History

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A Tale of Two Families

Built more than sixty years after the California Gold Rush which inspired massive migration to Northern California, and ten years after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, Filoli (pronounced “Fie-low-lee”) represented a desire to create a magnificent and enduring country estate. its eclecticism reflects a Golden Age in California’s history, free from the conventional rules of design, and exuding a pride in creativity and expression.

Filoli was built for Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II, prominent San Franciscans at the turn of the twentieth century. Mr. Bourn arrived at the unusual name Filoli by combining the first two letters from the key words of his personal credo: “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.”

Construction of Filoli began in 1915, and the Bourns moved into the House in 1917. Filoli’s extensive formal garden was bult between 1917 and 1929. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bourn died in 1936. In 1937, the estate was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. William P. Roth, owners of the San-Francisco-based 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 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 given to Filoli Center. For more than forty years, the two nonprofits have co-stewarded the historic estate.

Learn more about the Bourn Family.
Learn more about the Roth Family.