Driving down south miami drive you wouldn’t expect an architectural masterpiece to be nestled away just beyond the tree line. But once you go down the driveway you are transported to the glory days of old Miami when money was no object. The early 20th century Vizcaya estate also includes: extensive Italian Renaissance gardens; native woodland landscape; and a historic village outbuildings compound. The landscape and architecture were influenced by Veneto and Tuscan Italian Renaissance models and designed in the Mediterranean Revival architecture style, with Baroque elements.
James Deering (1859–1925) was a retired millionaire and a bachelor in his early fifties when he undertook the challenge to build an elaborate estate in South Florida. He was afflicted with pernicious anemia, a condition for which doctors recommended sunshine and a warm climate: Vizcaya became the place where he hoped to restore his health. He loved sailing and boating—he owned three yachts—and was greatly interested in landscaping and plant conservation. Both hobbies were to play an important role in the design of Vizcaya. The project began modestly, but it grew to become the engrossing pastime of the last years of Deering’s life.
Life at Vizcaya
James Deering’s occupancy of Vizcaya began officially on Christmas Day, 1916, when the Main House was finished. From then until his death in 1925, Deering typically resided at Vizcaya from the end of November to the middle of April, often in the company of guests. In addition to his family and close friends, he hosted several well-known figures of the time, such as film star Lilian Gish and President Warren Harding. A large staff was required to care for the estate throughout the year. Between sixteen and eighteen staff members maintained the house, and at least twenty-six gardeners and workers remained to manage the estate in Deering’s absence.
The Estate is now known officially as the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which consists of 50 acres with the villa and the gardens, and the remaining native forest. The estate is a total of 50 acres, of which 10 acres contain the Italian Renaissance formal gardens, and 40 acres are circulation and the native ‘hammock’ (jungle forest). The villa’s museum contains more than seventy rooms of distinctive architectural interiors decorated with numerous antiques, with an emphasis on 15th through early 19th century European decorative art and furnishings. Currently owned by Miami-Dade County and governed by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust (formed in 1998), Vizcaya is located at 3251 South Miami Avenue in Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, and is open to the public daily except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. It has accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums.