The story of Villa Ormond begins in 1875 when Michel-Louis Ormond (1828-1901), owner of a cigar factory, Swiss politician and entrepreneur, lover of the arts, together with his wife Marie Marguerite Renet (1847-1925), a French poet, purchased Villa Rambaldi. The villa was built by Juvenal Gastaldi and it stood surrounded by beautiful olive groves.
On 25 February 1887, Sanremo was hit by a violent earthquake that destroyed the nearby villages of Bussana and Baiardo causing serious damage in the city. The relief work Mr. Ormond conducted at that time earned him the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazzaro, which was conferred to him by King Umberto I, while his son, Louis-Francis, received an Order of Civil Merit by the Minister of the Interior. Villa Rambaldi was also damaged by the same earthquake and the Ormond family decided to build a new villa. The project of the new building was commissioned to Emile Reverdin, a renowned architect of Geneva, author of the Grand Théâtre of Geneva. He designed a villa, located on the higher grounds rather than giving it a central position, so it would frame and crown the beautiful, sloping English garden which replaced the original olive groves. The Villa was built lengthwise with just one floor in a spacious courtyard. It could be reached by winding paths, which embraced the park, and intertwining staircases. A spacious and panoramic terrace ran the length of the villa and two renaissance-styled porches were built on its sides together with a classic portico at the entrance. Such a sixteenth century Florentine ambiance was enhanced by the five polychrome coffered ceilings in the vast interior rooms and by the interior design. A fireplace from the Doria castle in Dolceacqua was beautifully arranged in one of the large rooms. To build his Villa the worldly Ormond had stones delivered from a quarry near Toulon and thematic stained glass from the factory in Saint-Gobain. The decorations on the wall were made by painters from Geneva and the tapestries were woven in Genoa and Lyon based on antique designs. The Villa Ormond was inaugurated in June 1890. Swiss and French politicians and statesmen and many artists, especially Swiss painters, were frequent guests. Louis Francis Ormond married Violet Sargent and their six children were all born in the Villa. The Villa was owned by the Ormond family until the death of Marie Marguerite in 1925, who, by that time had been widowed. The Villa was then put up for sale. The property aroused the immediate interest of a wealthy Swiss, friend of the family and lover of the beauties of Villa Ormond. Giovanni Revelli, a lawyer from Sanremo, was tasked to conduct the negotiations. He had been waiting for more than half an hour for the Swiss customer, who had been held up, when Vincenzo Asseretto, from the famous Sanremo family of flower cultivators, passed by and stopped to greet him. When he realized the reason for his friend’s presence and impatience they both agreed that it would be a shame for such a beautiful villa with its surrounding park to become private property, especially in a time when the community was trying to improve Sanremo by all means possible to relaunch it after the post-war crisis. When it became clear that the Swiss would not be coming to the appointment, the two went directly to the nearby seat of the Municipality of Sanremo and put forward their idea of the Municipality buying the Villa Ormond property. The trivial delay of the potential Swiss purchaser, a fortunate one for the city, made it possible to open a new negotiation which led to the purchase of the Villa by the Mayor of Sanremo, Pietro Agosti, in 1928. Villa Ormond is now the official seat of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, to which the City of Sanremo has granted free loan and exclusive use.