There are many grand and glorious homes in Beverly Hills, but there is only one Beverly Hills mansion that is open for public tours: the Virginia Robinson Estate.
(You can explore the grounds of Greystone, but you can't enter the mansion itself).
Built in 1911, the Robinson Estate was one of the first homes in Beverly Hills. Its owner, Virginia Robinson (of Robinsons-May department store fame), was known as "The First Lady of Beverly Hills." She had a green thumb, and transformed her hilly, six-acre estate into a lushly landscaped, tropical oasis. Her regular bridge games at the estate attracted actors Fred Astaire, Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier.
She was also known for her grand parties, which were attended by celebrities such as Ronald Reagan. When she died in 1977 (at age 99) she was busy planning her 100th birthday party!
She willed her manor to the County for the public's enjoyment. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is open for guided walking tours.
The Virginia Robinson estate is nestled at the north end of Crescent Drive, just above Sunset, not far from the famed Beverly Hills Hotel.
Crescent Drive has long been a neighborhood of the stars containing the homes of such stars as Milton Berle (who lives at 908 Crescent Drive) and Gloria Swanson (who lived at 904 Crescent). The gorgeous, white, colonial mansion you will see on your right side (at 1000 N. Crescent), just before you reach Elden Way, belongs to Mike Douglas. Johnny Carson's former "Tonight Show" sidekick, Ed McMahon lives at 516 Crescent. Director Vincent Minelli, Liza's father, lived at 812 Crescent. Debra Paget (who starred opposite Elvis in "Love Me Tender") lived at 805 Crescent. Doris Day lives at 713 Crescent, right across the street from Louis Jourdan's old home at 714 Crescent.
As you drive up to the entrance to the Robinson estate, a guard will ask your name (you must phone for advance reservations before you arrive) and for the $7 admission charge, and then you will follow a short, winding road up to the parking area behind the home.
Your first glimpse of the historic estate is likely to be "the mall," a perfectly- manicured stretch of emerald lawn flanked by cypress trees, with a blue tiled pool at one end, and the Robinson home at the other. This mall and pool area has been used for numerous commercials and TV productions. In fact, a film crew was shooting on the day I toured the estate.
The Robinson home, a split-level, beige-colored, Beaux Arts-style house, is fairly modest by today's Beverly Hills' standards - with "only" 6,000 feet and five main rooms. The guided tour explores the home, where all of the original furnishings remain intact.
Visitors are limited to the entry parlor - the individual rooms are roped off by velvet ties - but this central location permits a fine view of all the other major rooms. The rooms include the bright and sophisticated dining room (with a silver fireplace), a parlor/sitting room (with a grand piano and an impressive chandelier), and a large library. The entrance hall itself contains a massive, ornately-carved oak desk, as well as a grandfather clock that was stopped (by the butler) at 6:20, the hour of Mrs. Robinson's death.
Most of the 90-minute tour, though, is devoted not to the home, but to Virginia Robinson's gardens - a delightful Italian terraced hillside filled with a extensive collection of rare and unusual trees, ferns, flowers and tropical plants, embellished with winding brick pathways and sunny patios, charming fountains, ponds, and outdoor sculpture.
In the gardens to the west, you'll see weeping willows, blooming magnolias, wisteria and giant ficus trees. On the east side of the house is the palm grove (a dense, tropical forest), exotic trees from Australia, giant bird-of-paradise plants, and even a tree sprouting clusters of Macadamia nuts. Elsewhere on the property, you'll find a rose garden, bird & monkey cages, flowering purple bougainvillea vines, and outdoor tennis courts. (The six-acre gardens also offer fine views of the city below, and of the surrounding Beverly hillsides.)
According to the docent, the peak blooming season for the garden is April and early May.
The guided tour lasts about an hour and a half, and advance phone reservations are necessary. (Given the small size of the property, the tour could be significantly shorter, but the docent likes to talk...)
Be sure to phone (310) 276-5367 in advance and make a reservation. (If you call after hours, a recording will ask you to leave your name, and they will call back later to confirm your reservation.) Walk-in visitors are not allowed, so you must make a reservation, preferably two weeks in advance.
Or you may write for an appointment to: Robinson Gardens Tours, L.A. County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, CA. 91006
This may well be your only chance to explore a millionaire's mansion in the heart of star-studded Beverly Hills.
As of August 2009, admission, which includes the guided tour, is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors (62+) & students, and $3 for children (5-12). (Phone in advance for current prices.)
Open by advance
reservation only. Phone first. Walk-in visitors are not allowed.
They suggest that you call at least two weeks prior to your visit, but
during the non-summer months, I've found that a few days' notice is often
sufficient. Tours are available Tuesday through Friday, at 10 AM and 1
PM. (Closed Saturday through Monday.)
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