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The Psychedelic Lifeguard Stands on South Beach

June 01, 2009 By Doug in Miami: Local News  | 10 Comments


Photo by Carlos Miller

This week, I thought I’d take my eyes off what was lying on the beach, and focus them instead on what was standing on the beach, namely the colorful, psychedelic lifeguard stands that line our stretch of the Atlantic coast from South Pointe Park north to 85th Street.

Take a picture of the Beach, and people will automatically know where you are: the stands have served as examples to design and architecture schools the world over of how functional architecture can also be fun and help give a city a distinctive identity.

Of the 29 stands, 16 occupy the South Beach portion of the sand.  Their eclectic designs range from 60’s funky to downright clunky, and in addition to their role as housing for Miami Beach Ocean Rescue, they’ve served as (unofficial) nighttime shelters for the homeless, as well as moonlit nooks for exhibitionistic lovers to consummate their lust.



Hurricane Andrew all but leveled the former stands when it passed through in 1992, and the city of Miami Beach desperately needed some replacements.  Even as the Art Deco district was blossoming anew under the renovations led by Barbara Capitman, the city also felt the need to bring a little artistic flair to the beach itself, and so began a project that would redefine beach rescue architecture as we know it.

Artists were called in, including the notable Brooklyn-based painter Kenny Scharf, and the Property Management Department set up shop on the then-abandoned basketball courts of Flamingo Park.  Scharf, a star player in the East Village art scene of the 1980’s, was well-known for his pop-culture inspired motifs, creations with scientific themes and imagery appropriated from 60s cartoons such as The Jetsons and The Flintsones.

“Porkchop”, a poster on the Critical Miami website, reminisced about his involvement as a carpenter on the construction of three of the stands, namely “The Jetsons”, “The Duck”, and “The Wave”:

“We were presented with rough but somewhat detailed drawings. The evolution of these stands rested solely on the men that actually had to transform the drawings into a structurally sound, functional tool for our lifeguards. The first stand was the toughest, due to round design. All components were built on site, short of the round aluminum railing. We even incorporated a system of cables that allowed all of the window shutters to be raised and lowered simultaneously with one central crank.”

Unfortunately, today, several of the original stands have been retired to a parking lot behind the Miami Beach Convention Center.  Follow the walkway along the south side of the Dade Blvd canal, and you’ll see the fenced-off enclosure where they wait in limbo for their trip to the scrap yard.

Regrettably, many of the most imaginative among them have been swapped for boxy monstrosities; however, the most famous ones, such as the 10th and 12th Street stands, have been replaced with designs closely paralleling those of their predecessors. 

I recently spent a rather balmy afternoon trekking up the beach to document the current offerings.  Here are a few of the “stand”-outs:



This is one example of a structure that has defied the trend toward blandness.  The original, shown in this 2003 photo below, was a tiny shack barely big enough to house the lifeguard.  The new over-the-top creation complements the newly revamped South Pointe Park, evoking the glory days of South Beach’s artistic revival.





One of the Scharf creations, this round edifice typifies his cartoonish science fiction sensibility.  The pink and yellow colors are also hallmarks of Scharf’s irreverent style.  Forget Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff! This shack looks more like the hang-out for Marvin the Martian!



All these greens and purples and yellows make this 50’s appliance-shaped concoction look somewhat like a Mardi Gras float—only this time when you’re crying “Throw me something mister”, you’ll have your hand outstretched for a life preserver.



You’d do Bill O’Reilly proud hanging out beside this creation.  Whatever subtlety is accomplished with the nondescript boxy design is lost in the flamboyant fourth of July decor. 



Flower power never felt more powerful than with this floral design, which looks more like it belongs on the side of an old Cheech and Chong bus than on a lifeguard stand.  If you detect any strange herbal smells emanating from the windows, you might want to opt for the patriotic stand instead.




To see the complete set of South Beach lifeguard stations, click here.  While not quite as flashy as the examples above, they do have a certain sense of personality about them, much moreso than the ones in cities like Jacksonville and Daytona Beach.



No, the lifeguards aren’t just being festive.  The colors tell beachgoers about the surf conditions.  Green means the conditions are safe; yellow signifies a moderate danger, and red warns you that there are strong, dangerous currents and/or high surf.  Purple means dangerous marine life.  Most of the time, when the purple flags are out, it means jellyfish are in the water.  There is also another flag with a “man of war” jellyfish emblem on it, as they’re particularly annoying.  Sharks, however, aren’t a major problem in the waters off Miami Beach.  In fact, the last fatal shark attack in Miami-Dade County was in 1961!



Think you’ve got what it takes to keep the waters safe? You can apply as a Miami-Dade lifeguard here (click on “Lifeguard 1”).  These are the job requirements and pay for the position of “lifeguard 1”:

Salary: minimum of $15.44 per hour; maximum of $20.74 per hour.

Nature of Work: General lifesaving work in the preservation of safety and order at an assigned station on a public beach.


