MRS. ROBINSON, HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
By Robin Venturelli, July 12, 2017
Mrs. Virginia Robinson, a wealthy philanthropist a wife of Harry Robinson, of the Robinsons department stores, built the first historic estate in Beverly Hills in 1911. The main house was designed by architect Nathaniel Dryden, who was Virginia’s father, in a Beaux Arts style. Today the six-acre property contains the original home, pool pavilion (for both shooting pool and relaxing after swimming in the pool) and extensive gardens. Within the six designated gardens, one can enter the Australian King Palm Forest, the Rose Garden, and the Italian Terrace Garden, all while touring by appointment with a docent. It was on just such a tour that I was able to experience the Robinson’s Gardens this summer.
My journey began in the pool pavilion. The Renaissance Revival pool pavilion was constructed in 1924 and is an homage to the Villa Pisani in the Tuscan region of Italy. Decorative panels of Sgraffito ornamentation climb the Roman arches at the entry to the pavilion’s Solarium. The Robinsons wanted the decor to be in the style of a “Gothic Indonesian, Islamic home” as that fit the motif they were fascinated with from their extensive travels to the middle east.
I learned that when Virginia and Harry Robinson lived on the property, their neighbors were Lillian Disney, Glenn Ford, and Elvis Presley. They enjoyed entertaining and were often found sipping champagne with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren or Fred Astaire. Charlie Chaplin repeatedly challenged Virginia to a game of tennis on her court. Even royalty stopped by, as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were frequent guests. When Harry passed away in 1932, Virginia continued her philanthropic work, her daily swims well into her eighties, her garden walks, and her love for entertaining on the property with the help of her staff. She had a succession of male butlers who filled in the gaps on tasks which had been Harry’s responsibility in the past.