“BATW’s March Meeting at Filoli in Woodside”

By Sara Godwin

Filoli hosted members of BATW in the Visitors Center meeting room on Saturday, March 16, 2019. A presentation by Susan O’Sullivan, Director of Development and External Relations, provided an introduction to the 654-acre estate, the 54,000-square-foot Modified Georgian house, and the 16-acre garden. It is one of the Bay Area’s best-kept secrets, and a year-round destination, beautiful in every season. Ms. O’Sullivan told us we had gotten the prettiest day this year.

Having recently celebrated its centennial, Filoli is now in the process of making the segue into its second century under the banner of its new Mission Statement: “To connect our rich history with a vibrant future through beauty, nature, and shared stories.”

After the presentation, BATW members joined Filoli docents to tour the house and garden. The garden is divided into a series of garden rooms including the Sunken Garden, the Dutch Garden, The Rose Garden, the Chartres Garden, the Woodland Garden, the Knot Garden, and the cutting garden. The spring gardens feature 30,000 to 40,000 bulbs, especially daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths, hundreds of camellias, and early annuals in the parterres as well as flowering Japanese cherry trees. The annual displays are changed four times a year, so the important point is that the garden is different – and spectacular – in every season. During the Winter Holidays the gardens are lighted, by itself very beautiful, and the camellias are in bloom.

Once home to two prominent San Francisco families, the Bourns and the Roths, the house is presented as a living museum, illustrating how the two families who lived there led their lives.

It took three miracles to make Filoli what it is today. The first was that Lurline Matson Roth decided to give the house and garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation so that the public could enjoy the house and her beloved gardens. It is now a joint project of the Trust and Friends of Filoli.

The second miracle occurred in 1975 when Warner Brothers Studio called to ask if they could use the property as the set for a movie called Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The house needed some expensive cosmetic upgrades – floors refinished, original interior paint colors restored, draperies repaired et al – so the deal that was struck allowed Warner Brothers to use the property in return for restoring the first floor rooms to their original glory. The house had been furnished with 17th and 18th-century antiques, many of which had gone to friends and family. The goal was to make the house look as it had when the two families lived there, and over the years a number of pieces have returned to Filoli.

The third miracle occurred in the 1990s when Martin Melville, an antiques collector specializing in the 17th and 18th centuries, offered to donate his entire collection, nearly 900 pieces, to Filoli. Today the house looks very much as it did when the families lived there.

To accomplish its mission, Filoli is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. (It is closed for a brief period from late December into early January for maintenance.) Visitors may take self-guided tours or enjoy a one-hour docent-led tour of the house and another one-hour tour of the garden. It is now, for the first time since the property was opened to the public, available for garden weddings, and arrangements may be made for engagement photos. The house can be rented in the evenings for corporate events in Filoli’s spectacular Ballroom.