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The Enduring Elegance of Yesteryear — The Villa Riviera

Beatrix Whipple
Feb 16 4 minutes read

The Villa Riviera

The Enduring Elegance of Yesteryear

Written by H. K. Wilson, Illustration by Jamie Tablason

“Seldom do ideas spring full blown from the brain that first conceives them. 

Rather they are a product of development — a development which, oftentimes, expands far beyond the most extravagant hopes of the originator. …”

It is with these eloquent words that the 1928 brochure promoting the Villa Riviera
occupant-owned apartment homes began. 

After breaking ground in 1927, the Villa Riviera opened amid much fanfare in April 1929, touted as the West Coast’s answer to the luxury high-rise living experience of the great apartment buildings of New York. Developer Lionel V. Mayell brought award-winning architect Richard D. King’s vision to life in this 20-story French Gothic Revival masterpiece with 16 residential floors. The soaring building dazed local Californians, standing only three feet shorter than the tallest building then in Southern California — Los Angeles City Hall. 

Each apartment was fully furnished and boasted the finest amenities of the day. In addition to “fittings of the highest character” and “furniture of beautiful design and the product of one of America's most famous craftsmen,” the Villa Riviera also offered a fireproof 100-car garage; a grand ballroom; a sumptuous lounge with beamed ceiling and ocean views; an Italianate rooftop garden; “a modern, two-way, vacuum-type steam-heating system; continuous circulating hot water; high-speed elevators and an automatic elevator.”

The Villa Riviera offered something else its East Coast rivals could not: spectacular views of the Pacific and the torrid sunsets that light the Western horizon on fire.

The stock market crash that occurred shortly after the building’s inauguration combined with the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake (from which the building suffered mostly superficial damage) ended Mayell’s operation of the building as a “stock co-operative.” The building went on to function as a hotel for more than two decades, until an investor reverted many of its hotel modifications, making it a residential, “own-your-own” apartment building once again. 

Long Beach Cultural Heritage named the building as a historical landmark in 1979, and the National Register of Historic Places finally conveyed its designation in 1996.

The Villa Riviera’s association was converted to condominium titles in 1991 and, today, the building boasts 148 renovated luxury units including studio, one- and two-bedroom floorpans and two spectacular “horseshoe” penthouses. The building retains its historic charm, from its stunning entry, to its gracious lobby, original elevators and vintage mailboxes. 

Old-world elegance meets with spacious interiors and modern amenities. Each living unit has its own unique character and features details like high ceilings, bay windows, and splendid ocean and mountain views. Many units retain vintage elements, including tiled bathrooms and antique stoves. Only steps from the sand and marina, residents are also within walking distance to the city’s vibrant downtown and its world-class dining, shopping and arts district, making life at the Villa Riviera a truly cosmopolitan experience. 

For nearly a century, gargoyles have perched along the ridges of the Villa Riviera’s upper floors, just beneath its steeply pitched verdigris copper roof. They have stood sentry through economic crashes, earthquakes, world wars, and changing fads and fashions. Through it all, this jewel of the Long Beach skyline has been a symbol of grace and grandeur, and endures today as a paragon of luxury living on the Southern California Coast. 

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