Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vizcaya – A Miami Landmark

One of the more remarkable tourist hot spots to visit in south Florida is actually owned by Miami-Dade County.  The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was high on both Laurie’s and Dawn Marie’s lists of places to visit during our vacation together.   

This is the main roadway or drive up to Vizcaya, a home and gardens designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa…but actually named after the northern Basque province of the same name in northern Spain. 

American industrialist James Deering had this villa built for him between 1914 and 1916.  Deering helped his father’s Deering Harvester Company expand.  Then, J.P. Morgan’s bank bought Deering Harvester and the McCormick Reaper Company…thus creating International Harvester.  Deering lived at Vizcaya until his death in 1925. 

This is the front or ‘landward’ side of the villa.  The home was built to appear as though it was an Italian estate that had been around for 400+ years.  There are 34 rooms that are decorated with 15th through 18th century antique furnishings and art objects.  There are 70 rooms in total.  While the house appears to be only 2 stories high, there is an intervening level between the 1st and 2nd floor that has 12 rooms for servants and service. 

The gardens at Vizcaya combine elements of both Renaissance Italian and French designs.  The idea was to create one vast ‘outdoor room’.  The designers of the gardens adapted historical European aesthetic traditions to Florida’s much different subtropical climate.  Cuban limestone stonework and Floridian coral architectural trim were matched up with native plants that thrived in this climate.

Photo shoots are common at Vizcaya.  We weren’t sure whether this was a fashion session or something else but a lot of people were involved.  I checked and a permit for ‘Personal Photo Portraits’ costs $125.00 for the first 6 people, then $15.00 for each additional person.  A professional still photography permit costs $2,500.00 and a professional filming permit would set you back by $20,000.00!

The property originally consisted of 180 acres of shoreline on Biscayne Bay.  The property included Mangrove swamps and some dense inland native tropical forests.  The developed portion of the estate was to include the villa, formal gardens, recreational amenities, expansive lagoon gardens with new islets, grazing and produce gardens, as well as a service village.  The plan was for the estate to be self-sufficient.

This is another view of the stunning gardens and decorative architecture.  The Cuban limestone construction with Floridian coral accents is scattered throughout the garden area.  Key features of the several interconnected gardens include a wide range of fountains, a central pool surrounding an elevated island, an elevated mound with a small house and extensive ‘Casino’ statuary.

When Vizcaya was being built, Miami’s population was around 10,000.  An amazing fact is that this project employed 1,000 workers, or 10% of the population.  The labor force included workers and craftsmen from the Caribbean and Europe. 

 We had only one real complaint during our visit.  Maybe it was the time of the year or perhaps it was an operating expense or repair issue, but none of the many fountains in the gardens were functioning.  In fact, many of them were just partially filled with dirty water and organic debris.  If they’d been operational, the gardens wouldn’t have just been very nice…they would have been spectacular…

Grottos like this one were constructed to provide Deering’s guests with a place to cool down out of the hot Floridian sunshine.  They were built with bench seats around the inside of the structure.  From the top of the grotto, one can enjoy great views of Biscayne Bay.

Because Vizcaya was built with an open-air courtyard, the house and gardens were vulnerable to environmental and hurricane damage.  Hurricanes caused significant damage is 1926, 1935, 1992 and 2005.  Miami-Dade County has granted $50,000.000 for the restoration and preservation of the estate.  These funds have been matched by grants from FEMA, Save America’s Treasures and many other funds.  In 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Vizcaya as one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.  The estate is also listed as a National Historic Landmark.

James Deering had this concrete Venetian Barge built in front of the villa.  It serves as a breakwater and as a symbol of the estate.  Deering had gondolas available and servants could guide guests among the mangrove islets as well as over to the barge itself.  Note the painted Venetian poles near the barge.  

Laurie snapped this photo of Dawn Marie near a waters edge 'gazebo'.  She is wearing one of the audio tour sets that we rented…$5.00 each.  Tour brochures were also available for $3.00.  The audio tour is well worth the expense.

Vizcaya has seen it’s share of historic events.  In 1987, President Ronald Reagan received Pope John Paul II at Vizcaya on his first visit to Miami.  In 1994, the estate was the location of the ‘First Summit of the Americas’ convened by President Bill Clinton.  The thirty-four nation’s leaders that met at Vizcaya created the ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas’. (FTAA)

Once again, here’s proof that Laurie actually does accompany me on our road trips!  Dawn took this photo of us from the 'gazebo' looking back at the seaside view of the villa.

James Deering died at sea, returning to the USA from Europe on the SS City of Paris.  When he died, two of his neices, Marion Chauncey Deering McCormick and Ely Deering McCormick Danielson, inherited the property.  After many years, time and storm damage combined with rising operating costs led to the sale of the estate’s surrounding parcels of land…and in 1952, the county acquired the estate for a modest $1,000,000. 
Vizcaya has provided a setting for several films.  These include Tony Rome, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Any Given Sunday, Bad Boys II, Airport ’77, Haunts of the Very Rich and the Money Pit.  A couple of music videos have also been filmed here, most recently New Edition’s song, “I’m Still in Love With You”.

Interior photos of the estate aren’t permitted…so I ‘borrowed’ a couple of photos from Vizcaya’s official website just to illustrate how beautiful and detailed the interior of the villa really is… The room shown above is Deering’s Library. 

The rooms themselves, as well as the furnishings and decorative art objects in the villa are certainly spectacular.  When Miami-Dade County purchased the estate in 1952, Deering’s heirs donated the villa’s furnishings and antiquities to the county in order to ensure their preservation and appreciation.

This is a photo of the Music Room at Vizcaya.  There is so much going on in this room that its almost overwhelming.  Laurie and I almost freaked out when we observed an older man going behind the ropes and putting his hands on some of these priceless antiques and works of art!  I had to go and find a ‘guard’ or museum attendant and coax him out of his chair to run this errant visitor down and slap his wrists. 

The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens now consists of 50 acres with the villa, gardens and surrounding native ‘hammock’ jungle forests.  As you might imagine, the estate is quite a popular location for weddings and other events.  It is also a favored site for photographs of young women celebrating their quinceaneara (15th birthday).
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens are located in the Coconut Grove section of Miami at 3251 South Miami Avenue.  The estate is closed on Tuesdays.  Adult admission is $15.00, Seniors (62+) cost $10.00, Students are $10.00 and Children between 6 and 12 are $6.00.  There is a café on site.  Phone: 350-250-9133.  Website:  
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge it…
Thanks for spending some time sharing this upscale tourist spot with us!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. How gorgeous is that? It is hard to believe that people once lived like that. I'd love to tour the place if ever I'm in the area. I hope you have a great day.Blessings...Mary

  2. Dear David, What a beautiful place. You certainly had a breathtaking visit. I am glad that you enjoyed this visit. Blessings, Catherine

  3. Hi Papa it's me Big D nice blog site. I love it! I cant wait to check on this website and read the blogs for years to come! NICE vacation spot That place is spectacular.

  4. I've always wanted to go to Miami! Its so sothing! (a.k.a. this is emmett)

  5. I love the interior photos, there so good photos! Who took the photos? Because IDK.