Sofia De La Torre: Miami Service Project 2021


My name is Sofia De La Torre. I am a junior in the Honors College studying Biological Sciences on a pre-med track hoping to one day achieve my goal of being a surgeon.

Photo edit from Chicken Key by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0


Deering Estate is the former residence of Charles Deering who lived on the 444-acre property. The Deering Estate, once owned by Charles Deering, is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. There are 8 different ecosystems amongst the Deering Estate property. However, our focus is on Chicken Key. Chicken Key is a small, uninhabited island right off the coast of Deering located in the Biscayne Bay. This island is where our beach cleanup took place.

Photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0


I am currently taking the Discover Miami class in the Spring 2021 semester, almost exactly one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Due to the shutdown of almost every store, restaurant, park, etc. in Miami, the options for a service project were very limited. Through the Discover Miami course, I got the opportunity to kayak to Chicken Key and take place in a beach cleanup. I am a biology major, so I wouldn’t exactly say environmental conservation is related to my major. However, it is something that I am very passionate about. When I was in high school, my friends and I would go to the beach or kayak out from the People’s Dock at Deering Estate or from a little park next to the Snowden’s Dam and conduct mini cleanups. I feel that trying your hardest to make a small impact, can make a big difference in the long run.


Preserving the environment is something I feel a very close connection to, especially living in Miami. I have seen firsthand some of the deterioration our oceans and mangroves have been through in the 20 years I have been alive. Growing up so close to the water, it becomes a big part of your life. When I was younger, I would go to the beach with my parents or out on the boat as a pastime. However, as I got older, I realized the impact that human interference was having on our planet. It is so sad to see animals, plants, and even entire ecosystems dying due to a problem caused by humans, caused by us. What makes the problem even worse? People who are aware of this problem do not even care.

An estimated 8 billion pounds of trash, mostly plastic, is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

(Baechler, 2021)

Miami residents live less than 45 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and are contributing to littering trash, which eventually makes its way into the ocean. “Over 1 million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean (Sea Turtle Conservancy).” This not only affects the millions of animals who call the ocean their home, but also the ecosystems in which they are living. Our own Biscayne Bay is under attack. The Biscayne Bay has had a slow death, and little is being done to remedy the situation. It is hard to reverse your mistakes after they have been made though. From climate change to rising sea levels, our environment just can’t keep up with the speed that change is occurring. 

First photo by John Bailly / CC by 4.0 (2017)
Second photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0 (2021)


On April 9th, our class met at the Deering Estate in the morning for our kayaking adventure. I have only kayaked twice before and definitely would not consider myself an expert in any way, shape, or form. Professor Bailly led our class out to the “docking station” where we would exit Deering Estate from. Although we were told to choose experienced rowing partners, I decided to partner up with my friend, Sana Arif, which I would later learn was not the most responsible choice. To give you a sight into the future, we arrived at the island at least 10 minutes after our other classmates, but lucky for us we weren’t the last to arrive. We then spent the day cleaning up trash around Chicken Key. We learned that Professor Bailly has been leading the Honors College on this excursion since 2017. Chicken Key is not inhabited by anybody; therefore, the island was buried in plastic trash and whatever else you can imagine. It is extremely hard not to obsess over every piece of microplastic or trash that is just out of reach. For me, it was an emotional experience because you always hear about how much trash there is in the ocean and on our beaches and it is so easy to ignore that until you see it for your own eyes. After spending the day cleaning up, we swam and snorkeled in the Biscayne Bay. Man made canals were dredged for boats next to Chicken Key, so all the movement of water in that area makes the water a little murky. Our kayak trip back to Deering Estate was much easier than the trek to get there because we had the current on our side. We enjoyed napping and other shenanigans when out on the water. Lastly, our day ended by placing all the trash we had collected in the proper dumpsters. This experience was unlike one I’ve ever had before and will continue to help preserve our oceans, even if the difference I alone can make is miniscule. 

