Arts & Entertainment

Stone House, a South Florida architectural treasure, turns 100

By Emilio J. Lopez

Miami, Feb 7 (EFE).- One of South Florida’s most important works of architecture, a Mediterranean Revival structure located at the historic Deering Estate and known as the Stone House, is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a exhibition that kicked off last month and runs through April 17.

“Connecting Worlds: Building the Stone House” provides a tour of the “inspirations, ideas and individuals” associated with the construction of that home in 1922 for American business magnate and philanthropist Charles Deering (1852-1927), who also was an avid collector of Spanish art.

Deering’s passion for Spain is seen in the mansion’s beautiful, solid stone facade, which evokes the traditional Catalan farmhouse, and in the architectural elements that adorn it: Cuban barrel tile roof, wrought-iron window grilles, ceramic tiles, porticoed gallery and even a roof tower overlooking the ocean.

Curator Melissa Diaz says the home – designed by Beaux Arts architect Phineas Paist – boasts elegant Old World charm and showcases Deering’s eclectic personal tastes.

Real-estate agents in the first decades of the 20th century sold South Florida to wealthy summer vacationers and potential investors as a sort of fantasy land, she explained.

And the Spanish-inspired neo-Mediterranean architectural style featuring Italian and North African elements was the perfect fit for that new construction and beauty standard.

Deering, who owned a castle in Sitges, a northeastern seaside Spanish town just south of Barcelona, and was a patron and personal friend of Spanish painter Ramon Casas i Carbo (1866-1932), contributed to the design of the 13,900-square-foot (1,293-square-meter) Stone House.

Among other things, he was well aware that its thick and fireproof stone and concrete walls were ideal for protecting the home from the harsh Florida summer sun and safeguarding his fine art collection.

Visitors to that estate – located in the Cutler neighborhood of Palmetto Bay, Florida – are doubly enriched, according to Diaz, who said they can have the “experience of the museum and the Stone House” and an encounter with “the real Florida,” the exuberant vegetation that was the habitat of the Tequesta indigenous group and which Deering sought to preserve.

The exhibit offers a “very interesting collection of very antique photographs” that used the autochrome early color photography process, among them one of the interior of Deering’s Maricel Palace in Sitges, Diaz said.

The rooms of the Stone House include carvings of saints, stained-glass windows from Spain, furniture designed by English and French artists, personal documents, a large portion of his library and postcards that Deering sent from Sitges to the United States.

Other highlights include two remarkable canvas paintings by Ramon Casas: “Ash Wednesday Procession in Barcelona” and a portrait of Maria Tubau, a famed Spanish actress of the late 19th century, as well as works by Swedish impressionist painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920), a personal friend of Deering’s.

Visitors to the mansion of Charles and his wife Marion Deering also will get a look at the Prohibition-era, secret wine cellar that was hidden behind a wooden bookshelf and steel bank-vault door and contained a diverse collection of French wines, champagne, port wine, Spanish sherry and other spirits.

Deering only lived at his beloved property located in the southern part of Miami-Dade County from 1922 until his death in 1927, but now that house-museum is part of the US federal government’s National Register of Historic Places.

The Stone House’s centennial is a unique opportunity for people to visit the exhibit and “enjoy this space, the history of the Deerings and their cultural contributions and connections to the entire world,” and very especially to Spain and the town of Sitges, Diaz said.

The affection and gratitude that Spanish town felt for Deering – its “adoptive son” – and his numerous philanthropic works are seen in a 1916 bronze plaque gifted to him and which today is displayed on an ocean-facing wall of the Stone House. EFE


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