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History of Villa del Sol d’Oro

If you are interested in reserving the Villa del Sol d’Oro for a film shoot, wedding, or other similar production or event, please email

The Villa del Sol d’Oro serves as an important part of Alverno life. It is not uncommon to find the photography class taking pictures on the terrace or find a creative writing class creating a story about one of the Barlow’s many parties. Alverno’s two choirs, Concert Choir and Alverno Singers, practice upstairs, and the upstairs ballroom is perfect for our Pilates class. Additionally, the Villa serves as the location for Alverno’s Winter Formal; our Christmas Candlelight Celebration; various liturgies throughout the year; and, of course, it is the perfect location for the Mother-Daughter Tea and Father-Daughter Dance.

However, the Villa is not just a site for classes and activities at Alverno, but it has also been a location for television and movie productions as well as the perfect backdrop for print publications. Movies and television shows filmed at Alverno include The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story; Beverly Hills 90210; Bones; Columbo; Corrina, Corrina; CSI Miami; Lady Bird; Legally Blonde; Legion; MacArthur; Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; The Master of Disguise; Mommie Dearest; The Princess Diaries; Passport to Paris; Poison Ivy; The Secret War of Harry Frigg; Sweet Bird of Youth; Uptown Saturday Night; and A Walk in the Clouds. The Villa has also been featured in Seventeen and Vogue as well as print advertisements for Vera Bradley, Ralph Lauren, and others. Alverno is fortunate to have this historical landmark as a part of our campus.


If you are interested in reserving the Villa del Sol d’Oro for a film shoot, wedding, or other similar production or event, check out the Villa website for more information

Dr. Walter Jarvis Barlow (1868-1937) was a prominent physician in early Los Angeles.

In 1924, prominent Los Angeles physician Dr. Walter Jarvis Barlow and his wife, Marion Brooks Barlow, began building their dream house in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains– the home that would eventually become the Villa del Sol d’Oro.

Dr. and Mrs. Barlow, both originally from New York and both members of prominent society families, moved to Los Angeles in 1895 after Dr. Barlow contracted tuberculosis. At the time, it was believed that a sunny and dry climate would help to alleviate the progressive effects of the disease and would allow Dr. Barlow to continue his research. The couple was married in 1898 at St. John’s Church in Los Angeles and had three children: Walter Jarvis Barlow, Jr. (1900-1965), Catherine Lent Barlow (1901-1964), and Ella Brooks Barlow (1905-1994).

In 1902, Dr. Barlow founded the Barlow Sanatorium in Echo Park to meet the needs of patients suffering from tuberculosis. The sanatorium would be his life’s work and a testament to the treatment of the disease in the early part of the 20th century. Today, the Barlow Respiratory Hospital is a long-term acute care facility in Los Angeles that specializes in respiratory diseases. Although the location of the sanatorium was ideal for air flow and exposure to the natural elements it provided, Dr. Barlow and his wife sought a more private place of refuge from the early hustle of Los Angeles.

In 1924, Dr. and Mrs. Barlow purchased a 13-acre property at 675 West Highland Avenue in Sierra Madre. To create his vision of an Italian villa, Dr. Barlow hired notable Pasadena architect Wallace Neff. Well-known in the Los Angeles area, Neff was the designer of Pickfair and the Gillette Mansion, as well as an architect to many of Hollywood’s earliest stars.

Through a collaboration with Dr. Barlow, Neff designed the Villa del Sol d’Oro, which was completed in 1928. The Villa is a two-thirds scale replica of the Villa dei Collazzi near Florence rumored to have been designed by Michelangelo. Wanting to integrate elements of his own architectural style, Neff included an elegant black and white checkered floor in the foyer as well as a curving staircase with a wrought iron banister that are now considered to be signature facets of Neff’s design style.

During the time the Barlow family called the Villa home, they hosted lavish parties, entertained guests from around the world, and enjoyed the seclusion the expansive property provided them. A fan of books, dogs, and medicine, Dr. Barlow spent the majority of his time studying and conducting research in the library.

After battling tuberculosis for over 30 years, Dr. Barlow passed away in 1937.

With her children grown and the care of the property becoming overwhelming, Five years after the death of her husband (1942), Marion Brooks Barlow made the difficult decision to sell the Villa del Sol d’Oro to the Sisters of St. Francis who planned to use the property as a convent and novitiate for their growing order. She retired to the Huntington Hotel (presently The Langham Huntington Hotel) where she passed away in 1964. 

Founded on the principles of St. Francis of Assisi, the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Charity sought to be a beacon of hope and inspiration to immigrant families living in the San Gabriel Valley. With the Villa serving as their Provincial Center, the Sisters of St. Francis provided education, childcare, and health care to the Catholic immigrant communities that surrounded Sierra Madre. They found that these were the greatest needs of these families as they adjusted to life in California.

“We are women with wilderness in us and we have often turned to journeys.” ~ Sisters of St. Francis.

Recognizing the need for more opportunities for young women, the Sisters of St. Francis began construction of an all-girls high school on the Provincial Center property just north of the convent house. The school, originally named Alverno Heights Academy, welcomed its first students in 1960 and the first class graduated from the Alverno terrace, as they do today, in 1964.

With a renewed vision of the church expressed in the Second Vatican Council and the struggles in the United States for human and economic rights, the Sisters of St. Francis sought to create an academic environment where young women could be empowered to create communities based on the values and teachings of St. Francis. Students were encouraged to participate in athletics, activities, and community service that broadened their worldview.

By the middle of the 1970s, the Sisters of St. Francis sought another religious order to become the legal sponsors of Alverno High School, as the school was now known. In 1978, the Sisters of St. Francis formally turned the school and property over to the Board of the recently created Immaculate Heart Community. The Immaculate Heart Community, previously the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is made up of dedicated men and women with a mission to create community, to work as advocates for the marginalized, for social and economic justice and peace, and for the integrity of creation. Today, Alverno remains committed to the spirit and philosophy of the Immaculate Heart Community while acting as an independent school. 

“What really matters is not length of life, but fidelity to our goals and the deepening of our relationship with the living God.” ~ Anita Caspary, First President of the Immaculate Heart Community

In 2016, under the leadership of current Head of School, Julia V. Fanara, Alverno High School announced that the school would return to its original name of Alverno Heights Academy.

Today, Alverno Heights Academy is an independent, progressive, Catholic, college preparatory, high school enlivened by the spirit of our Immaculate Heart Community sponsors, and mindful of the Franciscan roots of our founders, Alverno’s program– academic, spiritual, aesthetic, social and physical– is shaped by the staff, trustees, and students in light of the world for which the students are being educated.