James Derring's 1916 winter home.

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by vampirefan on April 19, 2012

I love old mansions so I had wanted to visit Vizcaya for a while. Nick and I decided to visit on our last day in Fort Lauderdale before we headed out to our pre concert party that evening. The home is simply stunning. But as beautiful as the home is, it is once you walk out the back that this gem really shines.

James Deering was an industrialist born in Maine in 1859. His father, Roger, founded Deering Harvester. James attended both MIT and Northwestern University. After graduating from Northwestern he worked as a salesman and eventually took over his fathers company which by then was International Harvester. In 1919 he reduced his work load in order to maintain and enjoy his houses but remained the director until his death in 1925.

Deering chose the spot for his winter home on the shore of Biscayne Bay near the booming town of Miami. His parents spent their winters in Coconut Grove and his brother, Charles, already owned property in the area (that home can also be toured. www.deeringestate.com). The name Vizcaya came from earlier Spanish adventurers. F. Burral Hoffman Jr. and Paul Chalfin were hired as the architects. The home is a Renaissance style Italian villa. The home at one time encompassed 180 acres.

Like most wealthy men of the time, James had only the best in his home and spared no expenses to decorate his home. He traveled the world to obtain furnishings and art for his home. The home boasts on of the best examples of European decorate arts from Renaissance to the present. The home appears to only be 2 stories but in-between levels there are 12 rooms that were once servant’s rooms. Those rooms will eventually be open to the public. There are 34 decorated rooms.

When James passed away in 1925, his two nieces inherited the property. But hurricanes would continue to ravish the grounds and with increasing costs, the women started selling off part of the land. In 1952 the county acquired the property and restored it. The family donated the furnishings and antiques. In 1953 it began being operating to the public and an art and house museum. In 1970 it was added to the national registry. In 1994 it was designed as a national historical landmark. In 1998 it was reaccredited by the American Association of Museums.

In 1987 President Regan received Pope John Paul II here during his first visit to Miami. In 1994 President Bill Clinton formed the first summit of the Americas that would unfortunately later lead to Free Trade Agreement.

The home has been prominently featured in a number of films include Ace Venture Pet Detective, Tony Rome, Any Given Sunday, Bad Boys II, Airport 77, and The Money Pit. The Cover Girls Promise Me music video was shot here in 1988 as well as New Editions I am Still in Love with You in 1996. The home is extremely popular with fashion photographers as well as brides and is a highly sought after venue for quinceaneras. It also featured in the A & E series, America’s Castles.

We arrived just in time to get in on a guided tour. We met David in the interior courtyard. Guests can take a guided tour of the first floor and then explore the top floor and gardens on their own. David guides us through each room and tells us in details about each room. Now having visited the Biltmore Estate many time, I compare the two estates especially in the library and the dining room. The library is in a neoclassical design and the ceiling is inspired by Robert Adams. There is a large mahogany book case that allows passage to the reception room. The room is a single level room and contains several hundred volumes. The Biltmore library covers 2 floors and contains tens of thousands of volumes. The dining room contains items that were once owned or connected to famous historical people or places. There are tapestries that were once owned by poet Robert Browning. Lion-Griffith leg supports were most likely from the ravished village Pompeii or Herculaneum. The dining table here seats 16 guests. The one at the Biltmore Estate that seats 60 would be out in the hallway. Guests get to see reception room, music rooms, bedroom, the butler’s pantry, and several courtyards and arcades. One terrace on the bottom floor open up to the garden and gives guests sweeping views of the bay.

The gardens here can rival the Biltmore Gardens any day. And they are also one of the 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die. In 1914 Deering traveled to Europe to meet with Columbian landscaped architecture, Diego Suarez. The gardens were completed in 1921. The feel of the gardens gives guest a renaissance feeling. One of the first things you notice is what appear to be remains of an old ship. But it is a stone barge that is used as a breakwater. To the left the terrace gracefully curves around and is lined with palm trees leading towards a gorgeous French Tea Pavilion. The gardens cover 50 acres. The pink marble and stone gateways were brought over from Verona. There is a fountain that overlooks the garden and features a frogs and lizards and was designed by Charles Gary Rumsey. There are shell shaped grottos of limestone, fountains, urns, baths, sculptures, columns, and railings. The gardens are just spectacular.

Despite the age of the house, the house is pretty accessible for everyone. You can see the website for further details. They do have public restrooms. There is a café on the premises. Groups are welcome. The house can be rented out for private functions and guests can apply for permits for filming and photography. They do have a gift shop. Parking is free. Pictures are not permitted inside but are permitted outside. And you will want to make sure you take plenty of the gardens.

And while I am at it, I would just like to remind people of something. While we were, there was a family that I guess were trying to take pictures for their daughter’s portfolio. She was draped all over the place and when people were trying to go and look at things they were actually being sent away. I guess enough people complained and security and came over and told them they would have to stop and if they got one more complaint they would be kicked out. They were told if they wanted portfolio pictures they had to apply for a permit. Don’t act like these morons!

Recommendation: Very highly recommended.

Website: www.vizcayamuseum.org

They are on Facebook

In a city that is know for modern day chic, it is nice to know that there are still some things that have been here from when this city was just beginning. This is truly a magnificent gem in a city that boasts many beautiful buildings. If you are in Miami, take the time to come enjoy James home.


Great American Mansions. Merrill Folosom. 2000. Hasting House Books.

1001 Gardens to See Before You Die. Rae-Spencer Jones. 2007. Quinteddance Books.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
3251 South Miami Avenue
Miami, Florida
(305) 250-9133


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