A Brief History
Filoli was built for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II, prominent San Franciscans, whose chief source of wealth was the Empire Gold Mine in Grass Valley, California. Mr. Bourn was also owner and president of the Spring Valley Water Company. The Bourns chose Willis Polk as principal designer for the House. An inventive architect, Polk frequently combined several styles in a single building, an eclecticism clearly evident in his design for Filoli. Construction of Filoli began in 1915 and the Bourns moved into the House in 1917. Bruce Porter, a talented stained-glass artist, painter, muralist, landscape designer, and art critic, was enlisted to help the Bourns plan the layout of the extensive formal garden that was built between 1917 and 1929. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bourn died in 1936.
The estate was purchased in 1937 by Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, owners of the Matson Navigation Company. Under the Roths’ supervision, the property was maintained and the formal garden gained worldwide recognition. Mrs. Roth made Filoli her home until 1975 when she donated 125 acres, including the House and formal Garden, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations. The remaining acreage was later gifted to Filoli Center.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded, nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places. Filoli is one of the 27 sites they own. As part of the agreement with the National Trust, Filoli Center, the local nonprofit, has full management responsibility for the property.
Mr. Bourn arrived at the unusual name “Filoli” by combining the first two letters from the key words of his credo: