Mashta House Album

The Second Floor of the Community Center showcases important photographs and drawings from the Village's Art Collection.


M A S H T A   H O U S E   A L B U M

A facsimile set of images taken in the early 1920s documents Mashta House. These facsimile photographs are from the Matheson Family Archives and were donated to the Village Art Collection by Finlay and Joan Matheson.

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The most notable exception to the agricultural structures of the first decades of the Twentieth Century on Key Biscayne was on the bayside of the island at Mashta Point: a custom-designed "Moorish-style palace" envisioned as an entertainment Mecca and island hideaway for the Matheson family and their guests. The magnificent grounds, building and its mystifying interiors are preserved in the "Mashta House Album," photographed by Sherman M. Fairchild in 1925-26. The 17 images are haunting in their timeless beauty. Mashta, an Arabic word, means "Resting House" and "Where Waters Meet."

Mashta House was built on filled swampland, a site constructed to follow the mangrove fringes to W.J. Matheson's specifications. John Roy Swanson is the unconfirmed builder, and the Manhattan firm of Clinton Mackenzie appears as a consultant during the finishing of the house. Plans have not been found.

Unconstrained by financial or zoning restrictions, W.J. Matheson could proceed on his private island however he wished. He had learned much about reinforced concrete with steel that he thought appropriate on a barrier sand island.  Aware of the sea level and the constant erosion on the Bay site, the pilings and foundations and wrap around seawalls were designed with great precision. However, the construction took a surprising and disastrous turn when the concrete was mixed with either saltwater and/or un-rinsed beach sand. The foundation and part of the first story of the house crumbled into the bay. The refuse was crushed and recycled, and became what was known thereafter as "the million dollar road leading to the Point." The work was begun anew with greater knowledge and supervision in 1917.

Mashta House was designed to create the illusion that it was floating on water, giving a magical and lasting impression for visitors including the Mellons, the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Fields who tied up their yachts on Matheson's seawalls and docks to celebrate the opening of the Miami social season. Because the concept for Mashta House was drawn from a residence W.J. had seen on the Nile River, Mashta House was unique among other homes of its era modeled after European palazzos and castles. Its interiors included mysterious murals, some with arcane inscriptions. Luxurious wall treatments, exotic lamps and other details provided a setting for the furniture and sculptures inspired by distant cultures. The grounds were landscaped with a profusion of coconut, date palms and other unusual plants. Completed in the early 1920s, and used until the late 1930s, the house was heavily damaged by storms and slowly decayed. Its remnants were visible until the 1950s.

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Text Credit: César Trasobares with Joan Gill Blank

Much of the  historical information was taken from
Key Biscayne: A History of Miami's Tropical Island and the Cape Florida Lighthouse
by Joan Gill Blank, Pineapple Press, Sarasota, 1996.