Restoring the former Vanderlip summer cottage and a piece of Palos Verdes history
Visionary Frank A. Vanderlip Sr., the late founding father of Palos Verdes, purchased 16,000 acres of land on the peninsula sight-unseen in 1913. The esteemed financier’s Wall Street career, his philanthropic endeavors and rich family life in New York—coupled with the modes of transportation available in those days—left little time for coast-to-coast travel. But the following year he boarded a train to California to marvel at his real estate investment firsthand—a voyage that marked the beginning of a “new Italian Riviera” in the South Bay.
With great passion and imagination, Frank Sr. set out to transform the farming and ranching land into an exclusive, Mediterranean-style community. His first step was to have a meteorological study of all four seasons conducted to determine the best location for his family’s vacation home.
When the study was completed in 1916, he began building The Cottage in Portuguese Bend—the first residence in Palos Verdes other than land workers’ housing. Two pre-made rooms were moved from San Pedro by horse-drawn wagons and placed on the chosen site. When his wife, Narcissa, arrived from New York and saw where they were positioned, she was extremely unhappy with the angle for the view. So Frank Sr. had them moved to her liking, and the work continued.
By the 1920s what started as two simple rooms without utilities and an outdoor cooking grill had evolved into a two-story, four-bedroom and four-bathroom residence with an adjacent guesthouse known as The Villa. The distinct Hudson Valley-style home appointed with European furnishings paid homage to the Vanderlips’ 50+-room estate in New York.
Regular winter family voyages were made by train to spend time entertaining in sunny California and to further develop the peninsula. After Frank Sr. died in 1937, various family members and distinguished friends lived at The Cottage and visited for short stays.
When Narcissa passed away in 1966, their son Frank Jr. inherited it and later sold it to his younger brother John in 1977. Prior to John and his family making The Cottage their permanent residence, it had been unoccupied for many years.
Spiderwebs, ceiling cracks and original furnishings welcomed John and his wife, Suzanne, who did minor remodeling over the course of several years and later added a pool. In 2010, after both John and Suzanne had died, the home was put on the market to be sold outside the Vanderlip family for the first time.
In August 2012 John and Janine Colich purchased The Cottage on more than an acre of land with their own vision for the historically rich home. The Colich family, which owns and operates Gardena-based engineering construction firm Colich & Sons, is no stranger to building ventures. John’s talented team, complemented by local architect Tim Racisz, and the couple’s mutual passion for design and authentic restoration paved the way for what became a three-year project and labor of love.
The Coliches’ greatest obstacle was to satisfy the city’s requirement for a new foundation. “The existing foundation was made with stacked Palos Verdes stone and grout,” says John. “Though it was stable for 100 years, we had to excavate by hand under the house to bedrock, level the house using jacks and pour new concrete around them.”
Roughly 90% of the home was gutted and rebuilt. The original fireplace in the new library (formerly the living room) remained, and most of the old-growth Douglas fir wood floors were retained and restored—with additional flooring installed to match. Some ceilings were raised, and the roofing, balconies and siding were replaced to meet current building codes. A new front entry and staircase were added as part of the 1,200 square feet of increased living space, and the quaint guesthouse was rebuilt.
Environmental upgrades included converting the house to 100% solar power, LED lighting, CALGreen-compliant plumbing fixtures and a tankless water heater. The landscaping redesign included the addition of 64 olive trees throughout the property and a vegetable garden. Black opal stone was installed along the front perimeter wall, exterior flowerbeds and retaining walls.
Gas lamps added to the exterior of the house gave a finishing touch with a nod to the past. The pool was refinished, and water features and ambient lighting were added. An original 100-year-old fountain was enhanced.
While John and his superintendent, Sam Cracchiolo, were busy managing the construction, Janine focused on the design. According to her, the house tells a unique story and they did not want to take away from it. She researched homes of the same era and architecture in the Hamptons before selecting materials, finishes and extensive architectural detailing—with many recommendations from interior designer Phil Norman.
Sophisticated, European-inspired design details include Thassos and Carrara marble, timeless finds at Classic Tile & Design in Hermosa Beach and Ann Sacks tile, Waterstone plumbing fixtures and Emtek hardware. Extensive millwork and cabinetry were installed throughout the house by various local artisans.
Janine also enlisted the design talents of Michelle Dennee to install furnishings that were an ode to the past. “In our initial meeting we agreed it was important to maintain the historical integrity of The Cottage. So during the process of selecting each fabric and piece of furniture, we made sure it honored the era of the original home so that the Coliches could carry that tradition forward,” says Michelle.
They selected a primary color palette of crisp whites and soothing neutrals to highlight richly colored woods and classic black, grey and white stone countertops and floor tiles. In contrast, they designed the library with deep earth-toned leathers and autumn-colored fabrics to complement the floor-to-ceiling bookcases, paneling and wood floors. Shades of ocean blues and greens were selected to accent the materials and finishes in the guest rooms.
As a quiet salute to Frank Sr. (also the father of the peacock flocks on the peninsula), peacock motifs that were on the original screen doors were removed and placed on the fireplace mantle in the library and carved on the front of a custom powder room vanity.
When asked which room is her favorite, Janine proudly replies with a smile, “Each room has its own distinct personality, but I cook a lot so probably the kitchen. Though our favorite place to spend time together is on the front porch.”
A century has passed since Frank Vanderlip Sr. built his first home on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Though The Cottage and a piece of his legacy has moved on to a new family, there is no doubt that the Coliches will treasure it as the Vanderlips did for many years to come.
Special research thanks to Don Christy and Vicki Mack. For more on the Vanderlip family, visit frankvanderlip.com.