Juliana Gorina: Miami as Text 2022

Juliana Gorina is a senior at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on Natural Resources Sciences. She has always had a strong passion and interest in the environment and with this degree she hopes to create positive change for the environment, especially in South Florida where she has spent her whole life. She plans on going to law school and specializing in environmental law to make these changes through legal practice. She hopes that her Italy Grand Tour experience will help her gain global perspective and better understand the foundations of American law and policy.

Deering as Text

“Keepers of the Land”

By Juliana Gorina of FIU at Deering Estate

Ancient Tequesta tools found in the Deering Estate nature preserve.
Tequesta burial mound preserved within the Deering Estate.

Miami has always been a melting-pot city, where most residents having their ancestral roots from all over the world. Miami boasts architectural and cultural hot spots all throughout the city, with many neighborhoods like Little Haiti and Little Havana preserving the culture of their residents, and areas like Wynwood with a strong Latinx presence and influence. But behind all this beautiful culture, architecture, and art, are many injustices to the backbone members of these communities; Deering Estate is no exception. In our tour of the estate, we saw the culturally diverse architecture, especially of the stone house, with the house’s build being inspired by Spanish architecture, Islamic pointed arches carved into the house, Greek and Roman inspired columns supporting the veranda, Bahamian carving and craftsmanship decorating the columns vases and outer walls, and the limestone covering the outer walls adding a unique South Floridian feel to the home. The home is an architectural landmark in Miami, as is the dredged-out basin formerly used for his boats, as is the pristine nature preserve on the grounds. And yet none of these quintessential features would exist without the work and lives of the black and brown people in South Florida. In a time of intense racial segregation and discrimination, Bahamians and African Americans were the driving force behind this historic Miami home. Even before then, the indigenous people of what is now South Florida maintained the land and all its diverse ecosystems, and their survival off this land is what indicated to settlers moving south that the land was valuable and inhabitable. The story of the Tequesta mound in the nature preserve of the Deering Estate stood out to me the most on this tour. In comparison to the mound that was built over by the Whole Foods in Brickell, the preservation of this mound is a small victory in honoring the keepers of the land before Charles Deering. Like much of Miami, the minorities who contribute to the beauty and culture of many iconic areas of the city are not recognized. The artistry of Latinx people that formerly lived in Wynwood being gentrified, poverty and lack of infrastructure in Little Haiti and Havana. These cultural areas being celebrated but the people who built them not. The Deering Estate is guilty of this as well, as the historic residents and builders of the estate were left without representation and celebration. I feel as if it is important to publicly note the influences that minorities have had on the city of Miami. Everywhere we look there are hints of their influence on the city, but without loudly acknowledging their presence, their contribution to the beauty will continue to be overlooked.

Vizcaya as Text

“Art and Sin”

By Juliana Gorina of FIU at Deering Estate

            James Deering only wanted the illusion of being distinguished, having his artistic director Paul Chalfin collect art and design rooms that gave the illusion of esteem, when James Deering was more concerned with pleasure and partying. Throughout the property, artwork and architecture display the unruliness of James Deering, and when looking deeply the contrasts between esteem and personal pleasures.

The Barge at Vizcaya, with the mermaid partially seen at the very left of the barge.

One of the most notable blunders in the artwork of the house is the portrait of the Virgin Mary above the organ, which was cut in half for easier access to the organ pipes. This is a prime example of the juxtaposition found throughout the house, collectible art displaying purity and religion, with its placement for purely aesthetic reasons and it being cut in half for convenience. Across the room from this religious depiction is another painting, of Hercules fighting the Nemean lion. The large penis painted on the lion was another glaring indicator of the free-spiritedness in the design and art of the house. The lion depiction did not sooth rumors of James Deering being gay, especially with Paul Chalfin being openly gay himself. This also juxtaposes the room, with religious depictions on one side and what can be seen as homoerotic art on the other. I think it is important to note events that took place in this room as well, as Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan sat and discussed in this room. This also juxtaposes the artwork found in the room and is a further indication of how art throughout the house is more than meets the eye. Outside, the mermaid carved into the barge was said to have too large breasts, with Deering insisting that the artist return and make them smaller. This is another instance of the inconsistencies of what Deering thought was acceptable. The breasts of the mermaid were too controversial, but the lion penis in the living room was left without a second glance.

The Rococo “Marie Antoinette Salon” room in Vizcaya.

            When taking a closer look at the art and design elements of Vizcaya, one can see the illusion that James Deering is trying to put on in his home. The one consistent theme throughout the house is grandiose. Through Paul Chalfin, James Deering expressed his playboy attitude through artistic expression and design elements in each room.

