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Summer Splendor at the Historic Filoli House and Garden

This article was first published in the Epoch Times on August 13, 2022.

Filoli is too beautiful to be private.
Lurline Roth

In 1975, Lurline Matson Roth gifted her beloved Filoli house and gardens to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. One year later, Filoli, located at 85 Canada Road, Woodside, California, opened to the public. It remains open to this day.

The entrance to Filoli House.

The Bourn and Roth Families

William Bourn (1857 – 1936) was a leading investor in the Empire gold mine in Grass Valley, the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company, and the Spring Valley Water Company in San Francisco. A brilliant and successful entrepreneur, it was William who envisioned the Filoli estate, naming it after the verbs in his personal motto: “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.” William and his wife Agnes moved into Filoli when it was completed in 1917. “There,” William stated, “I hope to grow young.”

The daughter and heiress of shipping magnate William Matson, Lurline Roth lived at Filoli for over thirty years. She and her husband, William P. Roth, president of the Matson Navigation Company, purchased the Filoli estate in 1937 after William and Agnes Bourn passed away. The Roths kept Filoli as a country retreat for themselves, their 21-year-old son, and 17-year-old twin daughters.

Thanks to William Bourn’s original vision, Lurline Roth’s insightful additions, and the National Trust’s preservation, the Filoli house and garden remain an alluring destination for visitors near and far.

Entrance to the sunken garden. The Bourns transferred the oak door from their townhouse in San Francisco.

The House

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Filoli house is one of the few remaining country estates of the early 20th century. The house is a 54,000 square foot, Georgian revival-style mansion. Only the first floor is open to visitors, though in future they hope to open the second floor as well.

The house was empty of art and furniture when Lurline Roth gifted it to the national trust. However, over the years, much of the original furnishings were donated back by both the Bourn and Roth families, as well as a private collector. It is a pleasure to walk through and get a glimpse of the past. In some rooms audio has been added, so visitors can imagine former occupants having a tea party in the drawing room, for instance, or staff preparing meals in the kitchen.

Audio in the drawing room simulates daughter Maud Bourn playing the piano while her mother Agnes entertains a guest.
The Bourn-era library.

Visitors can walk through the mansion on a self-guided tour. However, there are no longer docents within the house to answer questions. That is unfortunate, as signage about specific pieces is limited. There are, however, many signs throughout the house (and garden) explaining the importance of water. The temporary exhibit, called Blue Gold: The Power & Privilege of Water, is educational, but a bit overdone. It seems designed to induce feelings of guilt over having access to clean water.

The beautiful place settings of the dining room table have been removed in favor of a display showing various water containers.

The Garden

Judging by the number of people wandering among the flowers and trees, it seems that most visitors come to Filoli to see the gardens. Besides the terraces around the house, they include a 6.8 acre “gentleman’s garden,” and a 16-acre English renaissance garden. The renaissance garden is divided into many “rooms” with different thematic plantings. One of the latest additions is the vegetable garden.

The newly reopened vegetable garden.

On August 5th, 2022, Filoli opened their newly renovated vegetable garden. It had been closed to the public for forty years. Over the last few years however, the trust raised enough funds to add a drip-irrigation system and general improvements to make the garden accessible to the public. Visitors can pick up design ideas for garden plots, and from the signs scattered throughout, learn about different vegetables common to ethnic communities.

Raised vegetable beds with drip irrigation and an arched trellis showcase a tidy vegetable garden.

Filoli’s gardens are seasonal. Acres of tulips and daffodils bloom in spring, five-hundred rose bushes blossom in summer, fall colors glow in autumn. In the winter, the house and gardens are lit and decorated for Christmas. As Lurline Roth said about Filoli in a 1980/81 interview, “You can’t help but be charmed with it–the garden, the view, the mountains, everything about it.” (Lurline Matson Roth; Matson and Roth Family History: A Love of Ships, Horses, and Gardens, by Suzanne B. Riess, Copyright 1982 by the Regents of the University of California.)

A bed of coneflowers brightens up the day.
A woman and her service dog enjoy a membership at Filoli.

The Estate Trail

If you have time, do not miss the one-mile estate trail. It is maintained, though not completely wheelchair accessible. The self-guided loop trail takes walkers across the San Andreas Fault, through oak woodlands and redwood stands, to a nature center, barn and stable area, and back through cultivated grasslands. It is a beautiful, crowd-free walk. Educational signage is sprinkled tastefully throughout.

The one-mile estate trail winds through oak woodlands.
A back view of Filoli house can be seen from the grasslands of the estate trail.

If you go:

Filoli is open year-round, every day of the year except major holidays, from 10 am to 5 pm (their website is not up-to-date on holiday closures). Separate tickets are also available through September 22 for their Thursday evening “summer nights,” when Filoli is open from 5 to 8 pm.

Picnics are okay at designated sites, otherwise there is the Quail Cafe that serves pre-packaged but tasty food.

The Quail Cafe Summer Menu.

Tickets are sold via their online reservation system and checked at the outdoor kiosks. You can try calling 650-364-8300 for more information, but please note that your call will likely go to voicemail and may not be returned. They seem to be understaffed in that area. Filoli is going through some reopening pains after the pandemic, but it’s definitely a place worth visiting. For more information, visit their website: https://filoli.org/

Filoli avoids pesticides, so bees and butterflies are abundant.

If you missed my last blog about beautiful Rockport, Massachusetts, check it out here.

2 Comments

  1. Tish Bertino Tish Bertino

    Thanks again Karen. We love the Fioli estate and enjoyed learning more about it!

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      You’re welcome Tish! Thanks for commenting! 😊

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