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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Photo Essay: A Tiny Tuscan Villa Above the Palos Verdes 'Riviera'

The "Father of Rancho Palos Verdes," Frank Vanderlip Sr., married Mabel "Narcissa" Cox in New York and brought her to California with her—not only for his health, but also to develop the ocean-view property he'd bought from Jotham Bixby in 1913, sight-unseen.



Much of his original estate has been sold off or destroyed—save for the oceanfront gatehouse built by his sister and brother-in-law and a guest house that was built in 1924, with an Italian cypress-lined stone stairway allĂ©e that leads to a marble "temple" at the top.



Now known as "Villa Narcissa,” the cottage (or villetta) was the Vanderlips' "home away from home" while they maintained permanent residence in New York.



It's currently occupied part-time by Frank's granddaughter, Katrina Vanderlip—though she shares ownership of it with her siblings.



She says she'd like to open it up to the public more to share its history...



...though some of her neighbors would prefer to keep the gated community it resides in fully locked to outsiders.



But it would be a shame to keep the property and its art—including a few terra cotta statues and the porcelain medallions of angels and the Madonna and child by Florentine sculptor Luca della Robbia—entirely out of public view.



There are occasional opportunities to visit the Tuscan-style villa that overlooks Portuguese Bend, its surrounding landslide area, and the Pacific Ocean—including tea parties hosted by the Vanderlip Heritage Fund and local historical home and garden tours. (Ask to stand on the tennis court, circa 1928.)



When Vanderlip first arrived, the Peninsula reminded him of the Italian coastline—and once he began developing, the headlines dubbed the area the "Hollywood Riviera." (That designation now belongs to another area of the South Bay, at the Redondo Beach/Torrance border.)



Villa Narcissa has stayed in the family generation after generation—but that doesn't mean it hasn't changed. The front porch by the pool entrance was closed off; and at Katrina's mother's request, its white walls were painted with murals by painter Denis Berteau in 1986.



But the home still contains priceless art, intriguing antiques, and fashionable touches that bear the mark of its namesake, Katrina's grandmother, Narcissa.



And, of course, there's still that view of the Pacific.



Although Mr. Vanderlip never visited the Peninsula personally before leading a syndicate of investors to purchase 16,000 acres of it, he was well aware that it offered a paradise like none other. In fact, he'd commissioned an exhaustive study of weather conditions at various points of the Peninsula from meteorologist Dr. Ford Carpenter.

His findings are corroborated by our experience there today—that the winters are warm and balmy and the summers, relatively cool.

Considering the monkey wrenches that World War I the Great Depression threw into the development of the Palos Verdes Peninsula (in 1914 and 1929, respectively), Mr. Vanderlip died before ever seeing his "Italian Riviera" fully realized—in 1937, at the age of 72.

His son—and Katrina's father, Kelvin Vanderlip, Sr.—took over and moved into Villa Narcissa full-time.

Mr. Vanderlip had originally been inspired by European colonies and intended that the Peninsula be occupied by a mix of affluent people and artists. A few artists remain, but the area is now primarily known for its affluence.

An artist and art scholar and conservator herself, Katrina embodies both—and is a charismatic ambassador for the Vanderlip legacy.

Those locals who haven't met Katrina or seen Villa Narcissa in person certainly have heard its residents. This is where Mr. Vanderlip established his aviary, where he housed peacocks that were, according to family lore, gifted to him by Lucky Baldwin.

His peacocks ended up invading all of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the descendants of whom still roam (and screech their mating calls) today.

I wonder if they know that Katrina plans to bring white peacocks back to the grounds of Villa Narcissa...

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Gold Coast Estate of Rancho Palos Verdes, Never Built
A Wayfarer's Visit to a Chapel (Updated)

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