Photo by Sofia De La Torre / CC by 4.0



As I mentioned before, it was very hard not to obsess over picking up every piece of trash because there is just too much. I won’t sugarcoat it, but April in Miami isn’t the warmest of months. At first it was hard to find motivation to walk around and cleanup after having rowed to the island. Once on the island though, the realization hits of how much pollution is around you. I put some music on and didn’t stop picking up trash for hours. It is satisfying to know that when you are done, you’ve made a difference in your own community. Chicken Key has had a “glow up” in the last five years and we can credit Professor Bailly for helping achieve this.

Word Count: 1049

Works Cited

Baechler, Britta, et al. “Plastics in the Ocean.” Ocean Conservancy, 13 Apr. 2021, 

“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Marine Debris.” Sea Turtle Conservancy, 

“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020, 

Sofia De La Torre: Coral Gables 2021

Image from


My name is Sofia De La Torre. I am a junior in the Honors College studying Biological Sciences on a pre-med track hoping to one day achieve my goal of being a surgeon.


Map of Coral Gables, Screenshot from Google maps

Coral Gables is located at coordinates 25°43′42″N 80°16′16″W and occupies a 37.31 mi² radius of land. It is right next to the Pinecrest and Coconut Grove neighborhoods. The city, which was built in the 1920s, is extremely close to the water, with most of the east side of Coral Gables being located on the Biscayne Bay having either direct water access or canals running through many of the residential streets. It sits at around 10 feet above sea level, making it a very desirable area for property owners and/or investors. Coral Gables is known for its flourishing greenery and tree-lined streets.

Images from Coral Gables Overview Pamphlet


Image from

Coral Gables is regarded as one of Miami’s high-class, luxury neighborhoods. It is one of the first planned communities to be built in the United States. The founder of the neighborhood, George E. Merrick, envisioned what he termed a “Garden City” containing lush greenery throughout both residential and urban areas. The city is known for its Mediterranean Revival architectural style, similar to other areas in Miami. The city has many historic sites, such as the Venetian Pool, the Biltmore Hotel, City Hall, and many more. Incorporated in 1925, the 5th oldest incorporated city in Miami, it has grown into a hub for businesses in the downtown area and a retreat for the retired in the residential community.

When Miami was first being discovered and “colonized”, rich white men from the north came down south to build and buy properties which would later make them profit. George Merrick isn’t much different from the Deering brothers, who came to Miami, Florida from Maine to build their lavish homes. George E. Merrick was a real estate developer and governor of Florida. He was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Miami when he was 12. He grew up in a small house in what is now known as the Gables area and named the neighborhood after that house due to its coral/limestone walls and gabled roof.

Image from Coral Gables Overview Pamphlet

The City Beautiful Movement was a philosophy of North American architecture and urban city planning that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s. It promoted the idea that beautification and monumental grandeur in cities was beneficial to the community. Merrick incorporated a lot of these ideals when creating Coral Gables. “In a 1925 interview with the New York Times, Merrick commented: ‘Just how I came to utilize the Spanish type of architecture in Coral Gables, I can hardly say, except that it always seemed to me to be the only way houses should be built down there in those tropical surroundings.’” He brought Spanish and Mediterranean style architecture to Miami because he thought the “vibe” suited the tropical weather we experience here. This artistic style of architecture and landscaping in which Merrick envisioned turned into the beautiful city of Coral Gables as we know it today.


The population of Coral Gables is currently at 51,673 residents. Women make up 52.39% of the population, while men make up the other 47.61%. The median age of residents is 39, however, the 65+ community takes the highest spot when it comes to age distribution, with the 20-29 age group coming in a close second. 70.4% of the population of Coral Gables have an Associate’s degree or higher and 33.25% have a Graduate level education or higher. Coral Gables population has a labor force of 26,688 people and an unemployment rate of 4.2%. The median income level of a household is $95,264, however 59.34% of the households earn more than average each year. This median household income is 82% higher than the median of Miami-Dade County. The majority of residents are owners of their homes (60.38%), while the remaining 39.62% rent their homes. (Miami-Dade Beacon Council)

Image from

This neighborhood is known to be one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Miami, coming in second right after Miami Beach (Fisher Island). The median price of a house is more than $3.5 million. This is one of the reasons that Coral Gables is considered to be very exclusive, only a select few in Miami can afford a home in this price range.

