March 03, 2019

Photo Essay: The Gold Coast Estate of Rancho Palos Verdes, Never Built

One of the oldest structures in the City of Rancho Palos Verdes is a gatehouse along the ocean side of Palos Verdes Drive South...

Screenshot via Google Streetview

...just past the Portuguese Bend active landslide area and above Abalone Cove and the Portuguese Bend Reserve.

It's known as the "Harden Gatehouse" at "Portuguese Point"—but neither of those designations are entirely accurate.

Yes, it's a gatehouse that was built in 1926—but it's not on the Point. A larger estate was meant to be built there but, in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, never was. (Thankfully, because the active landslide area would have dumped it into the Pacific Ocean. There's still a building moratorium there.)

And while Edward Harden did live there, his isn't the name that would go down in history in Palos Verdes history.

It was his wife, Ruth Vanderlip—sister of Frank Vanderlip, the Midwestern investment banker who, in 1913, bought the Palos Verdes Peninsula sight-unseen and is considered its founder (or father, I suppose).

The siblings were so close that when the Vanderlip estate was being developed, Frank tried to coax Ruth to come from the East Coast to join him, and she agreed on one condition—that she get the oceanfront property.

So, Ruth and her husband Edward commissioned the gatehouse to be built (a precursor to the many gated communities still present in PV today).

When they moved in, it was along with various servants, who resided in their own wing.

The servants' wing also functioned as a garage with plenty of room for multiple cars.

The Tuscan design of the gatehouse, courtesy of architect Gordon B. Kaufmann (known for his work on the Los Angeles Times building, Greystone Mansion, Santa Anita Racetrack, and Hoover Dam), was inspired by the Dovecote building in Ospitaletto, Italy. It was never meant to be the main attraction—but of course now that's exactly what it is.

Despite the credentials of its creators and original occupants, the Harden Gatehouse is practically never open to the public—though its been designated the Palos Verdes Heritage Castle Museum by its owners Dr. Allen Ginsburg, a retired eye surgeon, and his wife Charlotte, who purchased it in 2014.

Somehow, I managed to get a small, private, docent-led tour just by asking—and boy am I glad I did.

Because the gatehouse has only changed hands a couple of times throughout history—and always among private owners, never a commercial development—many of its features are original, including chandeliers and other lighting fixtures.

And what was lost from the period of Ruth's occupancy is slowly being returned to its rightful place.

When furnishings and other personal items were sold off in an estate sale—seemingly lost forever—there was a blessing that would come into play when the museum staff attempted to reassemble them in their rightful places.

Many of those who purchased the Vanderlip/Harden decor were Palos Verdes neighbors, or closely related—making them easy to track down and repurchase at a reasonable price.

Only a fraction of them have found their way back so far, with more on their way. But what's there now—while the museum isn't yet open to the public—is still impressive.

Reportedly, some of the Harden Estate furnishings were made by the same artisan responsible for the gothic furniture for Hearst Castle.

Ruth and Edward always wanted their estate to be the Palos Verdes version of Hearst Castle...

...but it wasn't meant to be.

And in in 1956, an ancient landslide was reactivated by roadwork—forever dooming the development of the surrounding land, leaving the gatehouse as the only remaining relic.

In fact, the beach below Portuguese Point was closed to the public in 2016 because pieces of the cliff started falling from above. Since 1956, the Portuguese Bend land has moved hundreds of feet towards the ocean.

As far as anyone knows, Kaufmann's design has held up—and soon, the public will be able to explore it when the Palos Verdes Heritage Castle Museum is open for tours.

There's still some work to be done—both inside and outside. The landscape design (pre-landslide) by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. has lost a lot of its original character, save for a couple of benches that look out upon the Pacific.

Part of the preservation plan is to return the landscape to its original splendor—with exception.

The crisscrossed palm trees that had been planted by the film crew for the It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World might make a return appearance.

Stay tuned for dispatches from the second half of the Vanderlip Estate, up the hill from the Harden Gatehouse—known as "Villa Narcissa."

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: A Day at the Rancho, A Step Back in Time
Photo Essay: The Mysteries of Brand Park in Historic Glendale
Photo Essay: The Estate and Gardens of the First Lady of Beverly Hills
Photo Essay: San Pedro's Sunken City


  1. Loved this! I've always wondered about it and I hope it will be open to the public again in the future. Thanks for all the pictures!

  2. Where Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne lived 1964-66. Footage in Griffin Dunne doc The Center Will Not Hold