What’s in a name?

Vizcaya gate

Creating the Myth

Inspired by the Age of Discovery, when European ships traveled around the world in search of new trading routes, James Deering wanted to create a myth that his Miami estate was named after an explorer and should embody South Florida history and legends. So, he must have been intrigued to learn of the Spanish merchant Sebastian Vizcaino, a 15th century explorer of the Americas.

From “Vizcaino” to “Vizcaya”

The name Vizcaino appeared to capture everything Deering was looking for. In 1914, he wrote to Paul Chalfin that he wanted to modify the name and call his estate Vizcaya, “as Vizcaya is much prettier than Vizcino.” He said that the name was easily pronounced and evocative of both Spain and the Biscayne Bay location of his winter home. And he observed that the Spanish caraval – a boat associated with past explorers – could become an emblem for Vizcaya.

December 8, 1914 letter from James Deering to Paul Chalfin on International Harvester letterhead

Sculptures, Real and Imaginary

Deering was so confident that his preferred name was close enough to that of the merchant explorer that he suggested to Chalfin the possibility of placing “one or two statues of an old Spanish rover” at the estate. This idea materialized in the sculptures Deering identified as Ponce de Leon and the imaginary “Bel Vizcaya” in the entrance Piazza.

Statue of Ponce de Leon at the Vizcaya entrance

Beyond Vizcaya

Deering merrily concluded: “I doubt if we are likely to get a better name.” The many real estate developments, restaurants and venues in Miami and beyond that have adopted the name prove he was right.


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