A year ago we drove from Vienna all the way to the Amalfi coast, in search of a bit of warmth. We were not so lucky, most of the time it was rather cold and rainy. But this January, we really did get lucky – only what you see here is not really Italy. When I entered the gorgeous Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, it felt like Italy though. This, of course, was the intent of the original owner.
A “Mediterranean” estate in Miami
The villa was designed drawing on Venetian and Tuscan Renaissance models in the Mediterranean Revival style for the American businessman James Deering on Biscayne Bay. He set out building it to conserve the local landscape in the area, to protect the wildlife and plants, and to build himself an Italian style luxurious estate. Today the neighbourhood is known as Coconut Grove. In case you were wondering where the name came from: It refers to the northern Spanish province Vizcaya (in English Biscay) in the Basque region along the east Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay, as the villa ‘Vizcaya’ is on the west Atlantic’s Biscayne Bay.
Mediterranean Revival is an Italianate architecture/design style from the United States, introduced at the end of the 19th century. It incorporated a hodgepodge of elements from Spanish Renaissance, Spanish Colonial, Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Arabic Andalusian, and Venetian Gothic architecture. This style peaked in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Architects of the day applied the style of palaces and seaside villas to the rapidly expanding coastal resorts of Florida and California.
After Deering died, the heirs were eventually not able to afford the costly maintenance of the entire property and bit by bit, pieces of land were sold off. They kept the main house, the formal gardens, and the so-called “village”, which were acquired by the Miami Dade County in 1952. Vizcaya began operation in 1953 as the Dade County Art Museum. In 1994 the Vizcaya estate was designated as a Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. You can see why.
Inside the villa boasts an eclectic mix of 15th through early 19th century European decorative art and furnishings.
The villa also has extensive Italian Renaissance style formal gardens, and native ‘hammock’ (jungle forest).
The thicket next to the formal gardens offers plenty of wildlife habitat. I observed a raccoon slowly making its way across a terrace back into the “jungle”, and several lizards basking on the sunny brick structures.
The Biltmore Hotel is another beautiful example of that age of construction. Listed as Mission/Spanish Revival on the National Register of Historic Places, it is actually also considered an example of Mediterranean Revival style.
The hotel was built in 1926, and quickly became a luxury hangout for the rich and famous. It once hosted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and famous actors, such as Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. During World War II, the War Department converted The Biltmore to a huge hospital, and it remained a Veteran’s Administration hospital until 1968. It then became vacant and fell into disrepair. Today, after a hugely expensive renovation, the hotel operates again as a luxury resort. I have to tell you, the Biltmore Bar serves a mean mojito! I know I´m going back there for a visit next time I´m in Miami.
The entire Coconut Grove neighbourhood is also fun to drive through, as many posh villas line the neighbourhood´s alleys.
(I suppose you could say this blog contains free advertisement due to name mention. I am in no way associated with these properties and not being paid to write this blog, which is purely a private pleasure.)