th Street and Washington Avenue, that was multilayered and all white. Ernie Martin helped Horowitz get funding and the paint went up.

MARTIN: My first reaction was, oh, my God, what have I done?


MARTIN: Because it was so unlike anything I had ever seen before, in different pastel colors.

BERNSTEIN: Pastel pink and blue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Green, white.

BERNSTEIN: The architecture is like a cake.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It looked like a big wedding cake. That's what people called it.

MARTIN: I remember this one lady saying, this is not us. Deco schmeco.


DUBA: People complaint that Art Deco was a reminder of the Great Depression. Who would want to highlight that? Leonard Horowitz recalled one remark in particular.


HOROWITZ: I hate that building. It looks like a whorehouse.

DUBA: But building by building, Horowitz won over the neighborhood. In November 1982, Friedman's Bakery graced the cover of Progressive Architecture magazine. Soon, South Beach became a backdrop for photo shoots and TV shows like "Miami Vice." Buildings Horowitz had nothing to do with were now adorned with his pastels.


HOROWITZ: Well, it feels, you know, obviously, vindicating that this crazy person, that's what they used to call me, is being copied everywhere.

DUBA: And Horowitz didn't stop there. He kept designing furniture, doing interior design work for hotels and creating color palettes. That was until he got AIDS and was too sick to work. Horowitz died in 1989. He was 43. His friend Saul Gross remembers a final farewell.

SAUL GROSS: A bunch of Leonard's friends got together and went out on the boat and looked back at the hotels that Leonard had painted and scattered his ashes in the ocean, looking at the Art Deco hotels on Ocean Drive.

DUBA: Leonard Horowitz escapes New York with drab, broken down neighborhood, and left it a place that became an international icon. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Julia Duba in South Beach. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.