VIRGINIA ROBINSON GARDENS

About

The Virginia Robinson Gardens is a unique historic estate, a cultural jewel that transports the visitor back to the birthplace of Beverly Hills. Built in 1911, it was once the residence of retail giants Virginia and Harry Robinson (of the Robinson department stores) and now occupies an illustrious place in history as the first luxury estate built in Beverly Hills.

Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open by appointment to the public. Located behind the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel, the beautiful six-acre property contains a breathtaking display garden, mansion and pool pavilion. A favorite destination for both local and international visitors, the property attracts a varied audience, from those interested in the history of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills to people who appreciate beautiful gardens and traditional design. In addition, it is a dynamic location for photo shoots with dramatic settings such as the awe-inspiring Australian King Palm Forest, the bucolic Rose Garden and the tranquil Italian Terrace Garden.

The immediate beauty of the property is just one of the estate's many fascinating attributes. The Robinson Gardens was once the site of lavish Hollywood parties. Mrs. Robinson was known as the first lady of Beverly Hills and her triumphs as a hostess are legendary: her diverse guests included royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich and Fred Astaire; her neighbors were Glenn Ford, Lillian Disney and Elvis Presley. She sipped champagne cocktails with Sophia Loren and challenged Charlie Chaplin to a spirited game of tennis - all with her signature elegance and class.

She was equally renowned for her philanthropy. Among the many benefits she hosted, the Hollywood Bowl Patronesses Benefit was a favorite. Each year, after the opening of the Hollywood Bowl season, the orchestra would repeat their performance on the estate's Great Lawn, to the delight of her guests. Shortly before her death in 1977, Mrs. Robinson bequeathed her estate to Los Angeles County. The County, along with the not-for-profit organization Friends of Robinson Gardens, preserve the estate for future generations to enjoy.

Mission Statement

The purpose of the Virginia Robinson Gardens is to preserve and promote this historically significant first estate of
Beverly Hills for the education and enjoyment of the general public.

The Friends of Robinson Gardens volunteer their time and resources to maintain the house and grounds and keep Mrs. Robinson's legacy alive. The Friends' annual Benefit Patron Gala and "...into the Garden" Benefit Garden Tour are the highlights of Beverly Hills' social calendar. As the first luxury estate built in the world's most famous residential neighborhood, the multi-faceted historic property provides an opportunity to experience the world of privilege in early Los Angeles.

On the passing Virginia Robinson, the estate was bequeathed to the County of Los Angeles and today is part of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The County, along with the Friends of Robinson Gardens, a non-profit organization, maintain the estate in the elegant and tranquil manner that are in keeping with the living traditions of the early twentieth century.

HISTORY

1877-1900

Born in Missouri, Virginia Catherine Dryden moved to Los Angeles in 1880, at the age of three. As fate would have it—Virginia’s family set up residence near Joseph Winchester Robinson’s home. Robinson was the chairman of the Boston Dry Goods Store which eventually became J.W. Robinson’s retail stores.

1901-1920

Virginia married J.W. Robinson’s heir, Harry Winchester Robinson, in 1903; afterwhich, they embarked on a three year honeymoon to Europe, India, and Kashmir. When they returned, the newlyweds commissioned Virginia’s father, Nathaniel Dryden, to design their historic mansion on a plot of beautifully sloped land, originally owned by the founder of Beverly Hills, Mr. Burton, Green. After the completion of their stylish mansion, Virginia Robinson used her green thumb to create Beverly Hills’ most engaging public site.

1921-1940

Harry Robinson became president in 1924 of the J.W. Robinson chain and later renamed it Robinson’s Department Store. After his passing in 1932, Virginia became chairwoman, holding the position for thirty years, until she retired at 85.

1941-1977

Over the years, the estate became famous for hosting some of the most lavish celebrity parties in Los Angeles with notable stars Charlie Chaplain, Mae West, Agnes Moorhead, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire to name a few. Virginia Robinson bestowed her personal paradise to the County of Los Angeles, after passing away at the age of 99 (1977) — less than two months shy of her 100th birthday.

1978-2008

After her passing, it was her request that her Major Domo and friend Ivo Hadjiev live on the property and assist the County in making her estate available for the public’s enjoyment. Ivo was influential in the development of the docent program providing oral history and continued to protect her legacy until his passing in 2008.

Present

The Virginia Robinson Gardens estate is owned and operated by the County of Los Angeles – Department of Parks and Recreation. Together, with the Friends of Robinson Gardens, they maintain this historical site, and carry on the traditions and living styles of the early twentieth century.

Preservation of Historic Landmark

When Virginia Robinson died in 1977 just before her 100th birthday, she was arguably one of the last grand dames of the Hollywood era. Nevertheless, she left her legendary home and gardens in serious disrepair. A leaky roof and a dangerous electrical system threatened the very survival of this cultural landmark.

This elegant and generous philanthropist had willed her six and a half acre estate to the County of Los Angeles, but the endowment was insufficient to rescue this historic treasure from slow but sure disintegration.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund G Edelman, recognized the estate’s value as a window into the early history and lifestyle of Southern California, and set out to save it.

The Board of Supervisors placed the estate under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, and then turned to the community to help save the Robinson Estate.

Supervisor Edelman called on Joan Selwyn, a leader in the arts community who also shared a love of gardens, to form an organization of community activists to support the restoration project. He proposed a partnership. Joan Selwyn would create an organization of civic leaders that would raise funds to restore the Estate to its former grandeur, while the County would run the day-to-day operations of the Gardens.

“The Friends of Robinson Gardens” was founded in 1982 with a Board of Directors and a general membership of over 75 committed women.

A great deal was accomplished in a short period of time. The Friends of Robinson Gardens raised enough money to begin crucial repairs, establish docent programs, and begin educational seminars. Coincidentally, Robinsons Department Store, originally known as the Boston Dry Goods Store in downtown Los Angeles and owned by Harry Robinson’s family, was celebrating its 100th anniversary. They generously sponsored the first gala, including a spectacular fashion show on a runway that stretched across Mrs. Robinson’s pool. The lights of the Estate were blazing, and the benefit announced to the city that this historic landmark would be preserved for future generations.

A letter from President Donal Reagan that year called the Friends of Robinson Gardens “a fine example of what can be accomplished through cooperation between the private and public sector,” and congratulated the group on its significant accomplishments. Since its inception in 1982, the Friends have restored all of the historic buildings on the property according to the strict standards set by the Department of Interior and the Friends are contributing one quarter of the Gardens annual operating budget. In 2011, the Friends published the first book about the history of Harry and Virginia Robinson and their renowned home and gardens. These continuing efforts will ensure that this cultural landmark will no longer be a hidden treasure ensconced in the hills above the famed Sunset Boulevard, but a nationally recognized landmark to be appreciated by all who visit.