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Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

[Miami, FL, Sat, Dec 30, 2017]

No longer a hidden gem, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is still a good place to go if you’d like escape the hustle and bustle (and seemingly endless construction zones) of Miami. Vizcaya is the former winter residence of industrialist James Deering. It was built between 1914 and 1922 and was inspired by 18th-century Italian villas. The garden on the south side is also European-inspired. Deering passed away with no heirs (he never married), and his sisters took possession of the estate. They sold part of the property in 1945 to the Catholic Archdiosese, which built a hospital. The rest was sold to Miami-Dade county in 1952 for the paltry 1.6 million and forgiveness of the back taxes they owed. After an extensive one-million dollar renovation, Vizcaya opened as an art museum in 1953 and has been open to the public ever since.

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B has memories of coming to Vizcaya on Sundays in the 1990s when he would find the place pretty much deserted. He was surprised that we had to wait in a short line to get in and continued to marvel at the  number of people touring the grounds as we went along. In the age of the Internet, one would be hard-pressed to find a gem like this still undiscovered by the masses.

The house is built right on Biscayne Bay, in a rectangular shape with a courtyard in the middle that used to be open to the sky but is now covered.

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The second floor of the house, from where this picture was taken, had all the bedrooms and Deering’s office. Each bedroom was decorated in a different style and featured furniture hauled over from Europe. Deering had been planning his winter estate for a long time, and he purchased furniture, doors and entire ceilings on his European trips. The architect found himself in the unique position to design the house around the items already purchased. The pictures don’t do the rooms justice – it was hard to take a decent photo due to low light and the fact that we were confined to a small area at the entrance of each room from which to observe. Nevertheless, here are some highlights from the bedrooms.

Next, we went back to the courtyard to join an official tour, which took us through the rooms on the ground floor. We started in the foyer, where we found Greek columns, geometric ceilings and original electric lamps. Deering insisted that the latest technology be installed in the house. There were also dumbwaiters in the kitchen, heating and ventilation systems, call buttons from each bedroom and laundry!

Entrance Hall - electric candelabra

In the reception room, we got a glimpse of one of four ceilings Deering had purchased in Europe. I didn’t even know that purchasing ceilings was possible! I couldn’t help but imagine how this giant thing was transported. Our tour guide said that it had to be divided into pieces and put back together.

A lot of little architectural details were put into the house, such as the caravel – a sailing vessel from the Age of Exploration – in the next two photos. The caravel is one of two symbols of the house – the other is a seahorse. There were many caravels and seahorses hidden throughout.

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And here are the dining room and the music room, neither of which Deering used a lot.

Once the tour was done, I was ready to go outside and tour the gardens. First though, we went around the back, where we found the pool and took some photos of the facade.

The east side of the house was designed to be the most grand is it was facing the water and Deering envisioned Vizcaya being mostly approached by boat.

2017-12-30 15.46.43 And here’s something you don’t see every day – a stone-made barge right off the shore. It was originally designed to prevent break water from entering the house but is now used in weddings and corporate events. The pole I am leaning against is the same one used by Deering to tie up his boat when he would arrive to his estate.

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And finally, the gardens, some of the most elaborate in the US. They really made me feel like I was in Europe.

This fountains stands in an area that was meant to be a rose garden. However, roses didn’t grow well in this climate, so the area was re-purposed. The fountain came from a small village in Italy. It served as a public drinking fountain there until the village modernized its square and sold the fountain to an art dealer. Deering purchased the fountain from the dealer in 1914. Stories like this one are behind most items in this house! The architect modified this fountain for its environment – he added two layers to the fountain and designed the playful lions on top.

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We enjoyed strolling through the gardens in the perfect Miami winter weather. It was hard to imagine anyone would live like this.

We could have stayed here till sunset but we had dinner plans with friends of B’s. It was a perfect evening to put the top down on the convertible and enjoy Miami’s skyline as we left the Coconut Grove neighborhood and headed North.

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