Blonde bombshell nurtured Marina del Rey’s library into the millennium

By Rip Rense

Virginia Harms, ever-smiling,
in 2008

Virginia Harms, a captivating beauty who ran her own business in the 1960s and later served as a longtime president of the Friends of the Lloyd Taber Marina del Rey Library, died recently after a brief illness. She was 84.

Harms was instrumental in securing funds for the reading room and nautical wing of the library, added in 1999, when the building was renamed in honor of its main donor. The nautical wing includes more than 5,000 maritime books and an extensive collection of shipping charts and boating periodicals.

As a director of the Marina del Rey Foundation, Harms also “worked really hard to save the library” in the early 1990s, when it was threatened with closure over lack of Los Angeles County funding, said Marina del Rey Historical Society President Emeritus Willie Hjorth.

An effervescent fixture in Marina del Rey affairs since 1968, when she moved to the Marina Peninsula from the old Malibu Colony, Harms spent her later years in Marina City Club, where she was a popular and lively figure marked by impeccable couture and a green Jaguar convertible. As Hjorth put it: “She was a gorgeous lady. When she entered the room, you knew she came in.”

A petite woman with an explosive laugh and blonde Veronica Lake-style hair, Harms came to Los Angeles with her first husband, an engineer at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, in the early 1960s. The Havertown, Penn., native soon got herself a job at Douglas as a secretary, despite lacking experience. She credited her hiring to having comported herself elegantly, right down to her elbow-length white gloves.

In the mid-’60s, Harms left Douglas to open a dress shop called Dina’s (her family nickname) in Brentwood Village, where she served tea and cakes to customers. She employed an in-house seamstress who specialized in popular new Capri sets — fitted bottoms, cropped tops — that proved all the rage. The elegant shop became a local icon of chic, attracting many celebrity clients. Among the stories: The Rolling Stones posed for photos outside, and Lee Marvin, for unknown reasons, occasionally drove his motorcycle inside and parked it there.

After a divorce and remarriage, Harms gave birth to son Courtney Harms in 1971, turning her attention to full-time motherhood and, eventually, the Marina del Rey library.

“She helped with fundraising, programming, getting people to speak at the library — people from the community who had interesting things to say, stories to tell. She also, for over a decade, was president of Friends of the Library,” said Library Director Winona Phillabaum. “She was just always available, very friendly. Even after she stopped with Friends of the Library, she was a goodwill ambassador for us. If we needed something, we could always call her up and ask.”

Roberta Bennett, a cousin to Harms, remembers her as “always the leader of the pack, always very spunky,” adding that “she was her own person, when we were kids and when we were grown.”

Around the Marina City Club she behaved like a cheerleader for her neighbors, leaving those she encountered believing they looked and felt better than they probably did.

“She knew everyone by their names, would usually bring treats or candy and lots of book donations, and always had good things to say,” said Phillabaum. “She was just a wonderful person, always with so much life, so much spark. She always talked about being positive and keeping positive — turn it around and make it better. … I have a hard time picturing the marina without her.”