Virginia Robinson: Her goals and her impact on Beverly Hills

Virginia Robinson: Her goals and her impact on Beverly Hills

Nancy Dowey, Virginia Robinson’s great niece, said that it was Virginia’s desire to have Beverly Hills reflect her own sensibilities. Virginia wanted to live in a sophisticated, wealthy suburb like the developers, Rodeo Land and Water Co., had promised in their advertising. She, therefore, led by example. Virginia felt that her home was not only a showcase for her lifestyle but that it was the standard that the community of Beverly Hills should pursue. This level of excellence would have appeared to have been a low bar to cross since little else existed in Beverly Hills in 1911 when Harry and Virginia moved into their new home. The Beverly Hills Hotel was not built until 1912. However, Virginia had tremendous plans that were shaped in large part by her uncle, Leslie Brand.

Brand influenced Virginia’s family to move to Los Angeles from St. Louis when she was a young child. Uncle Leslie, known as a man with a “cultivated midwestern manner,” was certainly a most colorful character who lived in grand style. For some, he was referred to as the father of Glendale. When he died, he donated his estate of over 800 acres to the city. Many years earlier in 1903, he commissioned Virginia’s father, who was an architect, to construct a new home for him at this site. It was patterned after the East Indian Building at the Columbian World Exposition of 1893. The estate also contained his two-story “playhouse,” tennis courts, and a pergola on its upper hillside. Leslie also had a cottage in Santa Monica and a retreat at Mono Lake. Known today as Brand Castle, the Glendale home was initially named El Miradora (Spanish for a location with an extensive view), where Virginia learned the art of entertaining and the pursuit of pleasurable activities. Virginia designed her estate based on the same type of layout as Uncle Leslie had at El Miradora.

By the time Virginia asked her father to design her home, she had seen the world with Harry. Her architectural vocabulary had most certainly been expanded, as had her awareness of the incredible variety of gardens and landscapes. Indeed, over the course of her lifetime, she created a Gesamtkunstwerk (a complete work of art), containing the Beaux Arts-style home, tennis courts, Mediterranean-style Pool Pavilion with guest and game rooms, greenhouse, staff quarters, and monkey and birdhouses.

Virginia did not distinguish—as her uncle had not either—between show business people and business leaders. She was a close friend with many “celebrities,“ but she also hosted, at her home, the opening night gala for the LA Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, which the most prominent members of society attended.

Virginia felt that giving back, as her Uncle Leslie had done with his estate, was the most important act she could do. It was her goal to protect and maintain the traditions and lifestyle she loved. This is the reason that she wanted her estate preserved for others to experience. She not only achieved her goal, but she earned the title, “First Lady of Beverly Hills” in the process.

Post by Marcella Ruble
Friends of Robinson Gardens member

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