Historic Mansion Opens its Doors for Valentine’s Day

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Artist Eddie Martinez created works that allow Villa Rockledge visitors to take a talisman from the historic home with sweeping ocean views.

By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy

The Villa Rockledge, a stately remnant of Laguna Beach’s early history, has been out of public view save for occasional private gatherings and weddings. But this weekend, the water’s edge mansion is ready to make its public debut when owners Roger W. and Sherril Jones will hold a festive open house.

For visitors getting an early jump on Valentine’s Day romance, strolling down the terraced gardens with aperitif and appetizers in hand while taking in the 180 degree sea view might set the right mood.

“We are the villa’s docents and are eager to share its history,” said Sherril Jones. “We have had private weddings, charity events and photo shoots here but have not opened the house to the public like we will this weekend,”

The oceanfront Mission-style mansion was built between 1918 and ‘22 by Frank Miller, the developer of the storied Mission Inn in Riverside. Inside, architect Arthur Benton designed a the multi-leveled home that today offers a glimpse into another time: houses where great rooms were crossed by heavy beams and huge fireplaces, where mysterious crannies and passageways led to hidden rooms with leaded glass windows and massive hand-carved furniture imported from Europe and China.

All that’s missing are stately ancestral portraits. But then, the 9000 square feet place named Mariona was just Frank and Marion Miller’s “beach cottage.”

To capture its appeal, Los Angeles-born artist Eddie Martinez came into town from his home in Colorado to create a series of oil paintings and pencil drawings of the villa, part of a series of works highlighting historic and romantic Laguna Beach. “During a trip to Italy, I was able to paint in Capri and fell in love with the place. Capri and Laguna have similar vibes,” he said. “When I painted at the villa, I looked out to sea and could imagine Cabrillo sailing his ship toward Catalina. There is so much history and romance here that is still waiting to be put on canvas,” he said.

(Reproductions of the works will be for sale at the villa and later at local bookstores, said Martinez, who is also planning to conduct tours for art students and give lectures at the Laguna College of Art and Design later in the year.)

The Joneses, who met in 1959 as students at San Diego State University, bought the mansion in 1973 for $430,000 and have been intermittently restoring it since. They first discovered the place when both Sherril and Roger had, at different times before marrying, rented studio apartments on the premises. There are eight rentals on the property, and a two-bedroom unit became home to the couple and their two sons, said Roger and Sherril. They now occupy the main house of 5,000 square feet, where special events are held.

Enamored of all things English, they had lived for two years in Swindon, in southwest England, where Roger, an engineer, managed an electronics firm.

When an unsuccessful investment in an English manor house wreaked havoc on their cash flow, Villa Rockledge briefly went into foreclosure after being listed for sale at $29 million last year. They were able to retain the villa by divesting themselves of another property, said Roger Jones.

With its lively history that includes hosting luminaries such as Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Robert Mitchum during the 1930s, Villa Rockledge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1984. Jones also wrote, “The History of Villa Rockledge; A National Treasure in Laguna Beach.”

The next big party will take place on April 3: Club Aqcua Terra’s Sea to Farm, a six-hour culinary feast moving between Bella Collina Country Club in San Clemente, Villa Rockledge and a San Juan Capistrano chateau. Tickets are $250, available at VRGreenFarms.com

Valentine’s Day at Villa Rockledge, Feb. 12-13. 1-5 p.m. 2529 S. Coast Highway. $35 single, $75 couple. 949-714-6950 www.villarockledge.com

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