Designed by Willis Polk and noted for its elegant interiors, the House is an interpretive museum exhibit for an extensive collection of 17th and 18th century English antiques. Special rooms of interest include the Butler’s Pantry and Kitchen with the walk-in safe, the wood paneled library and the 1925 Ernest Peixotto paintings in the Ballroom.
For further study visit the room-by-room interactive map of the House or the historical information of William Bourn’s vision for his country estate.
The design and construction of Filoli as a country estate involved a number of architects, designers, decorators, landscape designers, horticulturists, artists and contractors throughout the Bourn and Roth ownerships. At times there were different professionals involved sequentially or even simultaneously working on different projects. The design and construction process for William Bowers Bourn II began with his first letter to Willis Polk before World War I and continued through the 1920s with the design and construction of the family cemetery following the tragic and early death of the Bourn’s daughter Maud Bourn Vincent.
For many members of Bourn’s social class, the prospect of creating a country house was solved relatively simply by hiring one architect and letting that person develop the design, manage the construction, and even decorate the interior. The creation of Filoli followed a very different model. One could view the creation of Filoli as an entrepreneurial enterprise in which Bourn had a vision for a particular goal and then sought, hired, and managed the best available talent to achieve that goal. Bourn used various private architects and his associates at the Spring Valley Water Company in the creation of Filoli. Bourn was the nexus for all of the participants.
The specific location for the House and its access roads were carefully selected by Mr. Bourn. The beauty and privacy of the land appears to have played a major role in Bourn’s decision to build in the more remote upland valley, away from El Camino Real and the commuter railroad along the San Francisco bayshore. Bourn had also found a landscape that reminded him of the Muckross House, an estate in Ireland he had purchased for his daughter as a wedding gift in 1910.
The location, floor plan and exterior appearance of the House were also of concern to Bourn. The design and appearance of the House recall English country houses built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The common design features between the English models and Filoli include the brick walls with corner quoins and belt courses, hipped roofs and dormers and classical cornice and classical window frames and door cases. The careful proportions and the “U-shaped” footprint recall English Renaissance models. The exterior architectural appearance of the House presents a unique interpretation of the Georgian revival style by Willis Polk with its relatively severe brickwork and restrained handling of decorative ornament and features.
After the deaths of both Mr. and Mrs. Bourn in 1936 and the purchase of the estate by the Roths, a new era began. The Roth period is best viewed as one of stewardship and enjoyment of the estate. The Roths had the swimming pool and its attendant structure built and enclosed a second floor terrace off the master suite.
Architectural Features of the House
The design of the Filoli House represents a number of stylistic traditions and influences. Willis Polk, a prominent San Francisco architect, blended these styles to create a stately and gracious country house. He borrowed architectural forms from English sources of the Stuart and Georgian periods to create a modified Georgian English country house. The use of Spanish mission roof tiles introduced a California touch to the 17th and 18th century English architectural styles.
Some significant Georgian features include:
- Entry courtyard
- Symmetry and functional zoning
- Hipped roof with paired chimneys. There are eleven chimneys to serve the seventeen fireplaces. Eight of these are grouped into pairs. Each pair is then linked together with a brick archway to form the six chimney assemblies.
- Exterior brick walls laid in Flemish bond brickwork. Quoins at the corners walls. (The bricks and the Spanish roof tiles were made in San Jose.)
- Entrance portico is Italian baroque style with two Tuscan-style monolithic columns. The portico contains pocket doors, sidelights, and a fanlight.
- Wrought iron work around windows. The windows are French casement type.
The 36,000 square foot house has 43 rooms, excluding bathrooms and storerooms. The interior has elegantly carved moldings, marble fireplaces, inlaid parquet floors and magnificent architectural doorways, with a superb sense of space and proportion. Most of the major rooms are 17′ high, but the Reception Room is 18′ 6″ high and the Ballroom is 22′ 6″ high.
The house was built with a steel superstructure with an exterior wall of brick and lath and plaster on the interior. Downspouts are concealed within the wall. A true Georgian style building would not have had exposed gutters.
