“Fight for a just cause. Love your fellow man. Live a good life.” Taking the first two letters of each part of his motto, William Bourn named his lavish country estate Filoli. Bourn indeed lived a very good life in this 36,000 sq ft mansion with its 43 rooms and 17 fireplaces. The estate was built with his gold mining money in 1917, sold to shipping magnate, William Roth, in 1937 and is now maintained by The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Filoli House and Gardens is located about 25 miles south of San Francisco and really “just down the road” from my house on the peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Although it’s a popular attraction for locals and tourists, and only a ten minute drive away, I visited this week for the first time.
While you may not have heard of Filoli before, you may have seen it in films and on television. Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait was filmed there in 1977 and spurred future filmmakers to consider it as a location. Dying Young, The Joy Luck Club, The Game, Stigmata and The Wedding Planner are a few of them. Notably, it is the mansion seen from the air during opening credits of Dynasty, a 1980s television series. I first saw Filoli as a film set in the controversial 1997 remake of Lolita with Jeremy Irons.
Although the second floor of the house is closed to visitors, the downstairs reception room, kitchen, drawing room, ballroom and other living areas are open. The ballroom was used by the Bourns and Roths for their elaborate parties, one of which was aptly called “The Drunks Dinner” and was held to celebrate the end of prohibition in 1933. I was told by one of the many helpful docents that flowers from the garden decorate the house throughout and are changed early every Tuesday morning. With many pieces of furniture and art donated by the Roths and other 18th-century English furnishings contributed by a collector, the house looks much like it did when the families lived there.
As important to Bourn as the house was the design of the formal gardens and orchards which cover much of the 645 acre estate. He chose this particular location because with its setting near Crystal Springs Lake and with a vista of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it reminded him of Muckross House in Ireland, the estate that he bought for his daughter as a wedding gift.
I started a tour of the grounds at the Garden House where a birdcage with two doves was on display. Other buildings on the property include the Garden Shop (which was previously a garage and carriage house), a retail nursery, and gardener’s cottage. Because it was February, only a few of the many varieties of flowers and trees were in bloom, yet it was still very impressive. In the spring and summer seasons, Filoli will be spectacular when the 242 varieties of roses and many fruit trees are in bloom.
At the far south end of the estate called the High Place, I got a very good view of the gardens, the house beyond and the green hills in the distance. I was just minutes from a major highway, Interstate 280, and a heavily populated area of Northern California; yet, as the clock tower bell tolled and birds sang, I could easily imagine being at Filoli during its golden years.
If you go:
For more information and directions, visit the Filoli website.
I had lunch at the café at Filoli which has a good selection of sandwiches, quiche, soup, salads and desserts, but there are other options in the rustic, but affluent town of Woodside, just 5 miles south. Stay on Cañada Road from Filoli and you’ll be driving alongside bicyclists and occasionally passing a horse on the path next to the road. In the town, a sculpture of two horses fits the equestrian lifestyle of many of the town’s residents. Woodside Bakery and Buck’s Restaurant are favorites among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and locals.
Wow, when I first saw the photos, I thought you were going to be writing about an English country house, not somewhere near your home in San Francisco! 🙂 Beautiful place. I miss buildings like this.
It really is an interesting place and one you don’t expect around here. It does indeed seem more like something you’d see in England.
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What a beautiful estate but those horse statues are crazy.
Those sculptures were just put there in September. I was surprised to see them for the first time, but it really does fit the community. There are many people with stables in Woodside.
I haven’t seen those horse sculptures at Filoli – where are they located?
Hi Lainey – the horse sculptures are in the town of Woodside as I mention in the article.
What are your impressions of Filoli? Do you visit there often?
What a gorgeous property…I had no idea it was there when I lived in San Fran!
As long as I’ve lived here I knew that there was this place called Filoli and I’d pass the sign for the entrance once in a while, but I never really knew what it was all about. Glad I finally visited.
Very interesting, Cathy. I’m a California native but have never heard of Filoli before. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in the Bay Area visiting friends.
Thanks, Michael. It’s an interesting place. Maybe you’ll get to see it when the flowers and trees are in bloom. It should be awesome in the spring.
I thought the same as Julia, Englandof France, but no…San Francisco. One more reason to visit next year.
We’re lucky in the SF area — lots of good reasons to visit. Hope you can visit next year!
Beautiful! What I wouldn’t give for my own personal heaven – a lovely country estate. Swoon!
The Bourns and the Roths lived quite a life, didn’t they? I guess that’s what very successful gold mines and shipping businesses can buy you.
I would love walking around there, my hubby wouldn’t but I could do it on my own. I love stepping back in time to places like this.
I know what you mean about stepping back in time. There are some places that let you do that. I enjoy it, too.
How interesting! I don’t live far from here but have never heard of Filoli. I guess it is overshadowed by nearby Hearst Castle.
You’re right. You don’t hear nearly as much about Filoli as Hearst Castle, which is spectacular! Hearst is much larger, of course. I think they’re both well worth a visit. They’re just very different.
Very interesting piece. Great place you are describing here. Hope to visit it when we do come to San Francisco.
Thanks, Michael. I think you’d probably like the filmmaking history of Filoli. There have been more movies and TV shows made here than I knew about before I visited.
WOW! really beautiful! I also thought first you were talking about a house in England… ha. I really adore the motto and the name! how cool is that!
Yeah, I was also pretty impressed with the the motto and how the name was created. Many people just assume it’s an Italian family name. That’s what I previously thought.
What a great place. I would feel an irresistible urge to reenact some Dynasty or Lolita scenes, I think. Not that I can recall any of them. I’d have to research them first.
Wouldn’t it be fun to film your own little melodrama there?
You sound like you’ve got some acting or directing background! I can totally see why films were made there,but the scenes from Lolita that I remember being filmed there weren’t pleasant. I certainly do remember the aerial view of Filoli during the opening credits of that show. Pretty impressive place.
43 rooms, now that is a beautiful house. how much do you think the house costs if it would be sold?
That’s a really good question, Zablon — especially in an area like this where prices of average homes are quite high. If I get an answer to that, I’ll let you know!
Lovely pictures, what a luxury. Very nice they kept the estate as it was when the owners lived there, when I visit such places the most interesting thing is to notice how their lifestyle was.
I agree, Angela. I like to imagine what is was like to actually be in place when it wasn’t a historical site, but when the stories were being created. Glad you liked the photos.
I haven’t heard of Filoli House before, but it looks beautiful. I love it when you find such interesting things so close to home!
Me too. I know that there are many other places in the San Francisco area that I have yet to explore, too.
Beautiful property, it does remind me of an English country retreat. I think the next time we’re in SF we’re going to have to cycle out there. Stunning!
Do that! There are also some great trails for cycling in the area — Sawyer Camp trail is not far from Filoli. On “Bicycle Sundays”, Cañada Road is closed to vehicles between the Filoli entrance and Highway 92, so it’s a fun ride on a bike.
Wow… such grandeur! No wonder they have used it in movies. I expected it to be in certain parts of Europe such as the UK! Lovely shots, Cathy 🙂
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