By Kevin Wynn
History records that James Deering, the millionaire industrialist who built Vizcaya, Miami’s Mediterranean palace on Biscayne Bay, was not gay. Yes, he was a connoisseur of art and antiquities and no, he never married and yes, he built a Mediterranean palace on Biscayne Bay (I mean, come on), but he wasn’t gay. He made his millions manufacturing farm equipment, for heaven’s sake. How straight is that?
On the other hand, legend has it that Vizcaya’s designer and chief architect, Paul Chalfin, was about as gay as they make them. It was Chalfin who guided Deering’s pay-as-you go pillage across Europe, scooping up doorframes and altarpieces and cherubim and fountains big enough to keep entire Italian villages from dehydrating. And it was Chalfin who pulled it all together and made it all work.
And it was Chalfin who lived on-site as Vizcaya was built. On a barge. In Biscayne Bay. Not the stone barge that can be seen at Vizcaya today, but a floating, seaworthy, rolling-with-the -tide barge, dammit, and if the historic photos are accurate, Chalfin’s barge was to die for.
Had Chalfin lived a life of monkish chastity (and legend has it that he did not), this guy was gay, gay, gay.
Or maybe not. On Wednesday Vizcaya’s archivist, Alex Privee, will shed a bit of light on the legends and lore of Vizcaya’s past. Billed as “a chat with Vizcaya’s archivist,” “Inside Vizcaya: Rumors of the Past” promises to blow the dust off nearly a century of history and hearsay.
Several large-scale restoration projects are now underway at Vizcaya, and restoration requires research. It’s likely that a lot of information has turned up during the last few years, and Privee is as likely to chat about the design and botany of the gardens or the layout and function of the servant’s rooms as the private predilections of the men who built Vizcaya. In any case, “Inside Vizcaya” promises to be a fascinating foray into Vizcaya’s past.
Take that guy Deering – isn’t it odd that he never married?
“Inside Vizcaya: Rumors of the Past” with archivist Alex Privee will take place on Wednesday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Courtyard at Vizcaya, located at 3251 South Miami Avenue. Tickets are $5; the event is free for members, seniors and students with ID. Seating is limited, but there’s no need to RSVP. For more information, go to http://www.vizcayamuseum.org or call 305-250-9133.
— Kevin Wynn
Join us for a presentation and chat with Alex Privee, Vizcaya’s archivist, to learn how our archives help us to dispel or confirm some interesting rumors about Vizcaya.
Although it’s been nearly 100 years since Vizcaya was built, we continually discover new things about the estate and those who created it. Gain access to “insider” and “breaking” information about Vizcaya’s architecture, natural areas and diverse collections.
Tickets $5; free for Members, Seniors and Students with ID. Seating is limited. RSVP not necessary.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a National Historic Landmark and European-inspired estate on Biscayne Bay, is.
Images From Left to Right:
1. Sphinx at Vizcaya: Ready to spill her secrets? Photo by Kevin Wynn
2. If this sea god could talk… Photo by Kevin Wynn
3. Miami’s Vizcaya: What Really Happened? Photo by Kevin Wynn