How James Deering Saved the Cape Florida Lighthouse 

Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne, courtesy of Florida State Parks.

Vizcaya was much bigger than it is today

Vizcaya currently spans an just over 50 acres of land. While this might be impressive by today’s standard, the original property was much bigger than that.

When Vizcaya was first constructed in 1916, the entire estate was a grand 180 acres. This included sprawling Lagoon Gardens as well as a working farm and village on the west side of what is today known as South Miami Ave.

Among the vast landholdings that James Deering acquired when building Vizcaya was some property on Key Biscayne, which included the Cape Florida Lighthouse. The acquisition of the lighthouse included a provision that the structure be restored.

Beach erosion and the lighthouse

According to Wikipedia, by 1923 “beach erosion threatened to undermine the lighthouse, and records show that a quarter-mile of beach had washed away in front of it in the 90 years since its construction.”

Through an inspection ordered by Mr. Deering, engineers discovered something shocking.

The foundation of the lighthouse was only about 4 or 5 feet deep. For a structure that is 95 feet tall and sits in a hurricane-prone location, this was not only insufficient but also quite perilous.

Engineers go to work, just in time

Mr. Deering’s engineers got to work on fortifying the structure, first with sandbagging at the base of the tower. The addition of jetties was also implemented in an attempt to stop further beach erosion,

Having discovered that no bedrock existed under the lighthouse to provide reliable support, the engineers built a concrete foundation with steel casing and did so just in time.

Shortly after the completion of the lighthouse foundation project, the Great Hurricane of 1926 hit Miami, a weather event that surely would have meant the end of what is now a Miami landmark.


Help us preserve this National Historic Landmark.


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