While in Florida last month we visited the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens formerly known as James Deering's winter home. He was the Vice President of International Harvester Company known for its reapers. (Agricultural equipment.) This guy had oodles of money and also maintained homes in Chicago, Paris and New York. This is where he spent his winter months from 1916 to 1925. It wasn't just a mansion but a great experiment in self-sufficiency. Materials and supplies were hard to come by a century ago in remote Miami, so Deering hoped that the workers on his estate could grow, manufacture and build everything they needed to survive. Sixteen to eighteen servants worked inside the mansion while During was away and twenty-six (!!) gardeners keep the gardens manicured. It seemed to work for awhile, until a catastrophic hurricane ruined everything in 1925.
The mansion was rebuilt by Deering's descendants after another earthquake in 1936, but some changes were made in order to preserve the interior. The open courtyard was enclosed by windowed walls in the front and back, and a glass roof covered the enormous courtyard. Prior to this, if you stepped out of your guestroom, you'd be standing on the wide tiled gallery in open air looking over the courtyard. (Hmm, kind of like a classy version of a Motel 6.) The house has a total of thirty-six rooms including a music room, a library and a state-of-the-art kitchen for then. The wealthy of that time saw themselves as successors to the Great European Families, and in order to make this clear to visitors, they collected Great European Art. Vizcaya retains most of its original antique furniture and art from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries.
Off the East Loggia is the Biscayne Bay. Visitors arriving by boat were greeted by a huge limestone barge which acted as a breakwater. On one side of the barge is a special dock and walkway,
and on the opposite side is a tea house. These elements extend the architecture of the house into the Biscayne Bay which, by the way, was especially choppy the day I visited.
The formal gardens are off the South Terrace. The gardens are full of sculptures and structures made of concrete and coral. Almost everyday there are fifteen-year-old girls getting their portraits taken for their Quinceanera (that 'n' has a wiggly line over it) celebrations. We counted five lavishly gowned young ladies the day we were there. The ten-acre garden includes a maze garden, a hardwood forest or "hammock," the David A. Klein Orchidarium and many varieties of palm trees.
Photography is not allowed inside the mansion, so if you would like to take a tour, please visit Vizcaya's website: http://www.vizcayamuseum.org. The estate has been owned and maintained by Miami-Dade County since 1952 and has been declared a National Historic Landmark.