Architectural Illusion: Villa Giardino at Palm Beach
During the early 1930s Ohan Berberyan moved his Spanish Art Galleries shop from Worth Avenue to Peruvian Avenue where he recreated a Venetian Gothic showroom with formal Italian gardens to house his palatial Aubusson tapestries, Savonnerie carpets and ancient artifacts. At the time, Peruvian Avenue was an eclectic ensemble of buildings that evidenced Palm Beach’s embrace of stylistic diversity, highlighted by William and Zilla Koehne’s Modernist Zilla Villa, Paris Singer’s Chinese villa, the Streamline Moderne Sam Davis house, and architect Howard Major’s signature Major Alley residences.
Thus, when Berberyan tossed out his plan to construct a maison de Provence and decided to augment his Wyeth & King designed building facing Via Parigi and Via Mizner with reassembled architectural fragments salvaged from the Grand Canal, Villa Giardino’s artful amalgam was compatible with Peruvian Avenue’s already unconventional streetscape.
Decades later, the commercial storefront was transformed into a Midtown residence, making for one of Palm Beach’s most fascinating architectural anomalies. When Charles and Allyne DuBois added a three-story contextual addition in the 1960s, they integrated historic doors, windows, tiles, and wall coverings reclaimed from the May 1968 demolition of the Addison Mizner designed La Fontana, making for another illusory time-space continuum apart from the original multi-dimensional showroom and garden. Since first writing about Villa Giardino seven years ago, I have come across several documents that clarify its origins prompting me to rethink its development. At that time, my visit left me uncertain whether the onetime commercial building might ever function as a residence and if the garden could regain its original virtuosity. Abracadra! On a recent walk through the villa and the gardens, I discovered the current owners have worked magic, overcoming many of the property’s structural and functional limitations. Here is a look back and a view of 21st-century Villa Giardino.
Ohan Berberyan at Palm Beach
Before settling on Palm Beach, Ohan S. Berberyan’s studio in Manhattan supplied various Kabistan rugs and 12th-century Persian polychrome bowls for Park Avenue, Newport and North Shore families. Following the opening of the Everglades Club, he opened the Spanish Art Galleries in the Mizner Building on Worth Avenue across from the club. Paris Singer’s social, commercial and residential development on Worth Avenue attracted many of Berberyan’s New York clientele who were building Palm Beach houses, in need of covering their walls with his tapestries and their Los Manos floor tiles with his silk and wool carpets.
In 1927 the enterprising merchant bought nearly half the block along the north side of Peruvian Avenue extending from Hibiscus to Cocoanut. Before building on the property, Berberyan retained Parisian architect J. Marrast to draw up plans for a Jardin Latin modeled on three of the world’s most famous gardens. Completed in March 1928, the Jardin Latin displayed influences from Granada’s historic fountain, Agra’s long rectangular pool at the Taj Mahal, and the Parisian semicircular pool found in the Luxemburg Gardens, framed by rectangular stones and centered by a gold Faun sculpture by Sylvestre. The pools were tiled with multi-colored Venetian mosaics and lined with onyx jars with colorful plants. Two vine-covered pergolas extended the length of the garden punctuated with large Spanish jardinières.
Two years later Berberyan moved to his new building sited on Peruvian Avenue between his Jardin Latin and Berberyan Gardens site directly across from Via Mizner and Via Parigi. The new showroom was described as “pure Venetian” architecture. Architect Marion Sims Wyeth designed the villa around the 14th-15th-century Istrian and Verona marble columns and plaques as well as stone window and door trims that Berberyan shipped in numbered pieces from Venice. In 1929, Berberyan was appointed director of the Boca Raton Hotel & Club’s interior décor by Clarence Geist, the club’s new owner. With Schultze and Weaver designing additions to Mizner’s original hotel plan, Berberyan completed the interiors with Charles of London and Paul Chalfin who had opened a Palm Beach studio soon after his work for James Deering at Vizcaya.
Villa Giardino & Berberyan Gardens
Within the showroom gallery – 2017
Among the statuary
Villa Giardino – 1968 Addition
Belford Shoumate, architect
In 1964 retired Cincinnati industrialist Charles Arnold Dubois and his wife Allyne bought Villa Giardino. Before they placed their villa and gardens on the House and Garden tour in 1969, they retained architect Belford Shoumate to design a contextual three-story garage addition facing Peruvian Avenue on the property’s west side. In 1976, Allyne DuBois sold the compound to Banyan Road residents Harold and Catherine “Kitty” Yoh who lived there for nearly the next 30 years. Since then, there have been several owners. Only recently have the house and garden been given the consideration Ohan Berberyan (1882-1970) instilled in it when he created this figment of his imagination that endures as one of Palm Beach’s architectural marvels set forever in the shadow of Worth Avenue.
La Fontana artifacts & fixtures at Villa Giardino
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.
Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur