Villa Vizcaya was built in Miami with a view of Biscayne Bay, although if appears to belong on the Mediterranean coast.
Since America didn’t have castles built for kings and queens, the nation’s wealthy industrialists became America’s royalty and built their own lavish homes.
How better to flaunt their newly earned riches, than through extravagant displays of conspicuous lifestyles and mansions.
The early 1900’s gave optimism for becoming rich, whether by discovering gold, building bridges or inventing farm machinery.
James Deering, vice-president of International Harvestor Tractor Company, had a vision.
He desired a winter home that resembled a centuries-old Italian Renaissance villa.
The purchase of 180 acres of rural and unspoiled land in Miami, required his estate to be self-sufficient with a working farm.
Deering’s tractors thus contributed greatly to Florida’s agricultural farming success.
The workers were an international mix of nationalities, but learned quickly how to deal with mosquitos, crocs and snakes.
Since running to the local garden center wasn’t an option, they developed a new approach to horticulture in this hot and humid climate.
Local gardeners, familiar with the climate, knew how to incorporate native sub-tropical plants, as well as area rock, coral and limestone, in building the gardens.
James Deering was used to having his own way, so he chose an “up and coming” architect that would let him have the fun of designing his dream home.
Together they traveled to Pompeii, Italy, as well as other European countries to purchase 15th through 19th century furnishings and art.
The villa took two years to complete, but work continued on the gardens from 1910 until 1923.
The many fountains, statuary, pool and themed gardens were modeled after Italian and French designs.
The golden age of splendor was coming to a close when Deering died in 1925 at the age of 65.
Hurricane damage and the “Great Depression” made the home a white elephant for his heirs.
The breakwater was carved out of Florida limestone to create the fantasy of a Venetian barge with decorative sculpture and numerous live plants.
Of the 180 acres, only 50 acres of gardens and the main estate were kept intact. They were generously donated to the Miami-Dade County as a condition that Vizcaya would be used as a public museum. The heirs also donated the entire 15th through 19th century furnishings and art.
I wish we would have been allowed to take photos inside the villa, to show you the lavishly decorated rooms. Fortunately Vizcaya’s website can guide you through this beautiful villa.
Visiting Vizcaya gave us the chance to imagine what it was like to live in this gilded era. We walked through his many rooms, filled with ancient artifacts, instead of viewing them in some stuffy, gallery type museum.