Buildings in Florida are perhaps most interesting as a reflection of the way in which the state was settled. Early pioneers built simple homes, but aspirations grew from the railroad era onward. Entrepreneurs, eager to lure people south, imitated styles with which northerners would be familiar. This trend, plus the speed of settlement, meant that Florida never really developed an indigenous style. But the Sunshine State has some quirky and memorable architecture, often inspired by the need to adapt to the warm climate.
Florida's Vernacular Style
The early pioneers of the 1800s built houses whose design was dictated mainly by the climate and the location: the most identifiable common elements are the devices to maximize natural ventilation. Local materials, usually wood, were used. Original "Cracker" homes, so named after the people who built and lived in them, don't survive in great numbers, but the vernacular style has influenced Florida's architecture ever since.
The McMullen Log House, a pine log cabin completed in 1852, is a typical Cracker dwelling. It is now preserved in Pinellas County Heritage Village.
The Gilded Age
From the 1880s on, the railroads and tourism brought new wealth and ideas from outside the state. The love affair with Mediterranean Revivalism began and can be seen in Flagler's brick hotels in St. Augustine. Wood was still the favored material, though, and was used more decoratively - most famously in Key West. Other concentrations of Victorian houses are found in Fernandina Beach and Mount Dora.
The Fantasy Of The Boom Years
The most notable buildings of the period 1920 -50 set out to inspire romantic images of faraway places. Each new development had a theme, spawning islands of architectural styles from Moorish to Art Deco - the latter in Miami's South Beach district. Mediterranean Revivalism dominated, however. Its chief exponents were Addison Mizner in Palm Beach and George Merrick in Coral Gables.
Palm Beach mansions are primarily Spanish Revival in style. This one on South Ocean Boulevard was built by Julius Jacobs, one of Mizner's chief designers, in 1929.
Many of Florida's most striking modern buildings are either shopping malls or public buildings, such as theaters or sports stadiums, which are often as impressive for their scale as for their design. More of a curiosity are the new towns of Seaside and Disney's Celebration, which have arisen out of nostalgia for small-town America and as a reaction to the impersonal nature of the modern city.
Seaside, a piece of award-winning town planning in Florida's Panhandle, has houses with picket fences and other quaint pseudo-Victorian features.
In the 20th century, the flood of visitors and settlers speeding south along Florida's highways has spawned buildings unique to the road. Alongside the drive-in banks and restaurants are buildings shaped like ice cream cones or alligators - designed to catch the eye of the motorist driving past at speed. Such outlandishness, aided too by colorful neon signs, breaks up the monotonous strips of motels and fast food outlets.