I got to play tourist while my Mom was visiting at the start of 2009. The historic Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was a highlight of our adventures together that week.
Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark. Built by agricultural industrialist James Deering in 1916, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens features a Main House, ten acres of formal gardens, and a rockland hammock (native forest). This serene and stunningly beautiful retreat in the heart of Miami is a museum owned by Miami-Dade County and accredited by the American Association of Museums.
With its phenomenal human-made and natural resources, Vizcaya was built in the 1910′s, a decade in which Gilded Age cultural standards were enlivened by the irreverent spirit of the dawning Jazz Age. It also introduces visitors to Miami’s place in this history—a time when America’s wealthiest industrialists created lavish homes inspired by the palaces of Europe.
For decades, Vizcaya has been a diplomatic seat of Miami-Dade County, having hosted some of the world’s most renowned dignitaries—such as Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain—and major international events—such as the Summit of the Americas, the signing of the Free Trade Agreement, and activities associated with Art Basel.
In addition, Vizcaya is a lens through which to learn about art, interior design, architecture, landscape design, horticulture, and the environment, as well as the role of internationalism in the history of the United States and Miami.
When he began building his winter home, Deering engaged the assistance of Paul Chalfin, a young New York painter, to supervise the entire project. Deering and Chalfin traveled throughout Europe surveying residential architecture for ideas and obtaining components such as doors, wall panels, mantels and ceilings that would be incorporated into the proposed home. Also working on the project were architect F. Burrall Hoffman and Colombian landscape architect Diego Suarez.
The house was intended to appear as an Italian estate that had stood for 400 years and had been occupied and renovated by several generations of a family. It has 34 decorated rooms with 15th through 19th century antique furnishings and art objects. The house appears to be only two stories high but between the main public rooms and the bedrooms, there is an intervening level with 12 rooms for servants and service. Vizcaya intends to open these rooms to the public in the near future, thereby introducing new stories about those who lived and worked at the house.
The expansive gardens combine elements of Renaissance Italian and French designs. Future programs will place greater emphasis on interpreting and presenting these gardens. Suarez and Chalfin worked for seven years, perfecting the design of the gardens as one vast outdoor room with the elements serving as complementary parts of an integrated area. Key features include the many fountains, a central pool surrounding an elevated island, the elevated Mound with its small house, or “Casino,” statuary, and several themed gardens.
Information obtained from the Vizcaya homepage.