With its palatial bearing and labyrinthine landscaping, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens is one of Miami-Dade's most popular tourist spots. More than 200,000 people visit the county-owned villa each year. That number is poised to grow after a renovation of the property.
Built as the home of businessman James Deering around the turn of the 20th Century, the Mediterranean Revival-style estate has been open to the public since 1953, a year after Deering's nieces sold it because of costly hurricane damage. About a decade after acquiring the mangrove-lush property, Miami-Dade leased off a portion of the extensive Coconut Grove estate, an area known as the Village, to the budding Miami Science Museum.
For decades, the science museum and the villa stood on opposite sides of South Miami Avenue, each drawing thousands of starry-eyed guests. During the past 60 years, Vizcaya has become a National Historic Landmark, including the buildings on its Village outpost, and the science museum — now called the Frost Museum of Science — has likewise gained respect. Its membership has grown tremendously, and it's in the final stages of a relocation to downtown Miami, where its new complex of buildings is poised to open early next month. Meanwhile, overseers of Vizcaya already have in plan in place for the science museum's former site.
County officials plan to reunite the two sides of the Vizcaya property, which includes restoring the Village buildings, among them the original staff's residence, a paint shop, and a blacksmith shop. Though the mule stable and chicken coop are protected from demolition because they're extensions of the historic property, New Times has not been able to locate any record that indicates the science building is also a hallowed structure in the eyes of the National Park Service.
That's significant, because according to recently released plans for the Village area site, a "non-historic building" is poised to be demolished next year in Phase 1 of the reuniting renovation. Proposed plans from 2015 (pictured below) show a working blueprint of the property's future, in which the science museum building and planetarium will be be bulldozed and replaced with an urban garden and greenhouse.
A spokesperson for Vizcaya tells New Times that the demolition and extensive restoration of the Village buildings are all part of the county's "ambitious plan" to further establish the villa property as "South Florida’s cultural hub."
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"Architects and planners have recommended that Vizcaya reclaim the entire site by removing non-historic structures and create a pine grove and privacy wall for neighbors along the southern edge," Vizcaya's spokesperson said in a statement. "Now that the science museum is opening a spectacular new facility in Museum Park, there is an opportunity to replace the deteriorated existing building with amenities that relate to Vizcaya’s history and are conceived to serve our entire community going forward."
With that in mind, the employees at Vizcaya say they to hope to fill the former museum's site with green spaces so that visitors can "enjoy a tranquil respite."
Classrooms will also be built, where "hands-on learning" courses/programs about the environment, art, and preservation will be taught. If you're interested in getting an advance tour of the elusive Village buildings, Vizcaya's staff will hold a free open house April 9. Visit eventbrite.com to reserve your place.
If you're concerned about Charles and Sophia, the Aldabra tortoises that lived at the science museum's old site, they've been moved to Zoo Miami. As for the birds that were on display, many of them will be relocated to the Batchelor Wildlife Center's new location in North Miami; others will be sent to live at Frost Science in Museum Park, where a free-flight aviary will be located on the vista level of the aquarium.