Major renovation in Miami’s historic Vizcaya Village

Written by Andres Figlucci, The Miami Herald

MIAMI (AP) – Each year, 300,000 visitors tour the magnificent century-old Vizcaya Italianate mansion and its 32 lavishly decorated rooms in Miami’s Coconut Grove. Stroll through the extensive formal gardens and enjoy panoramic views of Biscayne Bay. However, they cannot see half of it.

For decades, an integrated piece of the large, mismatched winter estate of industrialist James Deering was hidden away, mostly out of public view, behind tall walls, giant ficus trees, and a pair of majestic gates across South Miami Avenue from the mansion’s waterfront site.

But now the working farm village of Vizcaya was about to reappear in a big way.

By next summer, Vizcaya and its 10 historic, picturesque, mostly vacant buildings should begin welcoming visitors on a daily basis — for free — as the museum embarks on a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to expand its offerings and offer the evergreen, culturally-oriented new haven for Miami residents to use and enjoy. .

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The first major step: the imminent demolition of the old, unloved Miami Museum of Science building, which since 1960 has occupied much of the unknown other half of Vizcaya. Empty since the Frost Science Museum has now moved into a new home downtown in 2017, the building, which has no historical or architectural value, will be demolished this fall. It will be replaced by a strip of recreated pine – the Deering ecosystem found on the site of the farm village when he began building Vizcaya in 1912.

That would pave the way for an ambitious plan aimed at returning what remained of the once extensive village—which included a farm and nursery that grew produce and plants for the gardens, the main house and its guests—to what looked like its climax during Deering’s brief period at Vizcaya, which ended with his death in 1925.

His heirs sold 130 acres of the estate, which includes an area of ​​gardens and a farm, to the Catholic Church for a nominal amount. The church then sold the farm for hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop the Bay Heights housing division. But in the early 1950s the heirs handed over the rest of the village, including the Vizcaya principals’ charming neighborhoods, architecturally distinctive maintenance barns and a host of attractive farm buildings, to Miami-Dade County, which paid a $1 million deal for 50 acres of land. . Home and garden furnishings and antiquities included.

Chickens, horses and cows will not return to Vizcaya, which is still owned by the province but operated by a non-profit. There will be no recreation of working life in the village in the style of Colonel Williamsburg, said Joel Hoffman, executive director of Vizcaya.

However, the plan would be to restore a nursery and expand a nascent productive garden that was already erected on the village lands. Visitors will get a taste of urban farming. The museum’s gardening operation will move from the bay front to larger, more convenient neighborhoods in the village’s former paint workshop building, home to the Infected Bird Sanctuary until the science museum is moved.

To bring the locals back to the village, Vizcaya has already launched a weekly Sunday farmers market which has proven very popular.

But the objectives of the master plan go beyond agriculture. He calls for turning the village into a new gateway to Vizcaya. Historic buildings and gardens will be restored and converted for the use of visitors and the local community in ways that are reminiscent of the site’s history, but also provide new spaces for the administration and treasures of the property, and for public gatherings, learning and simply enjoying, Hoffman said.

Over the next several months, work will begin on renovating the villa, which was formerly the property supervisor’s residence. In a large double-height room in the house. Under a vaulted wooden ceiling will be a café serving healthy snacks and refreshments. Pedestrians will be invited to enter through a side gate that opens onto Southwest Route 32, adjacent homes and the ramp to the pedestrian bridge to Vizcaya Metrorail station across US 1.

The massive and architecturally stunning parking garage, now used occasionally for public meetings, will be converted into a new visitor center for Vizcaya, which has long been lacking because the treasure-packed main house cannot accommodate it.

The second attractive villa, once home to Vizcaya’s staff, will be restored as headquarters for the museum’s artifact team and as an archive to house thousands of pages of architectural drawings and construction documents. The staff house will include a display area to display things that cannot be displayed in the main house.

Ultimately, the quadrangle will be converted from farm buildings that once housed stables and a chicken house into classrooms and workshops for children, college students and adults to try their hand at art or learn about art history, Vizcaya, Miami history, local ecology and sustainability. This is a topic always relevant to the historic home, which has been repeatedly battered by hurricane winds and floods and is under increasing threat from sea level rise.

The low brick hen house, featuring a row of egg-shaped windows, will become the new home to Vizcaya’s core conservation team and a conservation laboratory where staff can work to preserve the property’s architectural features, garden statues, and a wide range of art and furnishings. Visitors will be able to watch maintenance workers at work.

The idea is to expand activities and exhibitions for ticket buyers, encourage repeat visits, and attract casual visits from nearby neighborhoods. Hoffman noted that South Miami Avenue and the Commodore Trail, slated for a major upgrade, straddle Vizcaya and are heavily used by cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic is expected to increase once the planned Underline, a cyclist and pedestrian path now under construction under Metrorail tracks across US 1, opens later this year.

“We are providing access to a new civic and cultural center,” Hoffman told reporters while touring the village. “The goal is to invite pedestrians, cyclists and neighbors to enjoy this wonderful space.

“Our visitors can gain a better and broader understanding of the property’s history, the people who built the property, and those who worked and made sure it was running on a daily basis.”

The initial phase of the renovation project, which includes demolishing the science museum, transforming the paint store building, renovating the supervisor’s residence and installing the coffee shop, is fully funded by a $500,000 federal grant, for use on the super house, and approximately $5.9 million in county general commitment funds. Dedicated to Vizcaya. Officials in Vizcaya said costs for subsequent improvements, including a planned new visitor center, are still being worked out.

After the county acquired village property, its buildings became home to the Miami-Dade Gardens Department, but they have been largely unused and fenced off to the public since the agency moved years ago, except for occasional special events, such as Modern Antiques. Car display.

Some of the renovations, which include new roofs for village buildings, have already been completed as part of $8 million repairs to damage from Hurricane Irma, which ransacked the property in 2017. The elaborately decorated village pair underwent extensive restoration a decade ago. Staff offices.

But the damage from Irma was so extensive that repair work wasn’t finished until last year, delaying the start of the Vizcaya Village Project, which was approved by the Miami-Dade Commission that same year.

Preliminary work has begun. Building walls have been erected on the ground where contractors are installing the entire water and electricity services for the village.

Vizcaya’s crews have also replanted some of the open areas with pine trees. A herb garden occupies the courtyard of the building.

Once the Old Science Museum descends, a 40-foot-wide buffer of pine trees will be planted along a new masonry wall on the property’s eastern boundary with Bay Heights to protect neighboring homes from village activities.

The famous globe of Pan Am Airways that once welcomed visitors to the Science Museum is safe. The Frost donated the iconic 1934 world to the downtown Miami World Center, which it restored and reinstalled on a public square in a multi-block development earlier this month.

The parking lot will remain at the Science Museum because Vizcaya can no longer accommodate all visitors arriving by car to the property overlooking the bay. Hoffman said the property’s main car park is located amidst a thick swing of trees and cannot be changed or expanded.

At a future stage, though, a portion of the asphalt at the entrance to the village will be replaced by a new building that will serve as the new front entrance to Vizcaya, with tickets and an auditorium. A tram will take visitors across busy South Miami Avenue to the house and gardens.

“This can be a really crowded place,” Hoffman said.

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