June 21, 2023

Photo Essay: A Stone Tower Gateway to the 'Riviera of America,' Palos Verdes

Palos Verdes Estates is one of four cities that comprise the Palos Verdes Peninsula in the South Bay region of Los Angeles, California. 

And at the entrance to the city on Vía Valmonte (formerly known as Vía Mirlo), there's a tower that marks its eastern border shared with the City of Torrance: the Mirlo Gate Tower, or the "Tower House."

It was built in 1925 as a residential guard tower by the Palos Verdes Homes Association, which was developing the area and had hired the Olmsted Brothers to create the master plan for the Palos Verdes Project (a.k.a. the "Riviera of America"). The Olmsteds, in turn, hired a chief architect: Syracuse University-trained (and Baldwinsville, New York-born) Clarence E. Howard (sometimes referred to as "C.E. Howard"). 

Inspired by French medieval design and European stonemasonry, Howard designed the tower so that local limestone could be so tightly stacked, it would form a perfectly circular building (of only 18 feet in diameter). 

In 1925, he left Palos Verdes to return to Central New York and work for the City of Syracuse (where he designed the monument at Columbus Circle). And in 1939, PVE was incorporated as a city and acquired Howard's stone tower (and still owns it today).

From 1970 until 2018, a single caretaker, John Doty, kept it under his watchful eye. Although he added some details like custom furniture and stained glass windows, he maintained the integrity of the structure enough to earn it landmark designation by the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.

That's probably due, in part, to him keeping the vandals away. 

Today, it's still a private residence—and occupied by someone who maintains all two stories (plus a semi-finished basement) and the surrounding grounds. 

It's almost never open to the public—and historically, unless you've known someone who was living there, there was basically no way to get inside. 

But this past weekend, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, several landmarks threw open their doors and allowed the public to come take a peek.  
The Mirlo Gate Tower's big wooden door is on-theme, but it isn't original.

The fireplace, however, is—and it's also constructed of the same Palos Verdes stone as the exterior.

The textured wallpaper was added on top of the brick interior in 1970.

With just over 500 square feet of wiggle room in the round, all the furniture, shelves, and even the windows have to be curved. 

Next to a tiny galley kitchen on the first floor is a staircase leading up to the second floor...

...lit by another stained glass window and hiding some peekaboo storage space.

There's only room for a double bed up there...

...where you can lie down and stare up at the wooden conical ceiling, which is original to the structure. 

Today, the Mirlo Tower stands on a narrow strip of parkland, part of a greenbelt in the Valmonte neighborhood of PVE. You can easily see it from the road as you drive by.
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