I didn’t understand why there were so many Hispanic families at Vizcaya until I read its Exhibition Guide. Vizcaya is probably Miami’s greatest tourist attraction and an unlikely lure for Spanish-speaking young, yet they were there last Sunday afternoon in large numbers. It was so crowded that the audio tape was not available. All of them were in use. Miami’s inducements include sun, fun, boating, zoos, and beaches but not-so-much musty old houses. Vizcaya was clearly an exception. Why?
Vizcaya was the winter residence of an impossibly wealthy man. James Deering was an executive of what was to become International Harvester. When he retired, he came to Florida with a plan to create an estate like no other. His half-brother Charles had bought a place down the coast the year before James authorized Vizcaya’s construction in 1914. It took James 2 years to complete the main house, and I suppose he lived in his residences in Chicago and Paris or in one of his other 2 houses in the meantime. He always intended for Vizcaya to resemble a venerable Italian villa, and it did somewhat remind me of Rome’s Galleria Borghese.
Deering’s formal gardens weren’t completed until 3 years before he died in 1925. When that happened, James had only lived part of about 8 years in his 34-room estate. He was the kind of man who bought a harp because it was made by Marie Antoinette’s instrument maker and she once owned it. He never married and I was surprised that the curators dealt with his sexuality while describing his possessions.
Today Vizcaya is known for weddings planned years in advance. It costs $12,000 to reserve it for nuptials, and Ruth & I were there on a day anticipating an evening wedding. The Pope and Ronald Reagan once met and talked here, probably not about a wedding.
James was an avid yachter, and pictures of his boats are common in Vizcaya. His Biscayne Bay landing features impressive Phoenician-looking barges that have suffered hurricane damage. While a guest, John Singer Sargent painted James, but the portrait was judged too stern.
James Deering, who died before The Depression could potentially dent his wealth, is not to be confused with John Deere, who founded the company that was Deering’s chief rival.
Photography was not allowed in the mansion, but I was told that this policy is destined to change soon. Hispanic families with active cell phone cameras will probably continue to visit Vizcaya because of Corazón Vizcaya, a Latin American soap opera or telenovela that was filmed here. At least a pilot for a proposed series was shot at Vizcaya. The lives of its characters are reportedly intertwined with this estate. Miami’s large Cuban/Hispanic communities are probably responding to this focus on their culture.