Though we were fighting the clock to get to Orlando for our flight back to NY, we made sure to leave time for a stop at a place universally recommended by Scouting NY readers: the Vizcaya estate.
I knew nothing about Vizcaya, other than having read a blurb describing it as a Newport Mansion by way of South Florida. Sure, the main house was pretty damn beautiful…
…the gardens immaculate…
…but I have to be honest: what really blew me away was the party boat in the back harbor:
Of course, this isn’t your typical party boat – it’s entirely made of stone. This has to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.
Villa Vizcaya was the winter estate of James Deering, a businessman involved in agricultural equipment manufacturing. Built between 1914 and 1923, Vizcaya has been heralded for its combination of traditional European design with the South Floridian environment.
One of the most imaginative additions to the property is the stone barge, which almost has a “sunken ship” feel to it.
Below, a photograph of the barge from the July, 1917 issue of The Architectural Review, shortly after it was constructed:
Deering never had any children, which is a tragedy simply in the fact that it would have been insane to play on this as a little kid.
The barge was used for parties – in fact, I think you can see one going on in this picture, also from 1917:
The Venetian poles were part of the theme…
…as gondolas were used to ferry guests back and forth from the estate:
The boat consists of a north and south cascade of steps…
Unfortunately, the gondolas seemed to be out of service the day we visited. This photograph gives you an idea of what the boat deck looked like in its prime. I’m not 100% sure, but those tiered rings look a lot like fountains to me:
The barge is dripping with ornamentation…
My favorite is at the bow of the ship…
…which has what almost looks like a winged, captain’s-hat-wearing woman with octopus legs:
Actually, the figure is an angel riding a pair of fish, which sadly have worn away over time. Also featured here is the barge’s tea-house, which no longer exists:
Two angels found on the stern of the ship, apparently guiding the rudder:
A few bearded men line the sides:
Additional obelisks and statuary can be found on the railings:
I was all set to jump in and swim to the boat, but my girlfriend convinced me it’d be better to do the tour first.
Right away, I began noticing how harmoniously elements of the Floridian environment had been integrated into the design of the estate. I love, for example, how the pool continues under the villa, making water a natural extension of the building:
Perched at the peak of the roof is a seahorse, one of the two symbols for Vizcaya:
Inside, classic European design is given a Floridian twist – here, with palm tree wallpaper:
The wallpaper in this room, featuring a panoramic ocean scene, is stunning:
And any house with a secret passage from the library wins high marks from me:
But perhaps most beautiful of all are the gardens…
…which use coral in a way I couldn’t have imagined:
One of my favorites, it almost feels like you’re underwater as you walk through this enchanting passage:
In other areas, coral is combined with traditional Italian Renaissance design:
A fountain, with coral that feels like you could tug it right off the wall:
A man with a coral beard:
Finally, one last little bit: I love this forgotten set of stairs once used for boarding gondolas, which I assume traveled up and down the adjacent river.
We were in quite a rush and had to leave much sooner than we wanted, but Vizcaya was well worth the extra jog to the terminal.
If you enjoyed reading this post, would you consider making a donation to help me make my first movie? Just $5 or $10 can make a difference - AND you get this snazzy Scouting NY sticker/magnet as a Thank-You gift! Click here to donate today!