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The Real OG: Visiting the Original Getty
November, 2018 - Issue #170
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

"When you find it, you'll also discover places to SIT AND ADMIRE the niche fountain decorated with a mosaic of tile and shells. It is a re-creation from the House of the Large Fountain discovered in the ruins of Pompeii."
Say "Getty" these days and everyone assumes you're talking about the Getty Center museum complex atop the Sepulveda Pass that affords commanding views of the Westside all the way to the ocean.
To me, however, the Getty is what is now known as the Villa. Tucked into a hillside along Pacific Coast Highway,
it replicates the Villa dei Papiri, a grand Roman home that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. I appreciate the museum, but for me, the villa will always be the OG - the original Getty.
It's the one I visited while growing up in the San Fernando Valley - and it left an impression. Maybe because it shares similarities with my childhood home? Not the nude statues. But the creamy walls and the red tile roofs resemble the 1930s Spanish revival in which I was raised. Whatever it was, the Villa impressed me as a kid and I was interested to see how my own children responded.
Not surprisingly, they weren't excited about the prospect, voicing doubts as we headed over the hill on a warm Saturday to check it out.
While the Getty Villa celebrates antiquity, it has adapted to modernity. You can check out an iPhone and wander the galleries on a self-guided audio tour. Even a short listen will give you significant insight into what likely moved J. Paul Getty to establish his famous landmark.
Not surprisingly, Romans built their villas to impress. The marble floors, intricate tile work and lifelike statues conveyed the owners' wealth, prestige and taste. Villas also served as a place for business, a stage in which important meetings were held, the surroundings used to influence decisions.
Strolling in the outer peristyle, framed by a covered walkway and showcasing a sparkling pool that stretches toward the ocean, it's not hard to imagine Mr. Getty himself using the Villa to close deals, especially after watching Christopher Plummer's portrayal of the skinflint oil tycoon in "All the Money in the World." The Villa is referenced in the 2017 dramatization of the headline-grabbing kidnapping of Getty's grandson and his refusal to pay the teenager's ransom. Ironically, Getty never visited the Villa, though it opened in 1974, two years before he died.
Today, titans of industry have given way to tourists. Visitors come to admire the incredible display of antiquities representing 7,000 years of human history Getty amassed through decades of collecting. Or, like me, to simply experience the beauty of the grounds.
I roamed the museum for awhile before finally heading outside. A breeze wafted up the canyon and through the peristyle, where senior citizens passed several Instagramming millennials. The conversations were muted by the spritzing of three fountains that splash into the long, shallow pool. Families sheltered from the warm afternoon sun under the grapevine-covered pergolas.
My wanderings took me to the Herb Garden. As the name suggests, its long beds host medicinal and cooking herbs commonly found in first century Roman gardens.
The walled East Garden provides a respite from the villa's crowds. Accessed from the museum, it can be easy to miss. When you find it, you'll also discover places to sit and admire the niche fountain decorated with a mosaic of tile and shells. It is a re-creation from the House of the Large Fountain discovered in the ruins of Pompeii.
It wasn't long before the family reunited, everyone having gone their separate ways to explore the Villa. Asked for a review, the kids responded with what seems to be the typical teenage pattern: Complain beforehand. Compliment afterwards.
It was unanimous. Despite their initial doubts, they left impressed.
The OG still has the power to inspire a new generation of fans.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, which is an original in its own right.

Go There! Getty Villa getty.edu
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