Jun 082014

Villa Vizcaya was built in Miami with a view of Biscayne Bay, although if appears to belong on the Mediterranean coast.
Vizcaya Gardens and Villa Vizcaya's Pool 21 Ornate Door - Copy Vizcaya Archway with family Vizcaya's GardensVizcaya BreakwaterView of Vizcaya from Breakwater 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.

What name would you bestow on your dream home?

  45 Responses to “Vizcaya, an American Castle”

  1. Beautiful place…

    • This place is a masterpiece of European architecture. It is difficult for a county to fund the necessary work to keep the gardens looking as they did during the early 1900’s.

  2. I had never heard of this until now. I will make it a point to visit next time I go to Florida. Thanks.

    • This is a hidden gem in Miami and well worth visiting. There are so many places in Miami to see and I’m looking forward to re-visiting this villa again.

  3. Our son attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables. When I took him down to visit the school, we visited Vizcaya. Our son — who grew up to be a travel blogger, inter alia 🙂 — stayed in Miami after graduation, so I have revisted the city a number of times. Along with the Art Deco walking tour of South Beach, I think a visit to Vizcaya is one of the highlights of a visit to the area. I’m finished having dream homes, so I don’t have a name for one 😉

    • I’m also finished building dream homes and we haven’t gotten creative enough to find a name for this place either. I’m glad you had the chance to visit the villa too.

  4. I totally loved visiting this place what an amazing history and connection to Miami…the gardens are stunning to walk through.

    • I’m glad you were able to visit the villa. Miami’s history is very intertwined with Vizcaya and must do what’s needed to preserve what was donated to them.

  5. WOW! I had never heard of Villa Vizcaya before – though we haven’t spent much time in the area. We Americans sure do have a different sort of “royalty”, eh?

    • Vizcaya is one of those hidden gems that isn’t that well known. Americans had to travel to Europe and buy the European art to fill their American castles that copied European styles.

  6. What an interesting story. You wouldn’t think a builder of tractors would opt for such elegance, I’m not sure why, but it just doesn’t seem to go together for some reason. 😉 I can imagine the interior was stunning with delightful treasures at every turn. It’s a lost era, isn’t it?

    • His family actually invested in farm machinery and then merged with McCormick company. The development of tractors would be another interesting story in itself. The era was rather short lived, but they sure knew how to live the gilded life.

  7. Wow! I would have loved to have been able to visit in person, but this is just great. I love architecture. I don’t see villas where I am at. Enjoyed my visit.

    • There are so few places that still have the furnishings intact. It’s one of those gems that has to be seen to be appreciated.

  8. What a beautiful setting, Neva! I must return to Miami and give it the attention it deserves. I’ve only just passed thru on previous occasions and not spent any time looking around. The Vizcaya Mansion looks incredible!

    • We have a few favorite places and Vizcaya is certainly at the top of that list. I’d like to return again, since it’s been a few years since we walked through the villa and gardens.

  9. I was at Vizcaya years ago. What a fab place. Loved the gondola docks and the gardens.

    • It was a few years since we were there as well. I’m glad Vizcaya is still being kept in an even better condition.

  10. I have been there! It is spectacular. Thank you for the reminder – I just love architecture – Vizcaya is a masterpiece.

    • Wouldn’t it been amazing to have visited Vizcaya when the Deering family there. It must have been wonderful to lounge in the pool and on the barge breakwater.

  11. This grand house and garden sounds like a gem! I’ve added it to my to do list.

    • It really is a hidden gem that most people don’t know about. It’s a place that’s used for wedding and graduation settings.

  12. Villa Vizcaya looks impressive and certainly something I’d expect to find in Italy, not Florida. I’m adding it to my list of must-sees in Florida.

    • The villa was meant to look aged and he used a lot of ancient statues. I’m surprised the countries allowed him to buy it.

  13. Thanks for sharing the rich history associated with the house. Too bad he only lived until 65!

    • It goes to show that even the richest can’t buy more time to live. He was concerned that he might not live to see the villa finished, since it was taking so many years to complete.

  14. That’s incredible! I’ve never heard of this place either. I am loving traveling vicariously through you 🙂

    • I’m glad to have you along to see these amazing places. Hope you will come along on more adventures vicariously.

  15. I have never been to Miami and I’ve lived in Florida for 6 years! I’ve wanted to visit Vizcaya for a long time, but not being able to take photos inside is going to be really tough for me – I better leave my camera at the door 🙂 The outside looks quite impressive though from your photos!
    My father lives in Naples and that would be a nice trip for he and I to take on Father’s Day if he’s up to it, but he’s having chemo right now so maybe later. Thank you for explaining the history of this beautiful building/castle in your post.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that your father is ill. I hope you can celebrate a healthy and yet restful Father’s Day with him.

  16. What a labour of love to bring back works of art from Europe and then set them off with a breakwater carved out of Florida limestone to create the fantasy of a Venetian barge!
    Love his exuberance 🙂

    • Deering wanted his new home to look like it was from the 15th to 18th century. He was a man that got what he wanted and had the money to do it.

  17. I love visiting “living” museums where I can get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. The turn of the twentieth century was indeed a time of over-the-top extravagance and opulence and it’s fun to tour these extravagant palaces. I’m putting this on our list of places to go when, one of these days, we take an in-depth tour of our own country!

    • This is a place that still has the original furnishings and the county is trying to keep the gardens beautiful. Museums are the place to see so much, but when it’s more interesting when it’s in the original setting.

  18. Wow. Aren’t people fascinating???

    • Yes, people lead fascinating lives when they can afford to do anything they want. Vizcaya is really over the top for looking like a villa that’s 500 years old.

  19. My grandma has a picture of this building in her house. I would love to go there sometime! We have a similar castle-like house in Sarasota, FL, the Ringling Mansion.

    • You really won’t be disappointed when you visit Vizcaya, it’s really unique. I need to check out the Ringling Mansion since we visited the Summer Ringling Brothers area in Wisconsin.

  20. Wow, I had not heard of this until you wrote this and thank you! I liked this part “Hurricane damage and the “Great Depression” made the home a white elephant for his heirs” meaning it really caught my attention, Neva. You found yet another place we wish to visit, our friend!! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Mike. This is a very unique place that has such amazing furnishings in a home setting instead of a museum.

  21. It was hard for me to believe this spot was in Miami, it looked so European. What lovely craftsmanship they incorporated into the building!

    • The mansions of that time copied the Italian and French design. He seemed to take it even further by making a new place look old.

  22. Neva ~
    How cool it is you thought to write about Vizcaya!
    The estate has not been as well known as some others like, say North Carolina’s “Biltmore.” We stopped to see it on the drive out here from NYC. What an eyeful!
    Now, I know of another remarkable piece of real estate to ogle next time I’m back east. Thanks.

    • These places aren’t advertised well enough to know they are there. I am eager to see North Carolina’s Biltmore too now.

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