Milpitas Camera Club Field Trip
Field Trip: Filoli
Trip Date: April 25, 2009
Report Author: Scott Hinrichs
Report Date: April 27, 2009

Five club members and one associate went to Filoli on the beautiful spring morning of Saturday, April 25, furthermore, one foodie had breakfast, but didn't go on the trip.

You may ask: What is Filoli? It is a country estate set in 16 acres of formal gardens about 25 miles south of SF at the southern end of Crystal Springs Lake. Used as a background in several movies and television shows-most recently, George of the Jungle, The Wedding Planner, among others; and on the opening credits on the television series Dynasty-the mansion presents a dignified, stately profile from the outside, as well as an elegant, comfortable and commodeous dwelling space in the interior.

I liked the option of being able to take a tour or walk freely on the grounds and on the ground floor of the mansion. It was a liberating experience to be trusted (unlike the terribly strict and dogmatic approach followed by the docents at the Hearst Castle). I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that the restriction on tripods had been lifted. Free at last! Free at last! (Apologies to Martin Luther King Jr.)

Built in 1915 for William Bowers Bourn II and wife, Agnes, the stately Georgian brick structure was designed by California architect Will is Polk. The gardens were designed by Bruce Porter, with the landscaping begun in 1917. A botanical garden was added later by the second family that owned the estate.

Based on the formal English garden style of the nineteenth century, Filoli's beautiful grounds are laid out in a series of rectangles with hedges, rows of trimmed shrubs and trees, reflecting ponds and large native and imported trees to create various spectacular, axial views from various points around the grounds. The carefully selected plants provide a nice contrast of colors and textures and accommodate pleasant viewing the year round. (Putting together such a garden is a highly complicated process and the maintenance of said garden is also a gargantuan task-close to to a thousand volunteers help a staff of resident master landscapers. ) Only the very wealthy could afford to maintain such a grand garden.

Bourn owned the Spring Valley Water Company, which owned Crystal Springs Lake, a major water source for the city of San Francisco. His holdings in a large California gold mine enabled him to acqire the estate and the lake and have the mansion built by his friend an noted architect Polk.

The estate was later purchased by shipping magnate William P. Roth in 1937. Roth owned the Matson Navigation Company. Docents say that his wife wanted a suitable house to hold a coming out party for her twin daughters on the occasion of their eighteenth birthdays and she needed a palacial estate, such as Filoli, to provide the perfect background. (Now, there's a reason!) The house was purchased complete with furniture. Mrs. Roth later donated the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was a frequent visitor to her beloved gardens until her death in the 1980s.

Because of Mrs. Roth's great philanthropic gesture of donating the mansion and a large part of the estate to the public good, our group was able to enter the gates and actually experience such a place.

The most amusing joke among the docents tell their tour groups are about the counteless tourists who conclude that an italian family-the Filolis-built the massive mansion. The name Filoli is actually a composite word made from the key words of the Bourn family motto: Fight for a just cause; love your fellow man; live a good life." Fi-Lo-Li--therefore , Filoli.

The mansion is open daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Sunday 11 a.m. to 3:30) and admission is $12 per person. Prices and access hours may vary because of special events. The estate has a well-stocked gift shop and a fairly pricey café.

I suggest you visit in early spring for the tulips and wysteria and late spring for the roses. Other varieties of flowering plants bloom year round. Generally there is something wonderful to see during any month. A week of hot weather damaged most of the tulips and daffodils on the grounds. The wysteria, although beautiful was just off-peak, and most of the roses hadn't bloomed yet. I think mid- to late March is best for tulips and wysteria and early to mid-May is best for roses. Nevertheless, the grounds of this formal English garden were still spectacular.

© 2009 S.R. Hinrichs