By ANDRES VIGLUCCI, Miami Herald
MIAMI (AP) — Each year, 300,000 visitors visit the spectacular century-old Italian Vizcaya Palace and its 32 lavishly decorated rooms in Miami’s Coconut Grove. They stroll through the extensive formal gardens and admire the panoramic view of Biscayne Bay. Yet they do not see half of it.
For decades, an integral part of industrialist James Deering’s grand and incongruous winter estate has been tucked away, mostly out of public view, behind high walls, giant ficus trees and a pair of towering gatehouses on South Miami Avenue from the mansion’s waterfront site.
But now, what was once the farming village of Biscay is about to reappear in a big way.
By next summer, Vizcaya Village and its 10 historic, quaint, and mostly vacant buildings are expected to begin welcoming visitors daily — free of charge — as the museum embarks on a multi-million dollar, multi-year effort to expand. its offering and providing a green, culturally-minded new haven for Miamians to use and enjoy.
The first major milestone: the impending demolition of the old Miami Science Museum building, which since 1960 has occupied much of Vizcaya’s little-known other half. Empty since the current Frost Museum of Science moved into a new downtown home in 2017, the building, which has no historical or architectural value, will be demolished this fall. It will be replaced by a recreated strip of pine forest – the ecosystem Deering found at the site of the farming village when he began building Vizcaya in 1912.
It will pave the way for an ambitious plan that aims to restore what remains of the once sprawling village – which included a farm and nursery that grew produce and plants for the gardens, main house and its guests – to some semblance of its peaked during Deering’s brief tenure in Vizcaya, which ended with his death in 1925.
His heirs sold 130 acres of the estate, including an expanse of gardens and the farm, to the Catholic Church for a nominal sum. The church then sold the farm for several hundred thousand dollars for the development of the Bay Heights residential subdivision. But in the early 1950s, heirs deeded the rest of the village, including charming quarters for Vizcaya administrators, architecturally distinctive maintenance barns and a collection of quaint farm buildings, to Miami County. -Dade, who paid a bargain $1 million for 50 acres of land. house and garden, furniture and antiques included.
The chickens, horses and cows will not go back to Vizcaya, which is still owned by the county but operated by a nonprofit trust. Nor will there be Colonial Williamsburg-style re-enactments of daily village life, Vizcaya executive director Joel Hoffman said.
The plan will, however, bring back a nursery and expand a fledgling vegetable garden already established on the village grounds. Visitors will get a taste of urban agriculture. The museum’s horticultural operation will move from the waterfront to larger, more suitable quarters in the old village paint shop building, which houses an injured bird sanctuary until the science museum moved.
To reintroduce locals to the village, Vizcaya has already started a weekly Sunday Farmer’s Market which has proven very popular.
But the objectives of the master plan go far beyond agriculture. He calls for the village to be transformed into a new gateway to Biscay. Historic buildings and gardens would be restored and converted for the use of visitors and the local community in ways that serve as a reminder of the site’s history, but also provide new spaces for managing the estate and its treasures, and for the public. coming together, learning and just enjoying, says Hoffmann.
Over the next few months, work will begin to restore the villa which once served as the residence of the superintendent of the estate. In the large double-height bedroom of the house. under a vaulted wooden ceiling, will be a café serving healthy snacks and refreshments. Passers-by will be invited to enter through a side gate that opens to Southwest 32nd Road, nearby homes, and the pedestrian bridge access ramp leading to the Vizcaya Subway Station across US 1.
The spacious and architecturally notable car garage, now used occasionally for public meetings, will be transformed into a new visitor center for Biscay, which has long lacked one because the treasure-filled main house cannot accommodate it.
A second attractive villa, which once housed Vizcaya staff, will be restored to serve as headquarters for the museum’s artifacts team and as an archive to house thousands of pages of architectural drawings and construction documents. The staff house will include an exhibition space to show items that cannot be displayed in the main house.
Eventually, a quadrangle of farm buildings that once housed stables and a chicken coop will be converted into classrooms and workshops for children, students and adults to try their hand at art or learn about history. art, Vizcaya, Miami history, local environment and sustainability. It’s an ever-present topic for the historic estate, which has been repeatedly battered by hurricanes and flooding and is increasingly threatened by rising sea levels.
The low-slung brick chicken coop, which features a row of egg-shaped windows, will become the new home of Vizcaya’s essential conservation team and a conservation laboratory where staff can work to preserve the estate’s architectural features, the garden statuary and its vast collection of art and furnishings. Visitors will be able to observe the restorers at work.
The idea is to expand activities and exhibits for ticket buyers, encourage repeat visits and attract occasional visitors from surrounding neighborhoods. Hoffman noted that South Miami Avenue and the Commodore Trail, which is slated for a major upgrade, branch off the two halves of Vizcaya and are heavily used by cyclists and pedestrians. This traffic is only expected to increase once the planned Underline, a path for cyclists and pedestrians currently under construction under Metrorail tracks across US 1, opens later this year.
“We’re creating access to a new civic and cultural center,” Hoffman said, while giving reporters a tour of the village. “The goal is to invite pedestrians, cyclists and neighbors to enjoy this incredible space.
“Our visitors can get a much better and broader understanding of the history of the property, the people who built the estate and those who worked and kept it running on a daily basis.”
The initial phase of the renovation project, which includes the demolition of the science museum, the conversion of the paint shop building, the renovation of the superintendent’s residence and the installation of the cafe, is entirely funded by a federal grant from $500,000, to be used on the super house, and nearly $5.9 million in county general obligation funds earmarked for Vizcaya. Costs for subsequent upgrades, including the planned new visitor center, are still being worked out, Vizcaya administrators said.
After the county took over ownership of the village, its buildings became the headquarters of the Miami-Dade Parks Department, but have lain largely unused and fenced off to the public since the agency moved to Miami-Dade years ago. exception of occasional special events, such as a recent antique. -car show.
Some renovations, including new roofs for buildings in the village, have already been completed as part of $8 million in repairs to damage caused by Hurricane Irma, which ripped through the estate in 2017. The pair of ornate gatehouses du village underwent a complete restoration ten years ago and is used as staff offices.
But the damage caused by Irma was so extensive that repair work was only completed last year, delaying the start of the Vizcaya Village project, which was approved by the Miami-Dade Commission the same year.
Preliminary work has started. Construction fencing has been erected on the land where contractors are installing full water and electricity service for the village.
Vizcaya field crews have also gradually replanted some open areas with scrub pines. An aromatic herb garden occupies a building courtyard.
Once the old science museum is destroyed, a 12 meter wide pine buffer zone will be planted along a new masonry wall at the eastern boundary of the property with Bay Heights to protect the adjoining houses from village activities .
The famous Pan Am Airways globe that once greeted visitors to the science museum is safe. The Frost donated the iconic 1934 globe to Downtown Miami Worldcenter, which restored and reinstalled it in a public plaza of the multi-block development earlier this month.
The Science Museum parking lot will remain as Vizcaya can no longer accommodate all visitors arriving by car to the bayside property. The estate’s main parking lots sit in the middle of a thick hammock and cannot be altered or expanded, Hoffman said.
In a future phase, however, a section of asphalt at the entrance to the village will be replaced by a new building that would serve as the new main entrance to Biscay, complete with ticket office and auditorium. Streetcars would take visitors across busy South Miami Avenue to the house and gardens.
“It could be a very busy place,” Hoffman said.
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