University of Miami, which George Merrick is credited for its establishment, is also located in Coral Gables. This brings a lot of out-of-state students to the school. UM is the perfect location, being in Miami, for college students who love to party. 

Interview with Robert Taraboulos:

Photo by Robert Taraboulos

Robert Taraboulos is a CPA and co-founder of the accounting firm KSDT & Company.

How long have you lived in Coral Gables (Cocoplum)?

I have lived in Cocoplum for about five years now.

What is your favorite thing about the property or neighborhood?

My house is located on a canal and has access to the bay, which was a deal breaker for me when looking for homes. The neighborhood is very safe and quiet, which my family and I love. However, there was a python spotted by the front gate once.

Would you live in a different neighborhood? Why?

I used to live in the Kendall/Dadeland area but wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now. Cocoplum is a great neighborhood with amazing schools nearby and I have a waterfront property, which is what I always wanted in a home.


1948: Miracle Theater. Image from

Actors’ Playhouse at Miracle Theatre

The Actors’ Playhouse is a theatre company that features plays, musicals, and children’s programs all year-round. In 1995, Coral Gables and Actors’ Playhouse partnered together to begin restoration of the Miracle Theatre. The Miracle Theatre was established in 1947, designed by architect William H. Lee. It served as the community movie house for over 50 years. After its restoration which began in 1990, the theatre’s Art Deco opulence returned to the community. This theater now serves as the home of the Actors’ Playhouse company and is the center of performing arts for the community of Coral Gables.

Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel is one of the most historic and well-known hotels in Miami. It was built by George Merrick, founder of Coral gables, in 1926. It became a hot spot for golf tournaments, fashion shows, and many more glamorous events. During World War II, it served as a military hospital and continued to serve as a veteran hospital after the war ended. Now, it is known for its elegant architecture style, huge golf course, and gorgeous wedding venues.

When The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables opened in January of 1926, the “horseless carriage” had become America’s most popular extravagance. In this scene, shot from the front of the hotel, model T’s, Lincolns and other fancy autos line the parking area, while their celebrity passengers enjoy the finer things in life. Image from

Coral Gables Museum

Coral Gables Museum is the historic site of the old Police and Fire Station built in 1938. The building keeps on with the theme of Mediterranean Revival style architecture seen throughout the Gables. Located in the heart of downtown, the museum now houses exhibits focusing on civic arts and host educational events for the community.


Matheson Hammock Park

Matheson Hammock Park is a 630-acre urban park in metropolitan Miami, located just south of downtown Coral Gables. It is one of Miami-Dade’s 7 parks that are designated as heritage parks. It is the oldest park in South Florida. The park shares its borders with another green space in the community, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. Opened in 1930, the park contains a marina and now a restaurant, Redfish by Chef Adrianne. It remains practically unchanged since its opening in 1930 but is a popular spot for boaters and bikers to enjoy.

Photo by Jason Lopez / CC by 4.0

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Established in 1936 by Robert H. Montgomery, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is home to over 15,000 species of plants and trees. The park was founded by an accountant who had a passion for plant collecting. He named it after his friend, David Fairchild, who was also a plant explorer and admirer. The park is open to the public for a small entrance fee. Fairchild conducts many botanic research projects and has partnered with FIU, UM, and other schools to help train students. They also partnered with the Million Orchids Project to restore the native orchid species to Miami. Miami has a big problem with invasive species of plant and animals and Fairchild is doing its best to lessen the effects of these species on the native Floridian species. The gardens are a peaceful place to walk around and enjoy nature and is a popular picture spot among the younger crowd!

