The original grounds of Villa Vizcaya included the current sites of Mercy Hospital and La Salle High School on the east side of Bayshore Drive, and a parallel tract across the road where the Villa’s working farm busily hummed away, and fields of crops yielded a rich harvest. (Including the current site of the Museum of Science, and the Bay Heights subdivision.)
My Dad remembers canoeing on the waterways. During much of his childhood, in the late 30’s, early 40’s, the house sat vacant after Deering’s death in the late ’20’s.
It is an interesting fact that Mr. Deering had ordered a fine china service for use in his planned winter home, shipped as freight on a “state of the art” ship departing from Southampton, England– “The Titanic.”
On another note: it is sad, to me, that the man’s being gay– obvious as that fact may be from his documented relationships, journals, photos, and (gasp) yes! the exquisite taste so very evident throughout the House– is still generally officially “swept under the rug,” according to the wishes of the family or for whatever reason. Poppycock.
Note that one of the two recurring themes chosen for the home (along with the Caravel, or old-fashioned sailing ship) is the seahorse– one of the few animals that is neither male nor female alone, but both.
To me it is not a matter of malicious or prurient gossip, or disrespecting privacy. To the extent this architectural marvel is of significant and public importance, and it is, it can only be seen as dunder-headed to shy away from the true motivation and passion that brought it forth and guided this dream into being.
James Deering, a “confirmed bachelor,” would father no children, yet desperately felt the need to leave behind a legacy for future generations. That was his training, and the prevailing culture of his day, a sort of “noblesse oblige.”
And so Yes, as the volunteer guides report, he indeed set out “exploring” around the world for an ideal locale and climate suitable for the winter home of a gentleman of his (probably smothering) stature and station in society. But sometimes a home is more than a home. Much more. Here, we have a true-blue “labor of love,” created with all of the considerable energy, time and attention (not to mention wealth) only a truly remarkable man could consistently and flawlessly bring to bear, over the course of many years. That understanding seems a preliminary threshold to really “getting” what the Villa and its grounds are all about.
With this fundamental information censored, the visitor is left to wonder what it’s all about. Consequently, thousands have probably construed the place as an orgy of indulgence, a “showpiece” for its own sake evidencing the pride and vainglory of the “idle rich” of that time. Nothing could be further from the truth, nor more unfair to the memory of Mr. Deering and the cast of thousands (literally) who worked so hard to manifest this “dream by the Bay” in such amazing detail.
It seems evident to me that this question is not about sex. It is most truly and deeply about love. And we all continue to share in the benefit, eighty years later.
Thank you, Mr. Deering. Your dream lives on, and we are all enriched as a result. Rest in sweet peace.