Architectural Illusion: Villa Giardino at Palm Beach

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Villa Giardino, living room. Centuries-old Verona rosso marble columns frame a segmented mirrored wall reflecting a 21st century residential living area that 80 years earlier served as New York antique dealer Ohan Berberyan's commercial showplace. Berberyan described his two-story palazzo as "… built from drawings by Professor Berti of the Academia in Venice, patterned after the Abazzia monastery for barefoot Carmelites in Venice … where Lady Cunard, Chanel and the Mdivani family once stayed."

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.

Spanish Art Galleries, newspaper advertisement. 1920-1930. Ohan Berberyan’s galleria d’arte was established across from The Everglades Club before opening on Peruvian Avenue. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County archive.

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.

March 1928. Berberyan built the Jardin Latin on the west side of his property two years before opening his Peruvian Avenue building and additional garden. The area is now a motor court entrance for the existing residence. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County archive.

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.

Jardin Latin, c. 1928-1930. View looking south toward the Peruvian Avenue entrance to Via Parigi. Known for his aesthetic mix of styles and eras, Berberyan commissioned French fashion icon Paul Poiret (1879-1944) to design a teahouse with “a Robsjohn-Gibbing décor” overlooking the tiled fountain. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

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.

Berberyan Gardens, entrance gates, February 1931. Berberyan’s second showplace garden was located on the east side of his Venetian showroom. While his Palm Beach garden was first the setting for private festive parties, exotic dinners and fashion shows, with the likes of Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Berberyan Gardens opened to the public in February 1931, quickly becoming one of Palm Beach’s major attractions. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County archive.
1931. A pair of Louis XIV French vases by sculptor Antoine Coysevox was offered at the Peruvian Avenue garden. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County archive.
April 1931. Nine months after he announced plans for a new showroom “of French influence … reminiscent of the quaint old homes found in Provence,” Berberyan changed his blueprints to incorporate “much old Venetian stonework.” Palm Beach Post archive.
Villa Giardino, decorative tile plaque signed lower right.

Villa Giardino & Berberyan Gardens

Villa Giardino, façade on Peruvian Avenue. The building was first described as “a Venetian exhibition gallery.” With balconies, windows and doors trimmed with authentic Venetian Gothic stonework, the columns and arches were composed of imported Istrian and Veronese marble rather than fabrications from Addison Mizner’s Bunker Road factory in West Palm Beach.
Villa Giardino, façade detail of second story. Above the showroom, Berberyan resided in the owner’s apartment.
Villa Giardino, façade detail. Rosso di Verona marble plaque.
Villa Giardino, façade detail of lion head brackets.
Villa Giardino, façade details.
Villa Giardino, façade detail, iron Venetian window grille with stone surround.
Villa Giardino, motor court entrance. Venetian winged lion statue, one of two. Tablet engraving: “Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus.” (Translation: Peace be upon you, O Mark, my evangelist.)
Villa Giardino, west elevation. Front entrance doorway and heraldic plaque above doorway. Plaque inscribed: “A Magnifici Generosi Militis, Buffardi Cicinelli de Napolis, Potestatis Florencie, 1451-52.”
March 1937. Berberyan Galleries became a cultural destination for savvy collectors, avant-garde aesthetes, and the Café Society set. Courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County archive.
Villa Giardino, north elevation overlooking pool and upper terrace.

Within the showroom gallery – 2017

The showroom’s original imported rosso marmo floor tiles are still in place, supplemented to the left under the piano with compatible, albeit more contemporary tiles, added when the living room’s levels were redesigned by the current owner.
The living room mirror reflects the upper terrace beyond. The columns are numbered.
Berberyan labeled the column parts with numbers to expedite their reassembly at Palm Beach.
A view toward the redesigned front entrance into the principal living area and the arched glass north elevation overlooking the upper terrace and 1968 addition.
Showroom fireplace.
The living room’s original imported Verona coppery red marble floor.
From within the living room area, a view north to the upper terrace garden and pool separating it from the later addition.

Berberyan Garden

The showroom’s east door opens into the garden.
Door surround, column base detail.
The view of the garden from the showroom doorway looking to the northeast.
The garden’s balance of art, design and nature is framed among a series geometric perspectives.
A view of the garden from the southeast looking northwest toward the 1968 addition.
A view of the central allée from the upper terrace looking east.
L to R.: The garden’s central allée looking east.; A Venetian Gothic marble surround makes for a window to view the east brick wall.

Among the statuary

Of note, a Venetian pink marble fount.
When Berberyan sold the gallery-residence in 1943 to yachtsman Sylvanus Stokes and his new wife, Patti Stokes, he kept the “… Roman garden and the guest house to the east.” At the Stokes’ wedding, Erich von Stroheim was the couple’s best man, as Mrs. Stokes was the former actress known as Patti duPont. Nine years later, the Stokes’ bought the east half of the garden from Berberyan. In 1954 the Stokes’ sold Villa Giardino to William and Mary Sisler. The Sislers added a guest cottage and redid the tea house.
Berberyan Garden, entrance gate.
March, 1953. Following the sale of the east garden to Sylvanus Stokes, Berberyan began selling many of the garden’s fountains, vases and jardinières.
The view of the garden’s central allée from the 1968 addition’s enclosed second floor.

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.

To the right, the east and north elevations of the 1968 addition.
A view of the addition’s east elevation, seen from the lower east garden’s central allée.

La Fontana artifacts & fixtures at Villa Giardino

May 1968. These photographs document the doors, stained glass windows and panels salvaged from La Fontana and installed at Villa Giardino Palm Beach Post archive courtesy Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
When La Fontana at 270 South Ocean Boulevard, now One Royal Palm Way, was demolished in 1968, many of its art works, artifacts and architectural details found their way to Villa Giardino’s new addition.
Villa Giardino. La Fontana polychrome carved Renaissance doors.
Villa Giardino. La Fontana polychrome door panel, detail.
Villa Giardino, addition. German art glass window from La Fontana.
Villa Giardino, stained glass window from La Fontana.
Villa Giardino, addition. Art glass window from La Fontana.
Villa Giardino, addition. Art glass window from La Fontana.
L to R.: Villa Giardino. An artful wrought-iron gate leading to the gardens.; Villa Giardino. High-relief interior doors. La Fontana.
Villa Giardino. High-relief door, detail.
Villa Giardino. Paneling from La Fontana.
Villa Giardino. Black-and-red terracotta tiles depicting a figurative tableau are embedded in the upper-level balcony loggia’s tile floor.
Villa Giardino. Black-and-red figurative tiles, detail.
Villa Giardino. The essence of what was once the prevailing spirit of Palm Beach.

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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