Downtown as Text

“Miami as we know it”

By Juliana Gorina of FIU at Downtown Miami

As much of American history, the history of Miami is often written and taught through the lens of white settlers, omitting the struggles of the people of color who inhabited the land prior to development and those who built much of the city. Flagler is a household name in Miami, as his construction of the railroad down to Miami is credited with the initial boom of growth for the city. Henry Flagler though having a large impact on what Miami has become, is also a controversial figure when discussing Miami’s diversity and treatment of people of color. For one, Flagler knowingly destroyed a large Tequesta mound in the building of his railroad and gave little regard for what was done with the buried bodies. Flagler also recruited black workers in the building of his railroad, pushed for their citizenship and voting rights, to then use that for personal gain, segregating Miami and designating a “Color Town” for black citizens. Flagler’s impact on Miami is undeniable, both good and bad. Without his railroad, Miami would likely not have been founded for a much longer time, but his presence started the segregation in the city as well as the wars on indigenous people.

The plaque honoring Major Dade, describing the settlers point of view on their battle against the Seminoles.

            Another controversial figure in Miami’s history is Major Francis Langhorne Dade, who was a military leader during the Seminole wars. His troop was attacked by Seinole people in a pine rockland after Dade allowed them to be at ease in the unfamiliar landscape. The plaque on the courthouse honoring him describes this as an “ambush”, completely erasing the genocidal wars on the Seminole people that had been going on for years. This is another example of household names in Miami being honored throughout the city, without addressing their atrocious acts on the founders of the land they claimed. The wording on the plaque is another example of the indifference and intentional erasure of the dark history of Miami’s pioneering and founding.

Historic Fort Dallas building at Lummus Park.

            Another example of this is Fort Dallas, which was first a slaves quarters built by the slaves themselves. The building was then used as a fort during the Seminole wars. This is piece of architecture symbolized the use of people of color as the backbone to pioneering and building the city and how their work was used in other acts of violence against the indigenous people inhabiting the land.

            Miami’s history is not exempt from its dark past, yet the history of these people is often forgotten and replaced with the polished triumphs of the settlers who founded the city. Flagler, Dade, Tuttle, and other pioneers of Miami are often given the credit for the city’s founding and development, and though without their presence the Miami we know would not exist, but their actions have led to the historic segregation and discrimination of in the city. Their credits are due, but not without the acknowledgement and credit due to the Tequesta, Seminole, Bahamian, and black settlers of Miami, who inhabited the land long before these city “heroes” and all the settlers to come. Their struggles built the Miami we know today.

SoBe as Text

“The salvation of Art Deco”

By Juliana Gorina of FIU at Deering Estate

An Art Deco style building with a matching classic car.


In our walk down ocean drive, we encountered one of the most unique aspects of Miami culture. Aside from all the Latin, Bahamian, and Mediterranean influences, Miami is home to an architectural style unique to the area. All down Ocean Drive, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. are in the Art Deco style. The style consists of buildings sectioned off in thirds, port holes, “eyebrows” or ledges covering windows around the building, bright pastel colors, and neon signs. Art Deco architecture, though most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, captures an eccentric essence of Miami that emerged much later. Miami Beach became a heavily LGBTQ+ influenced area in the 1980s and 1990s. Art Deco, which stands out amongst other Miamian architecture like the clustered condos at the end of Ocean Drive or the more classic Mediterranean revival styled buildings, pairs well with the vibrance of the LGBTQ+ community that dominated social spheres in South Beach throughout the 80s and 90s. In the 80s, the Ocean Drive area had become a run- down, crime ridden area, and not very many people besides the LGBTQ+ community ventured out there, as there was no appeal. Much of the revival of this area is attributed to the night life and aesthetic provided by this community. In fact, it was the strong presence of the queer community in Miami that inspired Gianni Versace to build his famous mansion on Ocean Drive, lending more to the distinctive style and culture of the South Beach area. Even before this revival though, the work of Barbara Baer Capitman saved the Art Deco district from clear-cutting and transformation into invariable high- rise condos. The remarkable survival of the small and peculiar looking Art Deco buildings in Miami is largely due to the work of marginalized people in Miami. Just as on the mainland, developments on South Beach can be attributed to the work of indigenous, black, and Bahamian people, while its protection and revitalization can be attributed to one woman and later the queer community. It is with all this that these peculiar looking buildings stand for something more than just promotional pictures of Miamian architecture, but how much of South Beach’s iconic aesthetic and appeal is because of a group of people who many saw as unappealing.

Another Art Deco building, with many of the key architectural designs.

Author: julianagorina1400

Juliana Gorina is a senior at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on Natural Resources Sciences. She has always had a strong passion and interest in the environment and with this degree she hopes to create positive change for the environment, especially in South Florida where she has spent her whole life. She plans on going to law school and specializing in environmental law to make these changes through legal practice. She hopes that her Italy Grand Tour experience will help her gain global perspective and better understand the foundations of American law and policy.

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