The Robinsons crossed unpaved Sunset Boulevard, then Lexington Road, and found a short street off North Crescent Drive called Elden Way. Elden Way ended at a barren promontory overlooking Los Angeles to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The Robinsons fell in love with the remote but dramatic location, and they made a snap decision. The next day, they returned to Beverly Hills and purchased the Elden Way property. At least, that was Virginia Robinson’s story several decades after the fact, and it’s a good one. On February 5, 1911, the Los Angeles Times reported Harry W. Robinson’s purchase of a 4.5-acre “lot 275 by 731 feet, at the end of Elden Way, $7,500.”
The truth, however, was a bit different. The Robinsons’ purchase of this large lot, and their subsequent purchases of adjacent parcels in the virtually empty new community, was hardly impulsive and made perfectly good sense. The couple, of course knew about Beverly Hills, as they were members of the Los Angeles Country Club, which opened its new facility in late 1911. Beverly Hills had been heavily advertised in newspapers and magazines after its October 22, 1906, grand opening.
Most importantly, Virginia’s uncle, Leslie C. Brand, often invested in real estate deals with multimillionaire Henry E. Huntington, who was one of the original investors in the Rodeo Land & Water Company that developed Beverly Hills on the former Hammel & Denker Ranch. Through, Brand, the Robinsons would likely have known that the heavily capitalized Rodeo Land & Water Company was going to make good on all its development promises for Beverly Hills. Most likely, they also knew that the plans for the luxurious new Beverly Hills Hotel, financed by Huntington, were to be announced in April 1911.
The Robinsons wasted no time constructing their new home. February 9, 1911, Los Angeles Builder and Contractor reported that “Nat [haniel] Dryden, 1555 Manhattan Place, has prepared plans for a large concrete residence to be erected at Beverly Hills for Harry W. Robinson. . . The estimated cost is $25,000. The construction will be done under the supervision of Mr. Dryden, who will also let all sub contracts.”
Who was Nathaniel Dryden? He was an amateur architect . . . and he was Virginia’s father, he often drew up architectural plans for family members; his brother-in-law Leslie C. Brand. For his daughter and son-in-law, Dryden selected a more restrained Mediterranean style, or what one observer called “an Italian Bungalow.”
The twelve-room house was only one story tall – a decision that made for a less-impressive-looking residence, but that permitted most rooms to look out or open directly onto the grounds or the handsome terraces. The front door led into a central hallway that ended at the rear of the house and the entrance to the Great Lawn. Off the central hallway – a living room, dining room, library, morning room, bedroom suite for the Robinsons, a small guest house for Virginia’s mother, and a large kitchen and staff area. The house, while quite large – lacked high ceilings and the extensive neoclassical detailing popular in that era. The woodwork was white cedar, painted with light-color enamel paint, not the mahogany or walnut then favored for large homes.
Harry and Virginia – unlike many of their well-to-do Southern California contemporaries –saw no reason to construct a showplace home to trumpet their position. Their lofty social and financial standing was unquestioned; they built for comfort and beauty. With their enthusiasm, the Robinsons started their lifelong transformation of the barren hillside into a garden paradise.
The Robinsons officially moved into their new home on September 30, 1911. On the inside cover of one book in the library, Virginia wrote: “September 30, 1911, our first night in our new house.” She had celebrated her thirty-fourth birthday a week before, and little did she know that she would live to be ninety-nine years old, and that she would spend nearly sixty-six of those years at this Elden Way estate, eventually known as the First Lady of Beverly Hills.