Arthur Brown Jr. (1874 1957)
Arthur Brown, Jr. was born in Oakland, California. He graduated from the University of California in 1896, where he and his future partner, John Bakewell, Jr. were protégés of Bernard Maybeck. Brown went to Paris and graduated from the École des Beaux Arts in 1901. Before returning to San Francisco to establish his practice with Bakewell, the firm designed the rotunda for the City of Paris in the Neiman Marcus department store in San Francisco. Other buildings include the city halls for Berkeley, Pasadena and San Francisco; Horticultural Building at the Panama Pacific Exposition 1915; California School of Fine Arts; various buildings for UC Berkeley and Stanford University including Hoover Tower; San Francisco Museum of Art (Herbst Theater); Coit Tower; San Francisco War Memorial Opera House; and the War Memorial Veterans Building. He was a consulting architect for the San FranciscoOakland Bay Bridge.
Gardner A. Dailey (1895 1967)
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1895, Gardner Dailey enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1919. He continued his education at Stanford and Heald’s Engineering School in San Francisco. Topics of study focused on botany and economics, as well as engineering and architecture. He briefly turned to landscape design and worked for a prominent nursery in Daly City. His knowledge of this subject enhanced subsequent architectural work. Bourn allowed Dailey to use his office space at the Spring Valley Water Company. In 1924, the farm buildings were designed. They consisted of a house and a small stable with dormitories on the second floor for the bachelor Italian gardeners. Another building across the courtyard from the stable was destroyed by fire in 1970. Gardner also designed the orchard fruit cooler.
In 1926, he made a major tour of Europe and North Africa. Upon his return, he established his own architectural offices in San Francisco. Over the course of four decades, Dailey became one of the leading architects in the Bay Area, winning several national competitions while having many of his buildings recognized in architecture magazines.
He designed the Brazilian Pavilion for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island and many residences in the Bay Area. In addition, he designed the American Embassy in Manila, the former De Young Museum addition for the Brundage Asian collection and the Varian Physics Laboratory at Stanford. In his lifetime, Gardner Dailey could stride the UC campus from one end to another and almost never lose sight of his buildings Tolman Hall, Kroeber Hall, Hertz Hall, Morrison Hall and Evans Hall.
Ernest C. Peixotto (1869 1940)
Versatile Ernest C. Peixotto was a painter and writer and one of the best and highest-paid illustrators of his day. He painted the murals of Muckross House and the Killarney Lakes in 1925 for the Ballroom at Filoli. He had a marvelous sense of humor and in the mural he painted of Muckross Abbey he included a self-portrait in the lower right hand comer, painting the scene.
Peixotto was born in San Francisco in 1869 into a family of talented individuals. He began his studies at the San Francisco School of Design, (forerunner of the San Francisco Art Institute) but left at the age of 19 for Paris.
He returned to San Francisco in 1895 and began to contribute regularly to The Lark magazine, which lasted two years. With the end of the The Lark, he left for New York City and continued to divide his time between New York and Europe. He maintained a villa at Fontainebleau, where he was chairman of the American Commission of Painting.
He painted murals, portraits and landscapes; worked in oil and water color; did superb black and white pen sketches; and so excellent were his delineations of buildings that he was elected an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects.
He was appointed by General John Pershing as official artist for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I with the rank of captain. His paintings done during the War are in black and white and hang in the Smithsonian Institution. In 1921, Peixotto was made a member of the French Legion of Honor one of many awards. He was assured a steady income through his illustrations for such magazines as Scribner’s and Harper’s, as well as for books. His books, all published by Scribner’s, were illustrated with his black and white drawings. Considered one of the best and highest paid in the business, he did fifty illustrations for President Theodore Roosevelt’s Life of Cromwell, an assignment that took him a full year. He also did sketches for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Letters and for a series of articles on Italy written by novelist Edith Wharton. Copies of his books are in the Sterling Library.
A contemporary described Peixotto as a quiet, kindly man; his figure short and spare; magnetic but sympathetic eyes set in a spiritual face.
His brother, Edgar, was a scholarly lawyer known locally as an eloquent orator. His sister, Jessica, in 1900, became the second woman to receive a Ph.D. degree at U.C., Berkeley, and for many years served as a professor of economics there.
