Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Built as a second home of James Deering, an executive of the International Harvester company and one of the wealthiest men in the country in the early 1900s, Vizcaya was the site of lavish parties between its completion in 1916 and Deering's death in 1925. The mansion was built to resemble an Italian estate with 34 rooms featuring Deering's collection of antiquities from around the globe. Deering was a bachelor when he died and his estate passed to his nieces. Over time, the family sold most of the land around the mansion before deciding to donate the house and its furnishings to create an art museum for the public. The estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places while the gardens and galleries offer a world-class public museum.
Backstory and Context
The history of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens can be traced back to 1910, when Deering began purchasing land surrounding his proposed estate mansion from famed Miamian Mary Brickell. 1910 also marked the year that Deering traveled to Italy to acquire an astounding variety of antiquities.
The organization for an estate lasted for two years, and in 1912, Deering purchased an additional 180 acres of land (consisting of shoreline Mangrove swamps and inland native forests). Construction began the following year, and although it was not fully completed until 1922, Deering used the home as his winter residence beginning in 1916.
Construction was met with numerous delays and difficulties. As an example of the scope of the project, Deering had to build a railroad track that connected with the Florida East Coast Railway in order to transport the building materials, and a stationary steam engine would pull these materials in wagons on tracks traversing the site.
Once WWI commenced in 1914, labor and materials became more scarce and construction of the estate slowed significantly. Throughout the construction, historians estimate that more than 1,000 workers were involved with the building of Vizcaya, and Deering spent several million dollars ($1 million in 1922 is worth about $14 million today).1
Features at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
After Deering’s death in 1925 along the steamship SS City of Paris, Vizcaya was left to his nieces, Barbara Deering Danielson and Marion Deering McCormick. In 1952, these women conveyed the estate to Dade County, and by the following year, the county Parks and Recreation department converted the estate into the Dade County Art Museum.
Even to this day, Vizcaya still holds many of its original furnishings as well as the organization of the gardens. The Main House of the museum includes over 34-period rooms that showcase over 2,500 art objects and furnishings, while the European-styled gardens traverse nearly 10 acres of land as well as an orchid garden with over 2,000 specimens. The gardens also encompass 25-acres of endangered primary growth forests.
Every year, over 200,000 visitors come to Vizcaya for its educational programs, daytime admissions, and special events.2
Historic Events at Vizcaya
Vizcaya hosted the 1987 meeting between Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, a historic event where the two world leaders discussed the end of the Soviet Empire. It also hosted the First Summit of the Americas in 1994.