11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Vizcaya and Bonnet House

Year Listed: 2008
Location: Miami, Florida and Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Threat: Development

Significance

In Southern Florida, two historic house museums—Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in Miami, and Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale—are threatened by adjacent high-rise development.

Occupying 50 acres of land overlooking Miami's Biscayne Bay is Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, a retreat from the hustle of the modern urban city to the era of the early 20th century.  Built largely between 1914 and 1917 by Chicagoan James Deering as his winter residence, Vizcaya is one of the best remaining examples from the American Renaissance when the nation's wealthy industrialists built lavish estates inspired by the traditions of the European Renaissance.  The estate includes a 70-room main house, filled with early 20th century furnishings and antiques alongside the latest technology of the period, and has been long celebrated for its 10 acres of lush formal gardens referred to as the finest Italianate gardens in the United States. Unless development is blocked or an intervention occurs, this cultural landscape will be permanently damaged by the construction of three high-rise condominium towers within Vizcaya's historic viewshed.  The introduction of these out-of-scale buildings and the corresponding zoning and land use changes they would require threaten to open the door for more high-rise construction even closer to Vizcaya on adjacent lands.

Vizcaya's historic gardens were specifically oriented away from the downtown Miami area to afford guests a serene escape from the growing metropolis.  This sense of tranquility is an integral part of the historic and cultural significance of the estate.  Vizcaya has always been carefully preserved, first by its original owners and now by Miami-Dade County, which has operated it as a public museum since 1952. Today, under the City of Miami's zoning code, much of the area surrounding Vizcaya is classified as a single-family and mid-rise multi-family neighborhood. 

The proposed high-rise condominium project is planned for an area that is currently zoned as government/institutional.  The towers would sharply contrast with the scale and character of the neighborhood and require legislation by the City of Miami to change the zoning and land use categories.  It is also inconsistent with the provisions of the Coconut Grove Neighborhood Conservation District enacted in 2004 to protect the inimitable character and historic elements within the area.  Despite strong opposition from neighborhood and civic associations along with hundreds of individual residents of the Coconut Grove area with supporting testimony from national, state and local experts, the City Commission last year approved the project with only slightly reduced heights on a 3-2 vote.  A recent court victory nullified certain of the essential approvals but appeals are likely, thus, the zoning change and construction threat has not been eliminated.

A similar situation is unfolding in Fort Lauderdale with Bonnet House Museum & Gardens, which is now battling the construction of an 18-story hotel that threatens to destroy the estate's viewshed.  After preservation advocates made several attempts to thwart the project, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission granted permission to the developer—Transacta Prive—to build the hotel within 200 feet of the south edge of the Bonnet House gardens.