A photo tour of Miami Beach lifeguard stands

Miami’s latest building boom has put our city on the map for great architecture with work from “starchitects” including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhas, Herzog & de Meuron, Bjarke Ingels and Carlos Ott. Yet some of our most iconic built structures are little more than whimsical wooden sheds watching over the waves. For its centennial, Miami Beach refreshed its lifeguard stands and added some new designs to the mix. Miami photographer Sean R. Sullivan takes us on a tour of Miami Beach lifeguard stands from South Pointe Park all the way up to 85th Street, and explains what he saw, and why he loves these tiny Miami buildings.

South Pointe jetty: “This the first stand if you start at the South end of the beach. I like that it looks like a lighthouse right on the end by the jetty, and there are the cruise ship and the tall ship back there. It’s kind of a historical juxtaposition. I saw that girl there and she was just sitting there looking back, and I knew that was the shot. I love to shoot people as they are in the world and become part of that moment. A big part of the life of these lifeguard stands is how people use them when the lifeguards aren’t there.”

3rd Street: “Yoga on Third meets here [at the 3rd Street stand] twice a day at sunrise and sunset. I love the colors on this stand, but I came to shoot yoga because it really captures how the beach is such a deep part of Miami’s lifestyle and how we use these stands as the meeting places here.”

8th Street: “So, when I came to Miami five years ago, [the 8th street stand] was the first stand I ever shot. It’s the one that got me interested in these. At the time, it was kind of falling apart, but they just fixed it up for the centennial. I have a big print of the old one, and I’ve sold a lot of them. This stand always reminds me of when I was discovering Miami.”

10th Street: “This stand is one of the most interesting versions, with the curves and that Jetsons feel to it. I went to shoot at sunrise and this guy was just out playing the flute. Ocean Drive is just behind us and you can see the Breakwater sign still lit up. It’s just a great Miami Beach moment, a little weird, and always beautiful.”

13th and 14th Streets: “Hurricane Andrew wiped out a lot of these stands, so they rebuilt a lot of the old ones in this more bland, boxy style … I like 14th Street stand a lot, though. It has that different porch and the columns. This one definitely feels like a fun place to hang out.”

30th Street: “This one is great. The old version was really drab, and they repainted it, so the colors really pop. You don’t see the rocks on the beach, so it’s on a unique place as far as the location. I like how in a lot of these photos you see the ships in the background, because it’s such a huge industry in Miami, and most of us don’t think about it, but it’s always there.”

63rd Street: “I was taking pictures of the cat as I came up, because I was expecting him to run away. This is the last one I got before he ran off. I don’t think people realize how many feral cats live out on the beach, especially in this area. People kind of care for them and leave these little piles of food out.”

69th Street:“This is one of my favorite shots of the series too. Everything is showing the unique architecture of Miami, and the roof of the stand complements that iconic hotel clock. They just repainted this one too, and so I went back out to reshoot it. I love how in this shot, people are congregating here. The beach is miles and miles long, and people gather around the stands. Even though no one is on duty, they convey safety and shelter and comfort. If you climb up on them, you get a great view of people passing — or even underneath, it’s a nice comfortable place to hang out.”

83rd street: “The sky was lit up well tonight from the passing thunderstorm. While I really like the design and color of this tower, I think the most interesting thing is that it’s actually set behind the rope in sand dunes where as every single other lifeguard tower is right up on the sand near the ocean. I actually missed this tower on my first run. Because I was traveling to all the towers by bike, I would travel between them on the road or boardwalk and not on the beach itself. Looking North from the 80th Street tower, I directly saw 85th, and missed this beauty hiding in the dunes.”