Image from Miami Herald / CC by 4.0

Venetian Pool

The Venetian Pool is a historic public swimming pool created from an old coral rock quarry in 1923. Created by George Merrick, it also follows the theme of Mediterranean Revival style that the rest of the Gables does. It is a popular tourist attraction as it is the only pool added to the list of National Register of Historic Places. It isn’t necessarily considered a “green space”; however, it is one of the coolest natural freshwater pools.


All modes of transportation are used throughout the Gables from bikes to trolleys and even boats. On the residential east side, cars, bikers and people walking are very common. In downtown, you’ll see more trolleys and cars. However, since the neighborhood is practically on the water, many people take their boats out directly from their houses. Since the Gables is in between many popular surrounding neighborhoods, this creates a lot of traffic at certain times of the day. The city is perfectly located where South Beach, Coconut Grove, and other popular cities are just a short drive away. Residents spend an average 22 minutes commuting to and from work every day.


Coral Gables is home to some of the fanciest and most popular restaurants in Miami. There is way too many to name, but here are three that have made their impact on the city and visited by people from all over the world.

Caffe Abbracci

Caffe Abbracci is an Italian restaurant that caters to many different audiences. During the day, it is a popular lunch spot for businessmen to conduct meetings or for the housewives to mingle. By night, the restaurant becomes a romantic date-night worthy place to dine. They serve many upscale pasta, seafood, and meat dishes, but doesn’t lose the homemade authentic side of Italian food. Located in the heart of downtown Coral Gables on Aragon Avenue, the prices aren’t too low. The restaurant features a gorgeous tiffany style, stained glass ceiling and crystal chandeliers.

Image from

Christy’s Restaurant

Christy’s Restaurant is a classic steakhouse and fine dining experience that has been open since 1978. The restaurant attracts many couples due to the elegant ambiance created by the wood-paneled walls and piano bar. Also located in the heart of downtown Coral Gables on Ponce de Leon Blvd., the prices aren’t too low. They are known for their table side flambéed iconic Baked Alaska and delicious cuts of meat and seafood. 

Redfish by Chef Adrianne

Redfish by Chef Adrianne, which was previously known as Redfish Grill, is located in Matheson Hammock Park and was founded in 1996. Charles Hauser, who is the founder of the famous Redfish Grill, also founded Christy’s Restaurant. Redfish has a seaside venue which features 360 ocean views, making it one of Miami’s most unique restaurants. They serve seafood dishes featuring Chef Adrianne’s “Maximum Flavor” style.


Image from

Wayside Market

Pinecrest Wayside Market is an outdoor fruit and vegetable market with some of the best milkshakes and smoothies in Miami. Although it is not exactly located in Coral Gables, I had to include it because it is a staple for Miami natives in this area. Located on Red Road, it is less than a 5-minute drive from the Gables but is a popular spot to stop and relax when on a walk or bike ride.


Bacardi Limited, the liquor company, has their main USA headquarters in downtown Coral Gables. The company was founded in 1862 in Santiago de Cuba. The Bacardi family began making rum in Cuba and dominated the industry. During the Cuban revolution, the family maintained a strong opposition to Fidel Castro’s rule over Cuba. Eventually, the family escaped Cuba, but the government kept all their assets and monies in the bank and gave the Bacardi’s no compensation. Luckily the company survived and is now one of the largest family-owned spirits companies in the world. The Bacardi family story is one that many Cuban immigrants had to face when leaving their country and moving to the United States, however many immigrants were not as well off as the Bacardi’s were.

Image from Coral Gables Overview Pamphlet

Books & Books

Books & Books is a local bookstore founded by Miami Beach native Mitchell Kaplan in 1982. It features a courtyard and café along with the hundreds of books in the store. They show and sell local artists work at their 5 locations in Miami. They also hold events, such as book clubs and even opening parties (pre-covid). It is a cute hangout for the community to come relax and read a book.


