Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Our next door neighbour, Terry suggested the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens as the last stop on our road trip, as Miami International Airport is just fifteen minutes up the road, just right then. Fresh from our B & B adventure we tapped the address into ‘the wicked witch’ and she directed us to a magnificent place. We walked down the impressive drive complete with matching full length water features each side to the house (now museum).
The main entrance (on the west) nothing too impressive. We walked to the David A. Klein Orchidarium passing the north side of the building. This side had an outside pool that disappeared possibly to where a little libation could have been served in the quiet shade beneath the main living room. The south side and terrace overlooks the beautiful gardens (own blog).
It was when we reached the east or the ‘back’ facing Biscayne Bay that the house showed its full splendour.
Very Venetian complete with decorative concrete barge (built to act as a sea defense). Vizcaya was built as the Miami estate of American businessman James Deering (1859-1925). Today it is a National Historic Landmark and an accredited museum.
The estate was originally one hundred and righty acres and included the main house, gardens and the Village – a cluster of buildings across South Miami Avenue that housed staff, machinery shops and domestic farm functions. About fifty of these buildings survive today. Three men created Vizcaya with James Deering: F. Burrall Hoffman (1882-1980) who designed the buildings; Colombian landscape designer Diego Suarez (1888-1974) who planned the gardens; and Paul Chalfin (1873-1959) who was the artistic director for the entire project. Paul Chalfin had attended Harvard, trained as a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was an associate of renowned decorator Elsie de Wolfe. She introduced Chalfin to Deering for the interiors of his Chicago home in 1910. In that year Chalfin and Deering traveled through Europe together for the first trip of many over the years, in part to collect ideas and begin acquiring art, antiquities and furnishings for the new Florida estate. The culmination of their shared effort is what we enjoyed and bimbled around today. No cameras were allowed in the museum so I have used the pictures available on the net to give a flavour of what we saw.
The main sitting room, the music room and the organ chamber off the living room
The passage of the main inner courtyard, the east loggia and the staircase
Deering and his team of designers were inspired by the estates of Europe, particularly Italy, and adapted these models to Vizcaya’s subtropical setting. While many thought it looked out of place in Miami, the inclusion of open-air rooms, native plants and local materials somehow connects the estate to its location. James Deering liked the word Vizcaya as he said “everyone can pronounce it.”
Built in two years (1914-1916), the main house was meant to look old, as if a family had lived in it for centuries. The Villa Vizcaya is distinguished for its Italian Renaissance inspired Mediterranean Revival architecture, its huge Italian Renaissance revival gardens and sumptuously designed, detailed and executed interior architectural elements with European, Asian, and American furnishings, and art and antiquities that span two millennia. The numerous sculptures in the gardens and villa are of ancient Greek, Greco-Roman, and Italian Renaissance origins and styles.
The gardens are notable for introducing classical Italian and French design aesthetics into a subtropical habitat's plant palette and context - a new approach. This resulted in ongoing garden experiments with many tropical plants new to American horticulture. While Vizcaya's landscape design style evokes other periods and places, the use of native stone, plants, and light modulation reflected Deering's desire to showcase the indigenous natural beauty making him one of Miami’s early environmentalists. By 1922, the 180-acre estate included large lagoons and new islands down-coast south of the villa and its formal gardens.
On the estate's western acreage, across present day South Miami Avenue were the produce gardens and grazing fields. A Village compound was designed and built to the west also. These endeavours were done with the intent of making Vizcaya primarily self-sufficient, modeled on European estates to compensate the limited commodities and services of early 1920’s Miami. The Village buildings housed the property's staff quarters, auto garages, equipment sheds, and workshops and also barns for the domesticated animals.
