I learned of
Filoli from my Leader-of-a-Jazz-Band Brother- in-Law who told me it
was not to be missed. On this solid recommendation, I contacted the
Public Relations Department at the estate. Arrangements were made for Tom Rogers,
Curator of Collections, to give us a private tour.
beginning, it was like walking through Wonderland.
Filoli began in 1915 and two years later, Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn moved in. The Bourns were
prominent San Franciscans whose chief source of wealth was a hard-rock gold mine in Grass Valley, California.
Both of the
Bourns were from English ancestry; families that had originally
immigrated to America in the late 17th century. Their choice of
understated elegance that reflects this English ancestry is evident in both the house design as well
the manicured gardens that surround it.
In the 1920's ice
was delivered daily to the kitchen, and all food for family, guests
and staff was prepared here. This particular stove was installed
during World War II after the original oil-fired stove could not be
There are two
small rooms in the kitchen: the one on the left was a walk-in cold
storage ice room, the other a pastry room. The wing beyond the
kitchen contained servants quarters: ten bedrooms, three baths, and a combined living/dining room.
This part of the house is now used for membership and administrative
Pantry, which is located just opposite this part of the kitchen, was
the operational heart of the house. A family member would press a
button which rang a bell and lit up a board, indicating the
room location. At this point someone from the staff would be sent immediately to that room to
bankvault-like safe located in the center of the kitchen contains a variety of plates, glasses,
pewter and silver.
The south end of
the grounds was reserved for the large working kitchen garden and was called
the panel garden. Its function was growing fruits, vegetables and
cut flowers for the
kitchen and home alike.
is replicated from the library at the famous Denham Palace, England. The plan and arrangement of wall panels,
bookcases, and borders carved in a floral pattern were copied from
this English house which was built in 1690.
The Study is the
most intimate room in the downstairs area. When Mr. Bourn was alive, he used it as his
home office. When Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth (of the famed Matson
Navigation Company) purchased the estate
in 1937, it became a favorite gathering place for their family. When
we walked through we easily could imagine the families gathering
here for social time.
Concealed in the paneling is a door to a safe that was converted to a
wine cellar by the Roth family.
One of my
favorites; A writing desk with a window view. Perfect!
Take a look at
the unusual oak floor patterning made with a gouging plane and then
stained. It was a popular style from the early 1900s.
All families of
wealth had secret places in their homes to store valuables or
Here in the
Trophy Room, Tom is showing us the hiding places inside this desk.
reveals a book that has been carved out with pages to spare. The
items concealed within are safe from intruders who would not know to
look inside, as it would appear to be just a normal book on a shelf.
secret hiding places, the extensive gardens offered many restorative
locations to sit, relax, read and to disappear from view.
are the hallmark of an English style garden. Filoli has many formal
hedges, which along with
the brick walls, divide the garden into compartments. This guaranteed
the seclusion and privacy desired by the Bourns. There are discoveries and surprises around every corner.
The ballroom is
the largest room in the house. The crystal chandeliers are copies of
those that hung in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles during the
signing of the Peace Treaty in 1920.
Heaven Can Wait, The Game, Joyluck Club,
Rent and Wedding Planner are just a few
that were filmed at this magnificent estate.
The flowers you
see here are grown in the garden. Notice the gold leaf trim on the
borders of the walls.
The murals in the
Ballroom are of the pastoral landscape surrounding the Lakes of the
Killarney in Ireland. Mr. Bourn purchased the Muckross estate in
Ireland for his daughter as a wedding gift in 1910.
scenes were painted only after Mr. Bourn's stroke when it became
apparent to the family that he would never be able to travel to his
beloved Muckross estate again.
Holidays, Filoli offers tickets to elegant dining events with live music and
dancing in the Ballroom. You can shop at the boutique while performers sing and play seasonal melodies
on the grounds. What a way to spend an enchanting evening with loved
ones and friends!
During the days
when the family lived at Filoli, in winter the fireplace was kept burning twenty-four hours in
advance of any entertaining event.
The fireplace is
made of marble with a mural of Muckross Abbey above it.
On the left you
can look down through the rooms of the house to the outside. Lovely
views from everywhere in the home were an important feature to the
After the Bourns
died in 1936, the Roths purchased the estate the following year.
Mrs. Roth had an avid interest in gardening and guided the formal gardens
recognition. She ordered seeds, kept records of everything she
planted and began adding new plants to the gardens.
In 1973 Mrs. Roth was awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal of the Garden Clubs of America for her
achievements as a collector.
Today, Filoli has 32
full-time staff of which 14 are horticulturalists. In addition,
there are 33 part-time staff and over 1,400 volunteers, more than
any other National Trust Property in the USA.
Filoli is a
living treasure which takes year-round care to preserve it. Insect
infestations and severe
weather events can cause havoc to the grounds. The
replacement of plants and their continuous pruning keeps Filoli
looking as it did in the early days of the estate.
Mr. Roth had a minor
stroke in 1943. In 1946 the swimming pool was added for his exercise
and rehabilitation, and quickly became a favorite summer gathering
Here I'm taking a
quick break by the sculptured tree alongside the pool.
The beauty of
Filoli is not one dimensional. Tours of the
House and Garden are available mid-February through the end of
October. Special Holiday events are are offered in December. One can
volunteer as a docent, take classes, or bring schoolchildren to
Filoli for educational events.
Filoli is open to
the public for the enjoyment of its beauty and serenity. It provides
many opportunities to the community for learning and development in
subjects including history, art, architecture, design, landscape
preservation and conservation. There are classes in calligraphy, water color, photography, embroidery,
floral design, horticulture, birdhouse building and botanical art.
To plan your
visit, to take a class, to attend an event, visit
on their homepage. If you want to receive the latest news about
special events, educational programs, special presentations, gallery
exhibitions, garden happenings or more, sign up for their free
The essence of
Filoli cannot be found through one visit. It will call you back
again and again.