March 29, 2018
There are several hidden gems located in the South Bay, but for the most part, they aren’t really hidden at all – people are simply unaware of them. For example, if you don’t live, walk or drive in the vicinity of the Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, you could live your entire life ignorant of its existence…. unless of course, you play badminton.
There is only one truly hidden gem in the South Bay – Villa Narcissa.
I’d heard of it over the years and knew it as the ancestral home of the Vanderlip family. Frank Vanderlip, a New York financier, bought 16,000 acres on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, some of which was later developed by the family. The first structure he built for the family is referred to as the Cottage. During the 1920s, several other buildings were constructed including a large guest house that came to be known as Villa Narcissa.
When I say it’s a hidden gem, I’m not exaggerating. Villa Narcissa is located in Rancho Palos Verdes just south of Wayfarer’s Chapel and is positioned on a hilltop in a gated community. Once you’re through the gates, it takes a full seven minutes, all uphill, to arrive at the 12 acre estate.
How did I end up at Villa Narcissa? Several weeks ago, I received an evite to a Mad Hatters Tea Party at the estate. The tea was the first in a series of ongoing fundraising events for the Vanderlip Heritage Fund. The mission of the Fund is to promote history, art and nature on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Through art, music and gardening workshops, the Fund strives to preserve wildlife, classical gardens, historical sites and archives in the area.
I couldn’t fathom how I came to be on the guest list as I was not acquainted with the family. Scrolling through the guest list, I recognized half a dozen names, but again, had no idea why I would be invited. My initial reaction was to decline…. and then I saw the photograph of a lovely patio shaded by arching olive trees, underneath which sat a long table elegantly set for high tea, flanked on the far end by two Greek columns. I wanted to discover where those columns led, so I clicked the ‘attending’ tab.
Up the winding, winding road I went, at last arriving at the Villa. The moment I stepped out of the car, I was transported. The gate to the property stood open and beyond was the Villa and what seemed to be a series of distinct garden spaces, an impressive stairway (268 steps) lined with stately cypress trees and at the top of the steps, a semi-circle of Doric Columns. There wasn’t a soul in sight and I stood there mesmerized…. until a local peacock screamed and startled me out of my reverie.
The door to the Villa stood ajar and I could hear voices, so I stepped inside and followed the sound through the house to the backyard terrace. There were about twenty people gathered on the terrace and I was again stopped in my tracks, this time by the ocean view and Catalina Island. I took note of the view directly below the terrace – it was all garden with no other structures or rooftops to spoil the vista.
The event was titled a Mad Hatter Tea Party and the guests sported a wild array of distinctive head gear. I joined a small group, introduced myself and asked them to point out the hostess.
Katrina Vanderlip is an art conservator and lives on Long Island, NY. She spends a few weeks each year at Villa Narcissa and hosts events to benefit local organizations. I introduced myself and learned someone had suggested she invite me, as I would spread the word about the Vanderlip Heritage Fund. Once I met all the guests, Katrina led us inside for tea.
A table was set up in the living room offering a variety of tea sandwiches and sweets, while a console table held several ornamental teapots, accompanying creamer and sugar sets and platters of cookies. The long table in the dining room was set with delicate china, each place setting sporting a hydrangea bouquet.
Once we were seated, Katrina proposed we go around the table and share each of our most embarrassing stories. Without doubt, it was an effective way to break the ice! Within moments we were all laughing – at ourselves and each other.
As our high tea was winding down, several of us returned to the terrace for what would have been an amazing sunset but for the pesky marine layer….nonetheless, it was a lovely view, and the perfect ending to a charming afternoon in an enchanting setting.
Villa Narcissa is not open to the public but there are opportunities to gain entry to this hidden gem during special workshops.
Villa Narcissa will host a Painting Week April 2 through April 7. Katrina Vanderlip will give a tour of the house and share some of the history throughout the week. All profits will go toward much needed repairs and maintenance of the estate.