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California Gardens 2017: Filoli, the House


A house and garden worth a trip to Northern California is located in Woodside, on the Peninsula about 25 miles south of San Francisco and 5 miles from where I grew up. The house was completed a century ago, in 1917, the property of William Bourn, owner of the Empire Mine, the richest gold mine in California history, coincidentally about a mile from my current home in Grass Valley. Bourn also owned Crystal Springs Reservoir, water supply for San Francisco, adjacent to the land on which Filoli was built, in a rift valley formed by the San Andreas Fault. The house is named Filoli, from Bourn’s motto, "Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”


Filoli could not have been opened to the public very long when I visited for the first time. Heir to the Matson shipping fortune, Mrs. Lurline Matson Roth and her husband, William Roth, bought the estate after the deaths of the Bourns in 1936. Mrs. Roth gave the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975 and it opened for all to see the following year. I’d recently returned to live in my hometown after a decade away and remember on that first visit admiring the grand staircase, the one I’d see, or had seen (the precise chronology escapes me), when Warren Beatty appeared on it in his 1978 movie, ‘Heaven Can Wait’.


The place had changed in the intervening decades. I entered the property through a large reception building, also containing the restaurant and a screening room for an introductory film. I bought my ticket, skipped the film and emerged from another door through which signs pointed me toward house and garden. I stopped to admire Percy, more on him next week, and made my way to the courtyard entrance and on into the house.

The Asian-themed Reception Room


The Dining Room


The Library


The Study, with a portrait of Mrs. Roth


The Ballroom


The Kitchen (my personal favorite)


The Butler's Pantry


A Staff Bedroom


Ground Floor Powder Room


For more history and visitor information, visit the Filoli website:


Next week, Filoli, the Garden.



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The day I was there, a weekday, there were very few visitors, especially in the house, and no docents to tell me I couldn't take pictures, or signs to that effect.  So I assume it's allowed.  There were more gardeners in the garden than visitors which makes it easy to take pictures, which you'll see next week.  One evening a month artists and photographers are invited to book and set up to paint or use tripods, this month on the 24th,  See the calendar for all events, hikes & classes:

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