Take a Tour of the Iconic Virginia Robinson Estate
The historic Beverly Hills property and gardens have been a draw for decades. Explore the buildings’ and grounds’ most fascinating features
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A Beverly Hills Icon
Built in 1911, the Virginia Robinson Estate largely influenced the development of the glamorous enclave of Beverly Hills. When Virginia and Harry Robinson stumbled across the property on their way to the Los Angeles Country Club, the plot was essentially empty, aside from acres of lima bean crops and downtrodden cattle fields. Enchanted by the land's views of the San Bernardino Mountains and Catalina Island
, the couple bought the property and Virginia’s architect father, Nathaniel Dryden, designed the estate. The ornate structures and five gorgeously landscaped gardens cover six acres and are a wonder to behold to this day.
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Mrs. Robinson loved the view from her dressing room overlooking the Italian and Citrus Terraces. In spring she would open her master bedroom and dressing room windows, letting the sweet smell of citrus blossoms fill the house. The view also shows off a large pipe organ cactus that was gifted from Henry Huntington, an American Railroad and real estate magnate who was instrumental in creating the Southern Pacific Railroad (which was the original founder of Sunset magazine, incidentally) and bringing the Pacific Electric Railway to Los Angeles.
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A dry border was planted between the columnar Italian cypress trees at the ends of the Great Lawn. Over 100 years old, these trees were planted right after the residence was finished, making them a historic marker of the property’s architectural timeline.
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On the eastern slope of the gardens is the roughly two-acre Palm Forest. With more than 200 trees, the forest is the largest stand of king palms outside of Australia. Other exotic flora in this shady region include the Kaffir lily flower and an 80-foot-tall walking banyan fig tree.
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The Palm Forest looks particularly exotic and eery amongst the fog on cold winter mornings. Here you can see one of many cycads spread through the forest floor. Harry Robinson became fascinated with them and even became recognized as a serious collector and grower.
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While following the stone paths on the Palm Forest floor, visitors will also find the Robinson Gardens aviary, once home to a variety of exotic birds. During their residence, Henry and Virginia Robinson not only entertained party guests and friends, but also kept several pets. At the time, one could find songbirds, parakeets, cockatoos, and even capuchin monkeys nested amongst the shady palms.
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The Kaffir lily adds vibrant color to the forest floor. Its tangerine trumpet-shape flowers begin to appear in early March and finish blooming in late May.
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The Citrus Terrace is filled with more than a dozen fruit trees. Though the lower section existed solely as an olive grove during the 1920s, today visitors can find anything from oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, to figs, mulberries, and pomegranates. While matured produce is often put in the kitchen for staff and volunteers, kids can enjoy fresh-picked fruit on garden tours.
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Italian Terrace Garden
In the Italian Terrace Garden, purple Mexican sage and society garlic bloom underneath California’s largest coral tree. If you think the tree looks familiar, you aren’t wrong! Its offspring now line the iconic San Vicente Boulevard in West L.A. thanks to cuttings Virginia donated to the city.
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There are seven water features on the property, including the Three Frog Fountain (pictured) and two sets of “Musical Stairs,” which Virginia named for the melodic sounds of water falling on the rills and runnels.
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A stairway from the Citrus Terrace descends to the Lion Terrace. The namesake statues guarding the stairs were imported from Florence, Italy, adding to the historic feel of the estate--they were already a century old when they arrived at the property in the 1930s.
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Like the lions, this statue of Neptune on the adjacent terrace was also brought to the Robinson Estate from Florence. Though the piece is over 200 years old, it looks refreshed thanks to donor-funded restorations.
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Reminiscent of Hearst Castle, the Robinson Pool Pavilion is a sight worth seeing. With grand arches and columns reflected in a long pool, the 1925 building embraces the Venetian Palladian architectural style. During the Robinsons’ years of entertaining, it was often referred to as “the playhouse,” with a solarium, card room, and billiard room inside, as well as a tennis court nearby. Until Virginia’s death in 1971, it also functioned as a guesthouse with its own kitchenettes and bathrooms. The Robinsons loved using their estate for parties, charity events, and all kinds of gatherings. Fred Astaire, Lillian Disney, and Charlie Chaplin were known to make appearances at their events.
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Before the Pool Pavilion was built in 1925, this cherub fountain was the property's original bathing pond, where Virginia and her friends would often wade. A gazebo also hovered above the balustrade and occasionally dry ice would be added to the water to cool off anyone relaxing in the shade. When the Pool Pavilion was built, the bathing pond was filled in and converted to a lily pond with the cherub fountain added for decor.
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In line with the Roman god statues, multiple cherubs can also be spotted throughout the gardens, like this one surrounded by trailing rosemary and purple vitex. Groundskeepers think that the snake depicted here may actually be a sea serpent, alluding to the Neptune fountain in the Italian Terrace.
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To the east of the Great Lawn is the Kitchen Terrace. Here, visitors will find the old male and female staff quarters as well as the kitchen and its own vegetable garden
. Today, landscapers and gardeners fill it with everything from broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts to kale, radishes, beets, and onions. Children on tours love watching guides pull fresh carrots out of the ground and learning about sustainable, farm-to-table growing.
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Due to California’s recent drought, landscapers thought it best to replace the front lawn with a an unthirsty wildflower meadow in 2014. The wildflower meadow at the front of the main house is in full bloom each spring and boasts a self-seeding mix of California wildflowers, including a variety of colorful poppies and lupines. The meadow has been a draw for wildlife, including the beautiful monarch butterfly seen here.