The Vizcaya Estate, which overlooks Biscayne Bay, was built between 1914 and 1922 as the winter home of farming manufacturer James Deering. He was a successful businessman and millionaire from the Midwest. In 1908, after retiring as the vice-president of the International Harvester Company, he bought property in South Florida. He chose to build an Italian style waterfront villa, surrounded by formal gardens and set in a carefully preserved South Florida jungle hammock.
In 1910 he got together with artistic director Paul Chalfin. Together they made plans to build a The Vizcaya Estate . After traveling to Italy, touring villas, and buying up decorative antiques for the new estate. Deering hired Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. as the architect that would build his estate on the 130 acres of Vizcaya Bayfront land. in 1914 Deering again traveled to Florence and met Diego Suarez. a landscape architect who designed Vizcaya’s amazing gardens.
Over 1000 people were employed in the construction of Vizcaya between 1914 and 1916 at a time when the population of Miami was only 10,000. The project faced challenges as World War I consumed Europe, but the work continued. By 1916, the Main house was completed, and the surrounding gardens, extensive and manicured, were done by 1923.
The 38,000-ft mansion has 70 rooms fitted with European antiques and American art vintage furniture commissioned in the 1900s, ten acres of formal gardens and diverse collections including European antiquities, and century-old plants. Over the years, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has expanded its assortment of plants. There are over 2,000 specimens of orchids and other plants in Vizcaya Gardens and Museum. Inside the museum, you will find much of the original pieces.
At Vizcaya, with it’s reference to the past complete with antiques, had technology, and modern comfort. Regardless of its Baroque appearance, Vizcaya was a very modern house. It was built with large reinforced concrete, with the latest technology of the period, such as generators and a water filtration system. Vizcaya was also equipped with heating and ventilation, two elevators, a dumbwaiter, a central vacuum-cleaning system and a partly automated laundry room.
The house was not finished until the end of 1916, when Deering moved in on Christmas Day. The gardens were completed in 1921. He approached his villa from the sea. As his yacht’s gangplank touched down, the boom of ancient cannon heralded his arrival on Christmas Day, 1916. Deering was dressed as a Renaissance prince and his guests were dressed as Italian peasants.
Deering had only nine years to enjoy his 70-room villa, his art treasures and his formal gardens and to entertain his friends in one of the greatest of American mansions. In September 1925, he died at the age of 65.
The ground floor features a grand entrance opening into a spacious two-story courtyard. The rooms on this floor include the entrance hall, library, reception room, living room, east veranda, music room, dining room, flower room and serving pantry.
The beautiful Hallway
The Living Room was the largest room in Vizcaya. It has been called the “Renaissance Hall” because many of the objects were created during the European Renaissance. The organ can be played either manually or automatically using music rolls. Around the organ there is a religious painting that was cut in half to create the doors that conceal the organ pipes.
The Music Room – Documents suggest that the player piano and the organ were probably the only instruments actually used during James Deering’s lifetime, and that the selection of fine antique instruments in the Music Room functioned more as a gallery.
The Dinning Room
Enclosed Terrace/Loggia is another room that combines so many different patterns, painted surfaces, and materials to a great effect. the 18th-century gilded iron gates that lead to the South Arcade are originally from the Pisani family palace in Venice.
The Flower Room – It’s where flowers were cut and arranged for the house. This side of the house was dedicated more to staff and now this room is where volunteers prepare for tours of the house and gardens.
The second floor housed Deering’s personal suite of rooms and guest bedrooms as well as a Breakfast Room and the Kitchen.
One of the staircases that goes to the 2nd floor
The accommodations are quite lavish as movie stars, like Lillian Gish stayed during her visit in 1917. She was called “The First Lady Of Film” as she ruled the silent screen. I wonder what room she stayed in?
Some of the guests bedrooms all thru the 2nd floor
The 2nd floor provided Mr. Deering and his guests a breakfast room that looked out over the vast formal Vizcaya gardens
The kitchen is like a restaurant kitchen. Complete with three sinks, a grinder for spice, a dumb waiter and lots of room. The kitchen is on the second floor near the Breakfast Room, You didn’t have to go far for breakfast.
The Mansion is incredible !! There were other rooms, nooks and crannies that I was just to overwhelmed and amazed to take pictures of them or we weren’t allowed in the rooms.
East Terrace that goes to the Ocean
You go out these doors to the Incredible gardens. Vizcaya’s 10 acres of gardens. In many ways, the Formal Gardens resemble the layout of France’s Versailles
The sprawling Formal Gardens were designed by landscape architect Diego Suarez to feel like a great outdoor room, connecting to the main house along a north-south axis. Several architectural elements come together in one space. Massive shaped bushes lined the corridor and give way to The Mound, where The Casino pavilion provides an aerial view of the gardens.
Trimmed shrubs organize walkways into mesmerizing, geometric patterns. Thick columns, lush mazes and classical statues also lend to its European aesthetic, but Vizcaya uniquely embraces its tropical surroundings as well. Here, palms, rare orchids and Cuban limestone infuse the palatial Mediterranean vibe with a signature Miami flair. I Couldn’t have said it any Better!
Sculptures from eighteenth century Italian gardens – especially those around Rome – serve as accents in the gardens. New sculptures were also commissioned. The new sculptures were carved from a soft porous coral stone, which made them look weathered almost immediately.
Of course it had to have a pool. The swimming pool at Vizcaya is partially located under the living room and has a very unique indoor / outdoor design. The indoor area gives the feeling of a traditional grotto. There is a ceiling mural designed by American artist Robert Winthrop Chandler which features an underwater scene including fish, seashells, marine life and coral. I didn’t get a picture of the mural 😒
It also had a bowling alley and billiard room, unfortunately it is no longer there and I couldn’t come across any pictures.
Vizcaya included its very own farm and village. Located on the west side of South Miami Avenue, Vizcaya Village was built alongside the Main House and designed to house crops and farm animals. It is no longer here, but they are in the process of duplicating the farm as it once was.
Originally an estate of 180 acres, it had a dairy, poultry house, mule stable, greenhouse, machine shop, paint and carpentry workshop and staff residences. This required the staff to be present year round.
Approximately 16-18 staff maintained the house, and 26 gardeners and workers were permanent residents of the house. The Village buildings housed the property’s staff quarters, auto garages, equipment sheds, and workshops, and also barns for the domesticated animals.
He built his dream winter villa from 1914 and through the Roaring Twenties, costing him an estimated $26 million at that time. Today, the property is worth an estimated $9 billion.
The family eventually donated the property to the people of Miami. The Miami-Dade County acquired the villa and gardens in 1952 and it then became the Dade County Art Museum, due to the impressive arts and antiquities amassed by James Deering. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994.
It is truly a grand setting, and as usual the pictures don’t to it justice! I wish I could have been there to join in on some of the celebrations.