The city of Coral Gables is a delightful place to spend time and is very safe, however it doesn’t come at a low price. With the average price of a house in the Gables is around $3.5 million, it is a bit of a ways away for most regular Miami residents to be able to move there. The location and activities make the city accessible to many, but the price point may be a problem. Parking and traffic are a huge problem that residents have to endure during certain time of the day. Parking can be expensive, but the city has a free public trolley system and there are a few Metrorail station stops. Due to the desirable location of the city, there is many buildings under construction and new construction popping up in every corner. The nightlife makes it a well-liked location for the younger crowds. The city of Coral Gables is constantly hosting cultural and performing arts events and feature sculptures and art throughout the city. The Mediterranean architecture and landscape make the city a favorite spot for locals and tourists alike.

Word Count: 2339

Works Cited

“Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theater.” Cinema Treasures,

“A History of Coral Gables.” Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, 16 Oct. 2020,

“Coral Gables.” The Beacon Council, 26 Apr. 2018, “Economic Overview.” City of Coral Gables – Economic

FM, WLRN 91.3. “A History Of The Biltmore, Miami’s Best Known Creepy Hotel.” WLRN, 31 Oct. 2014,

Sofia De La Torre: Miami as Text 2021

Photo by Juliana De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

Hi, I’m Sofia De La Torre! I am junior at Florida International University studying Biological Sciences. I hope to attend medical school in the future to pursue a career as a surgeon. In my free time, I love going on spontaneous sunset drives, making jewelry, or just hanging out with my friends! I am originally from Miami and love learning about the history of the places I travel to or visit; however, I don’t even know the history of my own city. My motivation for taking this class is to learn about the hidden truths that Miami holds and the foundation that built this city to be what it is today. 

Downtown as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Hidden Past of Miami” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at Downtown Miami

I am a person who hates doing things by myself. My overprotective mother doesn’t help situations when all she does is call me every 10 minutes to find out if I’m still alive. So, when I found out that I would be traveling into the heart of Miami alone, I may have had a mini freakout. Here’s a random fact about me: I don’t like driving on the highway. Therefore, the drive to get to the Government Center was an interesting one to say the least. When I arrived, I was met with creepy stares from old men and the smell of gas powered cars, which for me is not the best way to start out the first honors class of the semester.

When we began to walk to the different locations we’d be visiting that day, I recognized many buildings from trips to downtown with my family when I was younger. Downtown Miami is like a foreign world to me. Growing up in residential Miami, life is laid back, slow even. However, Downtown is lively and energetic, like a beehive where everyone has a place to be and a job to do. Walking around, seeing these places that I have seen hundreds of times in my life was fairly normal, until the history behind them came undone.

Miami was a city that belonged to the native Tequesta people, but their land was stolen from them just like many other Native American groups residing in Florida. This overtake of land was anything but peaceful and war quickly ensued. Eventually, the natives were forced from their land and are now practically forgotten. Living in Miami for my whole life, hearing these hidden truths for the first time is shocking. Never in my 13 years of public schooling in Florida, Floridian history was never taught to us. These violent truths are buried under our own feet and have yet to be unearthed to many people who reside in this beautiful city.

Although the Tequesta’s resided in Miami long ago, other minority groups have been oppressed throughout Miami’s history. Henry Flagler, for example, is highly regarded as the “Founder of Miami,” but he abused his power by using the color of his skin against others. The low income populations in Miami have also been mistreated for decades. We talked about the freeway that goes directly through a predominantly African-American neighborhood because the legislative authorities had a large pushback from the wealthy families who did not want a highway next to their homes. These minority groups are constantly taken advantage of and stripped of their voices because others speak louder, have more political pull, or have more money.

Another minority group who resides in Miami are the hispanics, primarily the Cuban population. As a Cuban myself, I have heard the hardships that my own grandparents went through in their home country , but even more in America. Coming into the U.S. with one single suitcase and $100, they had to make a living for themselves and their 4 children. The Freedom Tower is a huge part of Cuban history. It was the immigration central for all the children, and adults, who came into the U.S. in the 1950s, fleeing from their communist government. Today, the Cuban people make up approximately 25% of Miami-Dade’s total population and 50% of Miami-Dade’s foreign population.

