James Deering wanted to create the myth that his Miami home was named after an explorer. In doing so, he lent to Vizcaya an air of foreign discovery and adventure, entirely appropriate for an estate that relied extensively on ideas and artifacts from across the Atlantic Ocean. The Age of Discovery explorers who inspired Deering had travelled to the Americas to conquer its people and its natural resources. In contrast, Deering and his Gilded Age peers, representing the new industrial wealth of the United States, journeyed to Europe to collect its cultural treasures.
But Deering also wanted his estate to embody South Florida’s history, legends and mythology. He must have been intrigued, therefore, to learn about the Spanish merchant Vizcaino, who supposedly explored the Americas in the early 1600s. It is commonly assumed that Biscayne Bay was named after the Bay of Biscay and the Spanish province that is known as “Vizcaya” or “Biskaia.” However, Deering was aware some believed it was Vizcaino, the explorer, who provided the waterway its name.
The name “Vizcaino” seemed to almost capture everything that Deering wanted. With a thoughtfulness that characterized most of his communications, Deering told Paul Chalfin in 1914 that he wanted to modify the name and call his estate “Vizcaya.” He explained that he found the name Vizcaya to be “pretty in itself,” easily pronounced and evocative both of Spain and the Biscayne Bay location of his winter home. And he observed that the Spanish caravel—a boat associated with past explorers—could become an emblem for Vizcaya.
Deering was confident that his preferred name was close enough to that of the merchant explorer, Vizcaino, so he suggested to Chalfin the possibility of placing at the estate “one or two statues of an old Spanish rover.” This idea materialized in the sculptures that Deering identified as Ponce de Leon and the imaginary “Bel Vizcaya” in the Piazza at Vizcaya’s entrance.
Deering merrily concluded: “I doubt if we are likely to get a better name.” We agree entirely; and the many real estate developments, restaurants and special event venues in Miami and beyond that have copied the Vizcaya name suggest the allure of Deering’s choice.
See Deering’s letter to Paul Chalfin on this subject.