  • Stands watch in a designated section of the public beaches
  • Patrols assigned areas for compliance with state and local laws
  • Effects water rescue on public beach areas and other waterways within the city limits
  • Sets up lifeguard stands and emergency equipment at headquarter areas
  • Renders first aid
  • Assists in and maintains rescue and safety equipment including lifeline and buoy installations
  • Keeps abreast of latest developments in water safety and rescue methods
  • Answers questions of beach patrons
  • Answers questions of beach visitors
  • Takes beach attendance counts
  • Participates in training and drill programs
  • Operates emergency vehicles when assigned
  • Assists in and maintains necessary safety and rescue equipment to do related work as required


  • Some knowledge of first aid and lifesaving techniques
  • Considerable skill as swimmer
  • Ability to swim long distances under adverse conditions
  • Ability to learn lifesaving and water safety procedures
  • Ability to learn to operate a rescue paddle boat in rough turf
  • Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships with beach patrons
  • Ability to understand and carry out written and oral instructions
  • Ability to perform effectively In emergency situations
  • Requirements as may be prescribed by the Personnel Board
  • Ability to obtain certification in Red Cross Senior Lifesaving and advanced first aid
  • Willingness to participate in a training program in order to maintain proper physical fitness


  • Current Certification in Red Cross Standard First Aid
  • Current Certification in Red Cross Lifeguard Training
  • Current Certification in American Heart or Red Cross Basic Life Support
  • Obtain and maintain Certifications as required by the Division
  • Driver’s License


  • Must have interpersonal skills to effectively communicate and interact with other employees
  • Significant standing, walking, moving, climbing, carrying, bending, or kneeling
  • Some crawling, reaching, handling, sitting, standing, pushing, and pulling
  • Ability to pass the Beach Patrol’s physical requirements test (e.g., prolonged running in ankle deep sand,swimming through “crashing surf,” pulling, lifting and carrying unconscious victims, etc.)
  • Physical capability to effectively use and operate various items of office related equipment, such as, but not limited to, word processor, calculator, copier, and fax machine.


In addition to Miami Beach, there are also positions available at Bal Harbour, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Biscayne Park, Crandon Park, Haulover Beach, Hobie Beach, Homestead Bayfront Park, Matheson Hammock County Park, and Virginia Key Beach.


Related Categories: Beaches Miami: Local News,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

See more articles by Doug

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10 Comments on

"The Psychedelic Lifeguard Stands on South Beach"

Maria de los Angeles says:

Great article and overview, Doug!  These stands are indeed iconic.

Posted on 06/08/2009 at 12:35 PM

Doug says:

Thanks, Maria! It was quite a workout, too!

Posted on 06/08/2009 at 2:16 PM

UK says:

Wow, these really do stand out, I would love to see one in the flesh and take a tour!

Posted on 06/10/2009 at 7:30 AM

clocker sidney says:

Great article, Doug, on the Lifeguard Stands. Old two-seaters were perfect for moonlight romancing. One minor infraction I believe; re: Jetty Stand compliments the new So. Pointe Park. I would have used complements.

Posted on 06/11/2009 at 5:18 PM

Doug says:

Thanks for the compliment, cs! ha ha

Correction duly noted! Glad you liked the story.

Posted on 06/11/2009 at 5:39 PM

swampthing says:

.  what exactly is “porkchopped”?  you really should have mentioned architect Bill Lane.  He is the one that got a foot in the door at town hall with scharf as the carrot. though there was a call for artist and a nice exhibit, kenny and i did the first one then the city decided to give Bill the rest. k n i had a studio on espanola way, he was never based in brooklyn. just saying.

Posted on 07/09/2009 at 6:02 PM

Doug says:

Hi Swampthing, I’m not sure what “porkchopped” is, either.  “Porkchop”, as I mentioned in the story, is a poster on the “criticalmiami” website.  Bill Lane wasn’t mentioned in any of my source material, unfortunately, and I have several sources stating that Kenny Scharf has a Brooklyn studio which he works out of…

Posted on 07/09/2009 at 6:16 PM

swampthing says:

porkchop was on of the fabricators, follow link to critical.  scharf currently is btwn bklyn and LA. mrs swampting was startled by a pair of dorsal fins on her daily swim yesterday.

Posted on 07/09/2009 at 8:22 PM

Jay Versluis says:

Hi Doug,

what a great article - thanks for all the info. We’re currently doing a picture series on all those lifeguard huts and we’re delighted to see many other people being interested in them.

We’ll go check that “graveyard” at the convention center now wink

Posted on 07/20/2009 at 5:12 PM

ronniccia says:

Hi Doug,
Thanks for posting these. I absolutely love running on Miami beach and have millions of photos of me sweating to 90+ temperatures with them in the back.  I live in Germany and am decorating my 2 yr. sons room with a beachy motive and was looking for these lifegaurd stands to frame. Would it be possible for you to send them to me in higher resolution?

Thanks so much,
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted on 06/14/2013 at 3:30 PM

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