By Jane Wooldridge
September 16, 2012
The breeze off Biscayne Bay and playful fountains cool Vizcaya's elaborate gardens even on a sweltering summer day — not that International Harvester heir James Deering would have known. The Coconut Grove, Fla., mansion was his winter estate. When it opened in 1916, Miami's population was a mere 10,000.
Why it's a treasure: With the help of painter and designer Paul Chalfin, Deering handpicked every item in his marbled mansion, deftly mixing a French harpsichord, Pompeian table, Venetian gates with an English manor house library, Chinese bedroom and south Florida coral rock.
Why you'd want to live here: Deering was the ultimate host, with a billiards table that could be flipped to reveal a roulette wheel and a bowling alley and bar stocked with bootleg whiskey. Silent films were shown in the courtyard, and cocktails were served on a stone barge an easy stroll from the house. The Mound built at the end of the gardens features a fireplace room for cool nights. Vizcaya is still Miami's choice for grand weddings and stately receptions. Pope John Paul II, President Reagan and Queen Elizabeth II have been feted here.
Why you wouldn't want to live here: Salt air and humidity make upkeep a nightmare. Preparing for a major storm is a Herculean task; the hurricane of 1926 nearly destroyed the mansion and grounds.
Surprises: Grottoes, a swimming pool and secret gardens abound — need we say more?
Info: Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 3251 S. Miami Ave.; (305) 250-9133, http://www.vizcayamuseum.org. Open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily except Tuesdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving. $5 audio tours are offered in five languages. A cafe offers coffee, salads and sandwiches. Adults, $15; seniors and students with ID, $10; ages 6-12, $6; under 5, free.
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