Random Lengths News
lives were turned towards San Pedro and the whole area, for example, by working both with local resident craftsmen as well as the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. At the time of its construction, San Pedro was the only city on the peninsula and the place where the elder Vanderlip maintained a P.O. Box to collect his mail. Katrina expressed some grief about the sale of what she said is the last historic home in the Los Angeles area that still had the total look and historic feel of the early 20th century. But grief turned to promise with the idea of creating a museum. Her plan includes exhibiting some of the home’s artwork and its original furnishings dating back to the Italian renaissance (14th to 17th century).
Vanderlip was a banker and journalist. He was president of the National City Bank of New York, now Citibank. Before that, he was assistant secretary of the Treasury under President William McKinley in 1897. Vanderlip is known for his part in founding the Federal Reserve System. During the Teapot Dome Scandal hearings in 1924 (a bribery scandal involving the Warren G. Harding administration), Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and two locations in California to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding. Vanderlip testified about what he believed to be a scandal. Vanderlip played a lead role in exposing the Teapot Dome scandal, because he had a strong belief in the public’s right to know. Subsequently, he was forced to resign from the boards of directors of almost 40 companies before he was ultimately vindicated. He retired to California.
Katrina highlighted that when her grandfather, Frank Vanderlip (1864–1937). acquired the entire peninsula he instantly got in touch with the Olmsteds, the famous landscape architectural firm noted for the design of New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The 200th anniversary of the firm’s founder’s birth is this year. Frederick Olmsted (1822-1903) codesigned many well-known urban parks with his partner, Calvert Vaux. Central Park was their first project. Katrina is planning to organize a fundraiser later this year themed around Olmsted’s history and design of the peninsula.
Frank Vanderlip worked previously with the Olmsteds on his east coast property. Olmsted’s son and his nephew, who he adopted, took over the firm and they were hired by Vanderlip to do the planning, design and landscaping of the peninsula. Vanderlip hired the famous team to survey the entire peninsula for two years for the geology, hydrology and weather. The team was also able to isolate the perfect location of the estate facing Catalina Island slightly above the fog line near a water source. The design of Malaga Cove Plaza, the Portuguese Bend Club and Miraleste drive were all part of the original Mediterranean design and why those areas still have tiled roofs. The Olmsteds also designed the old downtown part of Torrance with its many trees and the area around the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.
Katrina noted the peninsula was the biggest plot of land that the Olmsteds had ever been asked to develop. And things might have turned out differently had not the development been interrupted by the Great Depression.
“[My grandfather] made [it] a condition that one of the cousins had to live in Palos Verdes, to make sure that it wasn’t just something they looked at from a distance on the east coast,” she said. “They were important for all of this development. As people drive through Palos Verdes or old Torrance and see the trees, they may not know that it was all very carefully planned and studied as to which trees thrived in this climate and didn’t need much water and are still making it nice nearly 100 years later.”
Katrina cited a couple of reasons why her grandfather came out to California. When he retired from the bank he had diabetes and he came for his health. She noted he was one of the first people to have insulin, saying that he supported and publicized it so that people would be brave enough to take it. He was influential because he was an example. In University of Toronto website papers Vanderlip is quoted saying, “I do not state that it has cured me but it has made me well.”
“It’s like being the first person to go get the [COVID-19] vaccine,” Katrina said. “He also needed to develop the peninsula and he needed more room for the family. He built the Villa Narcissa starting in April 1924 and the 7,700-squarefoot Tuscan-style residence was finished by the middle of the summer.”
Vanderlip spent a month in a villa outside of Florence after World War I helping to report on and collaborate with people who were deciding how to rebuild Europe. Afterward, he toured through Italy with his son. Inspired by the furniture, he sent his wife and son back over to buy it.
“My grandfather wanted to set up a whole hill of craftsmen,” Katrina said.
Katrina spoke about a 1920s San Pedro store where Vanderlip brought the local artisans his original Italian Renaissance furniture to replicate. She said some of those pieces still bearing the old store labels are in the Palos Verdes Library. Indeed, in 1988, Vanderlip’s son John told the Los Angeles Times that his father intended to have a variety of craftsmen to live in and maintain workshops in the Italian-style Villa Nari artisan village that would have been situated at Point Vicente.
Katrina and her siblings have planned to set aside some of their original furniture and artwork to recreate the feeling of the villa if they can find a suitable space with a view of the Pacific ocean — one of the villa’s most important charms.
“What we could do is reproduce either the
living room or the dining room,” she said. “We accumulated enough furniture that was donated by the family, like a long table that sat 14 in the dining room, some old chairs, portraits, paintings and Japanese decor. We have enough to recreate the feeling of the mansion. I’m dreaming of putting that together.”
Together, there’s probably 30 to 40 items, plus archives and papers. Some have been put in a temporary place and others are in the Palos Verdes Library.
“There’s a fantastic series of books from a full time meteorologist,” who Vanderlip hired, Katrina said. “He followed and measured the different weather patterns in different places all over the peninsula. He had a graph and took early pictures of the bare hills. Those are in unique leather bound volumes. All of this could be put where people could appreciate them. It was the first piece of developed land where anybody hired a meteorologist to decide how you could grow things without water and where to plant and where is the best place to build — above the southern coastal low fog.”
Katrina’s idea is to reproduce the feeling of the villa and explain its history and that of the peninsula together in a museum. She has spoken to people who were considering what could be done with older buildings, or the Lighthouse on Point Vincente as a space that has the possibility to replicate the villa’s terrace.
Katrina discussed ways in which her grandparents added their personal touch to their land that have had a lasting effect. Vanderlip grew up on a farm and took care of the farm birds like turkeys and chickens.
“Everybody wants to know about the peacocks,” she said. “The climate was perfect for the birds and at the time, it was very easy to get the peacocks with so much bare land on the peninsula … many people had them. He had over 100 varieties of birds from cranes to swans to pea
cocks and parrots. There were monkeys too and he hired a full time bird doctor,” Katrina said of her grandfather.
Letters between Vanderlip and the doctor exist about cages they built for the birds with hot and cold running water, down to every last detail.
Katrina’s grandmother, Narcissa, was a member of the Swedenborg religion (one of the many Protestant offshoots) and she loved trees. In fact she smuggled in tree seeds from Europe. The first thing her grandparents did was start a nursery by the stables. This was the basis for her idea for Wayfarers Chapel or “The Glass Church” on the peninsula. Narcissa and another Swedenborg woman thought it would be nice to have a church. Narcissa didn’t want to do the work of setting up the chapel so the Vanderlip family donated the land. Katrina’s grandfather did the fundraising, found the architect, Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright) and supervised the building of the chapel.
“My grandmother would eat at a restaurant in the redwoods where she sat under a canopy of redwood trees,” Katrina said. “She said, ‘this is where you get a real religious experience, sitting underneath the trees.’ That’s why it was built with glass so that you felt the trees right over you.”
Katrina said a museum of the Vanderlip archives would be a good education for the residents of the peninsula. It would also be a special place because local artists could reproduce the woodwork of the ceiling and replicate the feeling of the villa.
“My grandfather said to his children, the thing he cared most about was that people had imagination, because with imagination you could dream and if you could dream, you could get things done,” Katrina said.
What remains of the Vanderlip dream can still be seen today in the Mediterranean roof tiles across much of the peninsula, Neptune’s statue at the center of Malaga Cove and the peacocks that have spread out from Portuguese Bend. Yet halfway up the south side of the hill overlooking the San Pedro Channel with Catalina Island in the distance, Villa Narcissa still stands as a testament to that dream.