Willis Jefferson Polk (1867 1924)
Willis Polk was born in Jacksonville, Illinois on October 17, 1867. The family, related to President James Knox Polk, later relocated to St. Louis in 1873. Young Polk did not have a formal education. At age eight, he began work with a local carpenter, and at age 13, he graduated to the task of office boy for the architecture firm of Jerome B. Legg.
In 1889, he came to San Francisco and up until his premature death he remained an important figure in the city’s architectural development. During the early 1890’s Polk and Ernest Coxhead introduced many ideas that were to have an enormous effect on the architecture in San Francisco and the Bay Area. From 19001904 he worked in Chicago for Daniel Burnham.
Polk returned to San Francisco to assist in the preparation of the Burnham and Bennett master plan for the city. The 1906 earthquake and fire occurred just before the plan was made public. After the conflagration, Burnham opened an office in San Francisco with Polk in charge. Although Burnham’s plan could not be implemented, Polk secured contracts for major banks, office towers, retail blocks, railroad stations and the rebuilding of the Flood mansion into the Pacific Union Club. This project was arranged by William B. Bourn, President of the Spring Valley Water Company and owner of Grass Valley’s Empire Mine. Bourn was a patron of Polk’s for whom Polk designed many projects. The partnership with Burnham terminated in 1910.
The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition was planned to celebrate the rebuilding of San Francisco. Polk was appointed the role of supervising architect and received the project to design the Palace of Fine Arts. However, in an act untypical of his ego, Polk graciously accepted an independent design by his colleague Bernard Maybeck.
Polk’s many buildings and works include the reconstruction of Mission Dolores, the water temple in Sunol, CA and the adjacent parish house of the Swedenborgian Church. He is highly regarded for his elegant residential work. His mansions and estates were often in the Georgian Revival style for wealthy, prominent San Franciscans like the Bourn’s Pacific Heights mansion at 2550 Webster Street; the Empire Cottage in Grass Valley as well as Filoli estate. Polk was the American architect working with the French architectural firm that designed the Carolands estate in Hillsborough, at one time the largest house west of the Mississippi. With the exceptions of several shingle style homes, Polk was not an Arts & Crafts designer in the pure sense. However, he is most noted for his introduction of the shingle style to California architecture. Many of his residences share this style’s features and principles of harmony with their environment.
Polk passed away at the age of 57 in 1924. His office continued to operate under his name for several years. In 1924, after Polk’s death Bourn, Chairman of the Board of the Spring Valley Water Company, expressed his feelings in the company paper, SAN FRANCISCO WATER, to eulogize Polk, San Francisco’s Master Builder, by printing Daniel H. Burnham’s quotation:
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir man’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing asserting it self with ever growing insistency.
Bruce Porter (1865 1953)
Bruce Porter, landscape designer of Filoli gardens, was born in San Francisco. He spent his youth in Martinez, CA where his father was editor of the local newspaper and state assemblyman for Marin and Contra Costa counties. He was educated in San Francisco, Paris, France, London, England and Venice, Italy. He was a talented painter, sculptor, stainedglass designer, writer, muralist, landscape designer and art critic.
His rare tonalist paintings include Man and Nature (1903) and Presidio Cliffs which was exhibited at the PanamaPacific International Exposition (1915).
In 1917, he married Margaret Mary James, daughter of Professor William James of Harvard and niece of the well know author Henry James.
After rejecting Polk colleague Chesley Bonestell’s design concepts for garden structures, William Bourn asked Bruce Porter to design the gardens. Porter responded with plans to enhance the natural landscape and use the magnificent view of the mountains to the west and along the long sweeping view to the north as a dramatic background to the gardens.
As a landscape designer, Porter created the landscaping at Memorial Stadium at the University of California at Berkeley (1923), designed the Memorial Arch (1919) in Saratoga – Los Gatos Road in Saratoga, CA and provided landscaping for several private homes.
Some of Porter’s stainedglass designs are found at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Grove, CA, Swedenborgian Church (1895) and the Le Petit Trianon mansion (1904), both in San Francisco. Windows he designed adorn churches in Monterey, Stockton, San Mateo, and Coronado, CA.
