100 years later and we still have more to learn about Vizcaya

Alejandra Serna/Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya, the impressively ornate estate of a Miami millionaire that was converted to a museum in 1960, is turning 100 years old and inviting visitors to discover its untold history while playing an active role in its future, too.

Breakfast room

Joel Hoffman, executive director of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, is rolling out plans for the property’s expansion and preservation — efforts he said are critical to Vizcaya’s survival in the future.

“We just really want everyone to appreciate Vizcaya as an accessible and vital cultural hub,” he said. “I think there’s such an exceptional space to give people an opportunity to view Vizcaya in a completely different way over the next century.”

A glimpse into a “completely different” Vizcaya means stripping away the appeal of the mansion’s opulence for the 12-acres of land on South Miami Avenue just across from Villa Vizcaya’s main entrance.

Alejandra Serna/Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

One of Hoffman’s main goals is to grant public access to that parcel, which was adjacent to Vizcaya’s original estate and home to a community of laborers tasked with the upkeep of James Deering’s sprawling mansion.

The heir of a lucrative industrial business, Deering began building his Italian-inspired home in 1914, using a mixture of local building materials and imported goods. Construction of the entire estate was completed in 1922 with the main house overlooking the 11 buildings that made up Vizcaya Village.

Alejandra Serna/Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Though it shares much of the mansion’s history, the Village, with its Italian-style farms and practical buildings, has been omitted from Vizcaya’s acclaim. 

Hoffman said now is the time for that to change.

“We have people expressing excitement see the luxury, the leisure and the wealth of Vizcaya and the village gives us an opportunity to show that it was a lot of work,” Hoffman said. “The village enables us to tell the story from the [workers’] perspectives, as well.”

Offering public access to Vizcaya Village is just one item in Hoffman’s three-phase $36 million plan for the museum. On Sunday, visitors can tour Vizcaya’s laborer community at the first Village open house. The event, which marks the centennial of Deering’s estate, will include guided tours, music, urban farming, food trucks and free admission from noon to 4 p.m.

Alejandra Serna/Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Because of public demand, the open house events will continue monthly through July, but Hoffman intends to open Vizcaya Village permanently as Phase 1 of his expansion project. Also in Phase 1, which has a price tag of $6 million, is creating metro rail access to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, introducing urban gardening to the community, building a community cafe near the campus entrance and curating exhibitions for display in the museum’s garage building.

The second phase will require $8 million to restore buildings to be used as classrooms in the Village. Other buildings will be used for the conservation and storage of curated items.

With an estimated cost of$22 million, the final phase includes the construction of new facilities to accommodate the museum’s exhibition program, a new auditorium and work spaces.

The lofty project will require copious contributions from donors and the approval of the Miami-Dade County board of commissioners, which is expected to hear Hoffman’s plans later this spring.

Hoffman said the expansion is intended to meet the growing interest in Vizcaya. 

“Our plans for the future are about ensuring that Vizcaya can meet the needs of our community and continuing to reposition it as a cultural hub for Miami,” he said. 

If you go

When: Sunday, April 9
Time: Noon to 4 p.m.
Where: Vizcaya Village 3250 South Miami Avenue Miami, FL 33129
Tickets: Free at eventbrite.com (Does not include entry into Vizcaya Museums and Gardens)

Other open house events scheduled for May 21, June 11 and July 9.