Thirty miles south of San Francisco—and about 100 yards south of the Pulgas Water Temple—is the entrance to Filoli, a magnificent country estate surrounded by stunning formal gardens.It was the retirement home of Grass Valley’s Empire Mine magnate, William Bowers Bourn, and his wife, Agnes.
As owner and president of the Spring Valley Water Company, Bourn had access to property in and around the two man-made reservoirs (Upper and Lower Crystal Springs) that comprised Crystal Springs Lake—down the peninsula from San Francisco. He selected a site at the southern end of Crystal Springs Lake near the town of Woodside. Bourn again hired his friend and favorite San Francisco architect, Willis Polk, to be the house’s principal designer—and the result was a magnificent Georgian-style bulding with rather eclectic styling and elements. Construction on Filoli began in 1915 and was completed in 1917. After moving in, the Bourns hired an artist and landscape architect, Bruce Porter, to lay out the formal gardens. William Bourn named his beloved home “Filoli” by combining the first two letters of his three-part credo “Fight for a just cause, Love your fellow man, Live a good life.”
In 1936, William and Agnes Bourn both died. One year later, Filoli was purchased by prominent San Franciscans, Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth. (Mrs. Roth was Lurline Matson—heir to the Matson Navigation Company) Over the years, the Roths greatly expanded the gardens, adding reflecting pools; focal points; fragrant lavender, herb, and cutting flower beds; and other features such as a tea house and elegant swimming pool; to the 654-acre estate.
When she died in 1975, Mrs. Roth had the house and gardens donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for enjoyment and inspiration to generations to come. Today, the estate is open to the public most of the year. Filoli has also been featured in movies and television shows. In particular, it may be familiar to many as the Blake Carrington mansion in the 1980’s TV hit, “Dynasty.” Filoli is a bit of a sensory experience . . especially out in the gardens.
I first became aware of the lavender plant at Filoli . . . the fragrant beds brilliant in color and fragrance. The legacy is that I always have a lavender plant (or two) in my own garden now.