Harry and Virginia Robinson Home

It is a truly rare and extraordinary experience to be able to walk into a home, turn back the hands of time and see the beauty and wonderment of a bygone era. When you visit The Virginia Robinson Gardens, located on Elden Way in the prestigious Beverly Hills community in Los Angeles, California, you are transported back to 1911, when Beverly Hills was a growing neighborhood of affluent families. The historical gardens and museum began as the estate of Harry and Virginia Robinson. Harry was the president of W. Robinson Company, a prestigious department store in Los Angeles.

The Robinsons made the short trek from Los Angeles to Beverly Hills to start a new life in February of 1911. They purchased a piece of property with a dramatic view of the Pacific at the end of Elden Way and began building what would be their forever home. Harry and Virginia were very different from the typical socialites during this era. Instead of a massive, showpiece home, the couple chose to build a home where they could live comfortably while doing all the things they loved. They also decided to go with an amateur architect, Nathaniel Dryden, to build their home. Dryden, who was Virginia’s father, had designed homes for other family members and wanted to do this grand gesture for his daughter and son-in-law.

The Mediterranean-style home was one-story with 12 rooms including a library, large bedroom suite for Harry and Virginia, a large kitchen and staff quarters. Each room in the home featured stunning views of the surrounding grounds and gardens. The estimated cost of building the home in 1911 was $25,000. The Robinsons preferred the roles of host and hostess over going to parties as a guest, loved sports such as tennis and swimming and spent their free time collecting exotic plants and animals for their gardens. They turned their estate into an entertainment paradise, including his and hers tennis courts and a new pool with a magnificent Italian Renaissance-inspired pool pavilion that sat at the far end of their house. Architect William Richards used the Villa Pisani in Stra, Italy to give him ideas for the dramatic pavilion.

Almost as amazing as the home itself was the landscape surrounding the home. The pair loved their gardens and spent their time and resources making their estate into a garden oasis. During their travels overseas, they would pick up exotic seeds and plants to add to their gardens. The estate became well known for growing practically every exotic, rare fruit imaginable. Virginia also kept what she called a “Kitchen Garden,” where she grew a variety of vegetables all year long. The Robinson’s collection of palm trees, which are still present today, was located on a three-acre lot along the eastern slope of the property that provided the couple and their friends a private area where they could walk and soak up the California sun without interruption. The Robinsons called it “The Tropical King Palm Garden” and it is still one of the finest gardens in the United States.

In 1932, Harry succumbed to illness and passed away. Virginia kept the home and continued on with her love of gardening and entertaining. Sometime during the 1960’s, the Robinson estate shrunk from 15 acres to the current six and a half acres for reasons unknown. Virginia donated her beloved gardens and the home to the County of Los Angeles to be made into a botanical garden and museum after her death. In 1977, Virginia died at the age of 99, and in 1981, the county opened the Virginia Robinson Gardens to guests. The Robinson’s legacy continues today, and through their donation, many people can enjoy a glimpse of Beverly Hills in its glory days.

David Kramer