In the summery Southeast Florida of the 1930s and ‘40s, before most people had air-conditioning in their homes, they would simply throw open their front doors and let whirring electric fans draw cooling breezes in through what are probably the most magnificent screen doors ever made — astonishing Art Deco masterpieces, many of which are now deteriorating or have totally disappeared, though hundreds still remain, especially in Miami Beach.
Many of these historic doors are elaborate confections, featuring painted, pressed-metal sculptures of high-stepping flamingoes and other exotic wading birds, along with stylized sunbeams and undulating ocean waves, plus a flurry of palm fronds and other exuberant flora.
Others feature abstract, curvilinear designs, or perfectly proportioned geometric patterns. Many are stunningly sculptural entranceways — not just the screen doors themselves, but the entire door treatments (often including surrounding bas-reliefs in stone, or elaborate Moroccan-like tile work) and they once adorned Miami’s residential neighborhoods by the thousands.
Local hotels and other businesses also boasted spectacular door treatments, some enhanced with glowing neon or elegantly etched glass.
Over the last 26 years, author-photographer Bill Wisser has documented literally hundreds of amazing doors, and his stunning photos of them reveal in microcosm the story of South Florida’s architectural evolution from Mediterranean Revival to Tropical Deco to Miami Modern.