Overall, Miami is one of the most, if not the most, diverse cities in the U.S. People of every race, religion, color, background etc. can be found here and that is what I love most about my city. Conversations need to be had and action needs to be taken to remedy the lies that have been told to cover up the ugly truth about Miami’s history. We may not be able to change the past, but we have complete control of our future.

Everglades as Text

Photos by Jena Nassar and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Marvels of Pond Life” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at The Florida Everglades

Growing up in Miami, being around water is not unusual to you. Residents of Miami live right next to the beach and the Everglades is basically our backyard. However, not enough people know of the beauty and life that the Everglades holds. This was my very first experience going “slough slogging.” My last experience in the Everglades was a field trip to the Anhinga trail in 5th grade, so it’s been a while. I was thrilled to be getting the opportunity to do this and had convinced myself that my fear of murky water wouldn’t be a problem (it definitely was).

Walking into the water was a bit nerve-racking because you never know what could be under your feet. The first five or ten minutes I was panic-stricken and paranoid about every sound and movement. As time went on, however, I became more comfortable in this foreign environment. My first thought was that it looked like I had just walked on to the set of Star Wars. It felt very surreal to be walking through the water.

The Everglades encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical wetland. It is a lush environment is home to many species of animals and plants. The ecosystem in the Everglades is struggling to survive right now though. Invasive species have taken over and are dominating the native species. For example, the Burmese python has made its way into the Everglades and has no predators, in fact they have been seen eating full grown alligators before. Many people associate alligators with the everglades, and while that is true, there is also human evidence in the everglades. The Seminole Indians and other Indian tribes were pushed from their land and into the Everglades where they had to find a way to survive.

At the end of our slough slogging adventure, we drove to a solution hole in the middle of nowhere. The plain was absolutely flat, a rare sight in the everglades because there are trees everywhere you look. This is due to an invasive tree, the Australian pine. This tree had taken over the area and was causing major damage to the ecosystem by taking resources from the native plants. The area was excavated to prevent further growth of the invasive species.

My favorite part of the day was when we all stopped and had a moment of silence to take in the scenery around us. It was so serene, and, in that moment, you could hear every sound. Every bird chirping. Every tree squeaking as the wind blew through. However, in this tranquil moment, a sign of human presence, an airplane, flew above and reminded us of the impact humans can and have had on ecosystems across the world.

South Beach as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

The South Beach atmosphere is like being on a different planet. The people, the restaurants, the hotels, the clubs. South Beach offers something different for everybody. It is definitely an experience. However, my favorite part about South Beach is the fascinating architecture styles. There are three main styles: Art deco, Mediterranean revival, and MiMo (Miami Modern). The architecture is what brings people flocking to South Beach, besides the actual beach. 

The Art Deco style is meant to mimic nature, so many of the same themes and elements are seen on Art Deco inspired buildings. There are relief sculptures of animals that are native to Miami on the sides of the buildings made to blend seamlessly with the There is a rule of three in many buildings, which is shown as either splitting the building up into three sections or 3 dividing lines for decoration. In addition, many of the buildings have overhangs above the window called “eyebrows.” Their initial purpose was to protect against the sun, however, now they are seen as decoration.

Like many of the other spots we’ve traveled to in Miami, there is an unspoken history behind the making of this very diverse city. African American and Bohemian labor workers built the city in its early days, however, once finished they were segregated from most areas of South Beach. Carl Fisher bought Fisher Island from Dana A. Dorsey, who was the first African American millionaire in South Florida. He became a developer of land around the area and refused to sell land to Jews. Not only did intense segregation create tension in Miami, but anti-Semitism was also an eminent threat to the Jewish population. This is a theme that is very common throughout Miami’s history, but it is kept a secret from the South Floridian population. 

