Blue Gold

Blue Gold: The Power & Privilege of Water

June 2-November 7, 2022

Filoli StrokeLine

A gold-mining fortune financed Filoli’s construction, but its owners, the Bourns and the Roths, also had a stake in an even more valuable resource: water, California’s blue gold.

This season, Filoli explores how water systems have shaped the geographic and population changes of the Bay Area over the last 20,000 years – as the land where Filoli stands today evolved from a watershed valley dotted with Ohlone villages along creeks to a reservoir supplying water to the city of San Francisco.

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Blue Gold is coming Summer 2022. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to find out when new offerings, plant displays, and exhibits are on!

Telling the Story of California's Most Valuable Resource

In the House, learn how capitalists gained wealth by controlling access to water as San Francisco’s population exploded in the wake of the Gold Rush. William Bourn’s Spring Valley Water Company monopolized San Francisco’s water supply for decades and turned San Mateo into a “water colony” whose streams were diverted to quench the city’s thirst. The eventual sale of the company to the city of San Francisco and the development of the Hetch Hetchy dam created the Bay Area water landscape we live in today. The Roth family’s Matson Navigation Company pioneered shipping container technologies, resulting in the transformation of port cities and global trade. Manipulating water resources was a path to power for Filoli’s families. But today, access to fresh water remains a privilege some are denied.

Soundscapes and participatory elements bring the story alive. Capture the color of water at an easel under the Ballroom murals, gamble for water rights in the Gentlemen’s Lounge, and pick up a newspaper in the Reception Room to join the 1908 public debate over the Hetch Hetchy project.

In the Garden, a succulent and low-water plant display sparks a conversation about sustainable gardening. Trace Filoli’s water story from the construction of water features that symbolize wealth and domination over nature, to early struggles to find wells to feed the Garden, to today’s explorations of lawn reduction, sustainable plant palettes, and irrigation innovations. An exhibit in the Visitor Center focuses on climate change-driven disasters in our region of increasing wildfires, drought, and sea level rise. Local water conservation organizations provide tips on adjusting our water use in our own homes and gardens to help prepare for the future.

22 0121 0052 Mike James

How is Filoli Addressing the Drought?

The search for water and development of water infrastructure led to the tapping of natural springs, the building of a reservoir, development of wells, and finally purchasing water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Learn about Filoli's ongoing efforts for water conservation in a blog from Chief Operations Officer Alex Fernandez.

This project is supported by the Interpretation and Education Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an endowed fund made possible by a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.