Hello Friends and Family,

1977 - Florida Christmas, Part 3

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Often when I would visit my parents, my mom would have researched new attractions for us to visit. On this trip, she told me about Vizcaya, a historic landmark, located south of Fort Lauderdale. It is the former villa and estate of a wealthy businessman, James Deering. His wealth came from the Deering McCormick-International Harvester fortune. The home is located on Biscayne Bay in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. The early 20th century Vizcaya estate also includes extensive Italian Renaissance gardens, native woodland landscape, and a historic village compound.

At the time of our visit, it was looking rather shabby — my guess is mold and mildew in the humid south Florida climate had taken their toll. I noticed that recent online photos show that the property has been refurbished and looks so much better.

One of the unique and imaginative features of the estate is the stone barge which was built primarily as a breakwater to protect the shoreline. In the harsh semi-tropical climate of South Florida, it has deteriorated significantly. It was covered with statues, lush foliage, fountains, and a tea house. It was built for decadent Great Gatsby-type parties that were much more in the style of the designer, Paul Chalfin, than the estate owner. Can you imagine what those parties would have been like?

This structure appears to be a stone gazebo — which I am guessing was also useful for parties or even private visits from Mr. Deering's friends and associates. When the ocean was calm this would have been a pleasant spot to sip one's tea or stronger beverage, enjoying that coastal vibe. That is until the mosquitos came out as the sun sank in the west.

Magnificent gardens with Romanesque statuary are located on the same oceanfront side of the home. This also would have been an enjoyable spot to chat with friends over snacks and drinks.

I found this stone stairway leading down to the bay with poles that remind me of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas (which I visited much later in life). It makes me wonder if they used some type of gondola boat to transport the VIPs out to the stone barge. When you have beaucoup bucks you probably compete with your wealthy friends to completely spoil your guests — so that they will want to return to your lavish estate.

From a different spot, this captures the stairs and landing from that previous photo. Pretty cool spot, I think.

Here we move to the interior courtyard — just like those that ancient Romans (at least those of great wealth) would incorporate in their own villas. I did not notice when I took the photo that we had a photographer taking a picture of another photographer.

The interior courtyard was filled with statues and water features.

Back outside, we see wonderfully planted gardens, elaborate fountains, and, of course, more statues. Even though the estate is operated as a museum, a visitor can feel a bit of what Deering's guests would have also felt — calm, relaxing, elegant.

I really liked this statue — it looks like a peacock, which is not an animal you often find depicted in statuary. It is a nice change from the usual eagles, hawks, and mythical birds.

And how many times does one see a fountain depicting a mythical lizard spouting water up into the air? I don't recall ever seeing one (other than here at Vizcaya).

The interior of the estate was just as overwhelming as the exterior. Unfortunately, the low light levels made photography a challenge for my Kodachrome 64 slide film. This was the only photo that was even marginally presentable.

Last for today and for my Florida trip, we see the front entrance to this grand estate. I am happy to report that the home has been dramatically refurbished — I was astounded to see contemporary photos of a white building with no mold and mildew. At some time in my life, visiting Vizcaya again is on my wish list. I hope you can make that trip as well.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com