Deering as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre & Photos by Jena Nassar / CC by 4.0

Deering Estate is the former residence of Charles Deering who lived on the 444-acre property. The Deering Estate, once owned by Charles Deering, is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. There are multiple buildings on the property, including in-house art studios where local artists can work. Professor Bailly is one of the many artists who work in these studios. The older of the two buildings on the property, once known as the Richmond Cottage, was a hotel in its prime time. It housed travelers who were coming south toward the keys, as it was the only hotel within miles. The Stone House is the perfect example of Mediterranean Revival style architecture. I loved how the design incorporates different cultures, such as the Islamic inspired arches or the Bohemian ceiling mosaic. 

Deering is built on the Miami Rock Ridge which houses the Pine Rockland ecosystem seen in many areas across Miami. There are 8 different ecosystems amongst the Deering Estate property. During our hike we were able to walk through all these ecosystems and compare them to each other. Due to the fact that Deering Estate is built on the Miami Rock Ridge, the elevation changes are pretty major throughout the property. We went from being directly at sea level to 25 feet above sea level at some points.

Growing up in Palmetto Bay, my mother would take me and my sister to Deering all the time. There were also many school fieldtrips to the Estate. However, on none of these outings did I learn about the rich history the estate holds and the wildlife it preserves. It was a really surreal experience going from walking through the mangroves and then hiking through a completely different ecosystem less than 5 minutes later.

Vizcaya as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre; Photos by Sofia De La Torre, Jena Nassar, and Sana Arif / CC by 4.0

Vizcaya was the home of James Deering, the brother of Charles Deering who owned Deering Estate. Vizcaya is a lavish the 180-acre property that houses an Italian Renaissance inspired villa in the middle of the mangroves of Miami. Vizcaya is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. James Deering loved to party and loved the idea of the party town Miami would later become. 

Entering the Gardens, you drive through largely exaggerated gates that lead you into a greenery lined pathway of nothingness. Driving along the path there are Italian Baroque style sculptures that give a preview into the coming view. Then out of the shrubbery, Villa Vizcaya can be seen and suddenly you feel as though you aren’t in Miami anymore. This is the exact feeling James Deering wanted to evoke from visitors. Walking through the house is another interesting experience because each room is decorated in a different design. The “vibe” and style era of each room changes from serious and dark to lively and romantic just by walking through a single doorway.

The mansion is filled with surprises. In the first room we entered there is a hidden door in a bookshelf. There was a pool tucked in a small corner of the house, an amphitheater, and a maze garden. However, my favorite was the secret liquor cabinet built into the limestone wall next to the gondola access canal. Writing about this lavish property makes it sound as if I’m making up random things only money could buy, but I promise this is a real place. Honestly, I’m just disappointed I was never invited to a Vizcaya party.

Margulies as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre; Photos by Sofia De La Torre and Jena Nassar / CC by 4.0

As a lover of art and a former art student, contemporary art isn’t necessarily a new concept to me. Whenever my family travels to a new place, I’m always the one who drags them to the nearby museums or galleries in the area. The past few years the museums I’ve been going to feature classic paintings and sculptures or historic artifacts, with barely any contemporary art. Therefore, Margulies collection blew me away with the amount and quality of the work featured there. Contemporary art tells such a deep story but is hidden behind the “insane” looking façade of the piece. One of the reasons that contemporary art is so amazing is because every person will have a different outlook on the piece and interpret a different story from it.

Margulies has a collection straight out of Art Basel with hundreds and hundreds of pieces ranging in style, size, medium, etc. The gallery is somewhat interactive containing video pieces, projectors, and even a working elevator door. Each piece evokes a different feeling from the viewer, so walking through the gallery is a rollercoaster of emotions. After experiencing the art in this gallery, I have revived my love for the subject and realized how much I miss it. It was also an eye-opening experience in that galleries and museums are not just a path for one to follow and look. It is supposed to give rise to active thought and observation and reflection of one’s life.

My favorite part of the gallery was that all profits benefit the local homeless shelter, which Margulies built with money from a famous art piece he decided to sell. This is so heartwarming to see that there is still good in humanity to help others. In an industry where fraud and laundering is so common, Margulies has created a safe space for the entire community.

%d bloggers like this: