The Getty Villa
Pacific Palisades, California
Looking up from below, it would be easy to mistake the Getty Villa for just another mega mansion perched in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood overlooking the ocean. This lavish recreation of a first-century Roman country home was designed by oil tycoon J. Paul Getty to house his massive collection of Greek and Roman antiques and other treasures. The Villa is the sister site of the Getty Center, which also balances functional museum spaces with special attention to architecture and landscape design. This location excels in accurate historical representation of Roman building style with some impressive gardens but the overall layout is clustered and confusing at times.
The Villa has four main gardens varying in size and opulence. The Inner Peristyle is the first example of a traditional Roman courtyard surrounded by an open columned porch. The filled-in eyes of the bronze sculptures in amongst the orderly boxwood hedges and potted trees is a bit creepy but appropriately historically accurate. A 220-foot-long reflecting pool is the centerpiece of the grand Outer Peristyle where the colonnade frames the sky above with views of the hills and the ocean in either direction. The fountains were turned off due to the California drought during my visit but I can imagine they heightened the whole experience a great deal. Quiet contemplation was welcome in the walled East Garden with the complex and colorful mosaic fountain serving as an amusing visual centerpiece. The orderly Herb Garden is a fairly straightforward garden with a handful of fruit trees adding some interest.
Final Rating: The Getty Villa is an impressive feat of historical recreation but I cannot help but compare it to the Getty Center which offers a more pleasing layout of museum buildings and garden features. A 1997 renovation project reorganized the space and added an outdoor Greek theater but I found the layout to be slightly imposing and difficult to navigate. The Outer Peristyle is the most visually arresting and transportive garden on the property. Some of the smaller gardens are quite charming and the occasional sweeping view of the ocean never hurts, but the campus is a little cluttered and takes away from the overall effect. This is still an essential Southern California cultural landmark and a well worth the visit, just make sure to make a (free) reservation ahead of time! THREE BLOOM RATING