A Hike Down In Villa Vizcaya’s Mysterious Jungle Moat

Vizcaya, the early 20th century winter home of Chicago industrialist James Deering was almost from its earliest inception destined to be far more than just a big house in Coconut Grove, despite Deering’s desire for a comfortable and pleasant place to spend the winters and entertain relatives in his retirement. As soon as Deering met Vizcaya’s chief designer, or ‘creative director’ as he is also known, Paul Chalfin, the estate became a great gestamkunstverk, or total work of art.

Although the beating heart of Vizcaya—the house, the formal gardens, the barge, the hammock, the village, etc.—has been preserved, almost as much of the estate has been lost to time, or at least overlooked and almost forgotten. That includes the moat, a deep ditch following the path of Brickell Avenue, which originally cut through the estate. When the road was relocated to give the house more breathing room, the route of the old road was used as a stone quarry for the property, and then, with connections to Biscayne Bay at either end, less successfully, as a moat. Unfortunately it was too high up on Coconut Grove’s long limestone ridge, and, in the unusual instance of something in Miami being too far above the water line, whatever water they kept pumping in would rapidly drain through the porous stone and right out. So, empty and an almost forgotten piece of Vizcayana, it remained.

The moat still exists luckily, and is the setting for a few pieces of contemporary art exploring the lost spaces of this incredible, historic estate.

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The moat can be seen near the top of this map, in a near straight line passing under the bridge. of the main estate entrance and terminating at a lake which is now lost.

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