My friend Margaret has for some time been telling me about this museum in Miami that used to be someone’s home that was a must see. So we finally decided to take a weekend and head to South Florida to check it out. Stopping on the way in Aventura, we met up with Margaret’s daughter Cindy who volunteered to take us the rest of the way and was our unofficial guide for the day. The three of us had a great time poking around the vast gardens. Good thing we all had cell phones as we often saw things of interest that pulled us off in different directions!! We had a great time and saw and learned an awful lot that day.
It is called VIZCAYA. Vizcaya has a rich and interesting history. We took the guided tour through the main house. Our guide said Vizcaya is a Spanish word that means “an elevated place”.
Back in the early 1900’s there was a group of very wealthy industrialists from the north who discovered the wonders of building lavish winter homes in Florida. James Deering was one among this group. He made his fortune as an agricultural industrialist. He had done extensive traveling in Europe and was enthralled by the oppulence of style and design of many of the European estates. Liking the subtropical climate of South Florida, John decided to recreate his own estate in Florida, modifying it with local materials found mostly in the ocean. We were given a tour of most of the estates rooms some of which included the living room, the banquet room, the tea room, the music chamber which housed a pipe organ and library on the first floor and on the second floor were numerous bedrooms, sitting rooms, bathrooms, a breakfast room with a view overlooking the gardens and a huge kitchen – all lavishly decorated with 16th-19th century collections of furnishings, sconces, fireplaces, and art. The attention he paid to detail was beyond anything I have seen. And still with all of this he even included a plethera of modern conveniences. There was refrigeration, central heating, a telephone booth with an electric switchboard, dumb waiters connecting the upstairs kitchen to the large downstairs butlers pantry complete with a push button communication system so he or his guests could talk to the kitchen, elevators, a system for fire control and a central vacuuming system.
The two story main house was build of a shell like material around a central open air courtyard which in time he covered with glass to form more of an atrium. Originally the front and rear loggias were open air and afforded cross breezes throughout. Later large glass doors were added to keep out the storms coming in off the water. Still, this courtyard was the center of the home and it was here that the many guests were wined and dined. The home was filled with wonderful art, furniture, statuary, and tapistries collected from estates, palaces and churches throughout Europe.
Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Chifari
Beyond the main house and scattered on 180 acres he created an area to look like a northern Italian village complete with machine, paint and carpentry shops, stables, a dairy, a greenhouse , and quarters for his staff.
The front of the house facing the ocean was often buffeted by winds and water. Finding a solution to this problem, Deering had a stone replica of a ship built to resemble the gondolas of Venice. It is vast in size and it was to this that visitors coming by sea could dock and enter the estate. Our guide told us that he had canopies set up on the “deck” where visitors could take refreshment and rest while waiting for the small boat rides that would take them across the moat like area between it and the residence. Note in the picture the poles like you would find in Venice on the canal and the decorative carvings on the stone ship of which you can see the right side of it.
Outside the mansion are acres of gardens, walkways, fountains, statuary and exotic foliage and flowers. There is even a large swimming pool at the side of the house which his guests could access off the side of one of the terraces or from steps coming from the lower level of the house.
Originally there were 180 acres which now have been greatly reduced and the village is gone. The guide said that a recreation of this area is in the works. It took three architects to design and supervise the building, the garden and artistic supervision and three years to build from 1914-1916. John Deering used this winter home until his death in 1925.
In 1926 a hurricane destroyed much of Miami and damaged the house and formal gardens. They have been restored as they were while Deering lived there. Today, Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark and Museum. Besides being able to tour Vizcaya, groups can host special events and weddings on the grounds or terraces. It also boasts visits from Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, Presidents Reagan and Clinton and a summit of 34 leaders of the Western Hemisphere. The beautiful home also has been the setting for photo shoots.
It took us four and a half hours to get there and it was worth every minute.