Lunch was very elegantly presented (glad it wasn’t me though that had to face the raw ‘trees’)
Deering spent winters here beginning in 1916, when the residence was sufficiently complete. Among James Deering's closest friends were painter Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne. Through his brother Charles, also a patron of the arts and collector, he had friendships with the painters John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn. Sargent visited Vizcaya in March 1917 and produced a series of watercolors of the estate, as well as portrait of James. After the extensive gardens were completed in 1923, Deering's health began to weaken. Nonetheless he traveled and entertained guests, including the silent film stars Lillian Gish and Marion Davies. Deering was described in his later years as "a reticent man with impeccably proper manners, leavened by a sense of humour." He was not like a 'Jay Gatsby' figure of the 'Roaring Twenties' era. In 1923 he opened the gardens to the public on Sundays, and Deering reportedly watched the visitors from his balcony, curious about who came but not wanting to be recognised for his hospitality. In this period's personal letters, he expressed the hope that his nieces and nephews would enjoy coming to Vizcaya, so tennis courts, a bowling alley, a billiard room and a swimming pool were part of the estate to encourage their visits.
James Deering was born in 1859 in the town of South Paris, Maine. He was the son of William Deering and his second wife, Clara Hammond Deering. His older half-brother was the arts patron Charles Deering. His father, had inherited the family Woolen Mill and was landowner in the Northeast, invested in a farm equipment manufacturing company, renaming it the Deering Harvester Company. In 1873 he moved the family to Chicago, Illinois. New 'Deering Harvester Company' reaper machinery enabled Midwestern U.S. farmers to harvest an acre of grain per hour, a substantial increase in productivity that increased the profitability of Mid-West agriculture significantly. The Deering Harvester Company grew in value, the fourth largest in the U.S. at the time, so that by the end of the nineteenth century the Deerings had become one of America's wealthiest families. His father was conservative in family spending but his parents did acquire a residence in St. Augustine, Florida for the winter season. James Deering's older brother, Charles Deering, joined the family business in the 1880’s, after attending the United States Naval Academy and nine years in the Navy. James Deering attended one year each at Northwestern University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before also joining the company at the same time.
Career: James joined the Deering Harvester Company in 1880 as treasurer. In 1902, with the Bank of J.P. Morgan purchasing Deering Harvester Company and McCormick Reaper Company, a resulting merger formed the International Harvester corporation and the largest producer of agricultural machinery in the nation. James Deering became vice-president of the new corporation, responsible for the three Illinois manufacturing plants. In 1909 he was phased out of daily company affairs by J.P. Morgan interests. By the turn of the century, James Deering owned homes on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, in the countryside near Evanston, Illinois, in New York City and in Paris, France. His name appeared in social columns as an arts connoisseur, socialite, international traveler and cultural ambassador. He hosted events for French dignitaries at his New York and Chicago residences. In 1906, for his work in promoting French development in agricultural technology, he was awarded the Légion d'honneur ("National Order of the Legion of Honour"). He retired from the vice-presidency of International Harvester, his health was weakening due to pernicious anemia, so in 1910 Deering purchased land in Coconut Grove, south of Miami and north of his brother's Charles Deering Estate. James Deering never married.
Death and legacy: James Deering died in September 1925, onboard the steamship SS City of Paris en route back to the USA. The philanthropic beneficiaries of his estate were Wesley Hospital, founded by his father in Chicago; the Visiting Nurse Association; the Children's Hospital of Chicago; and the Art Institute of Chicago which received several significant paintings: the Édouard Manet "Mocking of Christ," and three by Italian master Giambattista Tiepolo of Rinaldo and Armida, based on scenes from the 16th-century epic Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso.
Following the death of Charles Deering, Villa Vizcaya passed to his two nieces, Marion Deering McCormick and Barbara Deering Danielson, a minimal staff maintained the property. Over the decades, the 1926 hurricane which did severe damage and rising maintenance costs, they began selling the estate's surrounding land parcels. In 1952, at a below-market price, they sold the villa and formal gardens, and in 1955 the village 'core estate' to Miami-Dade County for a museum and gardens to be open to the public. With the initial sale they donated the antiquities and furnishings to the County-Museum.
Museum and Gardens: Unlike many other historic house museums, Vizcaya contains the original antiques and furnishings, giving continuity to experience Deering's era. His brother Charles Deering's nearby estate, now named 'The Deering Estate at Cutler', is also open to the public and owned by Miami-Dade County but without art and furnishings. James Deering's estate, now named Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, is an accredited museum and National Historic Landmark. The villa, gardens, and village are under ongoing restoration. The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens mission is "to preserve Vizcaya to engage our community and its visitors in learning through the arts, history, and the environment."
ALL IN ALL A UNIQUE TREASURE IN MIAMI