Porter and Willis Polk designed a monument in memory of Robert Louis Stevenson in Portsmouth Square in San Francisco. Porter also wrote art criticisms for local newspapers. For two years, 18951897, Porter along with Gelett Burgess and William Doxey, published the literary magazine The Lark. Porter also contributed to Arts in California (1916), a book that compiled the art works exhibited at the PanamaPacific International Exposition.
Porter designed the gardens for Crocker’s New Place in Hillsborough (1910-1911), now the Burlingame Country Club, though little of the original gardens exist. The only other garden designed by Bruce Porter existing today is the DoubleH Ranch in Carmel Valley, the home of M/M Henry Russell.
Bruce Porter died November 25, 1953 and his memorial service was held at the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco.
Isabella Worn (1869 1950)
Isabella Worn, better known as Bella Worn, supervised the planting of the Filoli gardens. She worked with Bruce Porter at New Place, the Crocker estate in Hillsborough, and she continued her work in the gardens at Filoli with the Roths, up until her death at age eighty-one.
Bella Worn lived in Ross, named for her grandfather, James Ross. Both her father and grandfather were horticulturalists, so it was natural that the Worn girls loved plants. With their imaginative use of flowers they became the social decorators for every leading function in the Bay Area for half a century. They changed the entire concept of floral displays from stiff bouquets to the natural, graceful use of flowers we still use today. As a young girl Bella Worn traveled for two years with her mother and her sisters and visited all the great gardens in Europe.
Bourn was very impressed with Isabella Worn’s designs and her excellent sense of color. He chose her to do the plant specifications and worked with her on the color combinations in the gardens. Bella Worn and Bruce Porter had a good working relationship because they also worked together at New Place and the Double-H Ranch in Carmel Valley for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Russell.
In 1965, a redwood grove in Prairie Creek State Park was dedicated to her.
In the 1970s Mrs. Roth, with the encouragement and support of her family, made the decision to leave Filoli and to move to a smaller home in Hillsborough. There was an offer to purchase Filoli; however, the prospective buyer would not agree to open the garden to the public and had little interest or commitment in its maintenance. This caused Mrs. Roth to change her mind and to explore other alternatives culminating in 1975 with the gift of the House and Garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with an endowment to support the maintenance of the property.
At Mrs. Roth’s request, a local board was formed to manage and promote the enhancement of the estate; Filoli Center, a non-profit corporation, was established in February 1976 with a board of directors and an executive director. Later, Mrs. Roth donated 528 acres of the original property to Filoli Center. In 1978, the volunteer organization known as the Friends of Filoli was established. The volunteers led tours of the property, raised funds for the support of the estate and provided other support.
Leaving Filoli was very difficult for Mrs. Roth and she continued to visit often, walking in the garden and visiting with the gardeners. With the permission of Filoli’s board, Mrs. Roth celebrated her 90th birthday at Filoli with family and friends.
Lurline Berenice Roth died on September 5, 1985, two days after her 95th birthday. Upon her death, the original Bourn furnishings from Filoli that Mrs. Roth used in her Hillsborough home were returned to Filoli.
The Roth family continues to be involved in Filoli. The twins, Lurline and Berenice, were part of the Friends of Filoli as tour guides for many years and often returned to Filoli to speak to new volunteer trainees. In 2006, the Roth Family, in particular, Bill Roth, Jr. and his wife, Lurline and Berenice and their families, were the honored guests at the Filoli Flower Show, celebrating 30 years that the property has been enjoyed by so many visitors.
William Bowers Bourn & Sarah Chase Bourn
William Bowers Bourn Sr., founder of the family’s wealth and status in California, was born in Somerset, Massachusetts and moved from New York to San Francisco in 1850 to join his partner and father-in-law, Captain George Chase. Bourn Sr., a successful merchant, owned half interest in a cargo shipping business with Chase.
The Bourn Family, 1919.
Shortly after his arrival in San Francisco, Bourn Sr. invested in other shipping businesses, mercantile trade, agriculture, the first gas light company and the Empire Minea hard rock gold mine in Grass Valley. He later bought control of the mine, that eventually became the chief source of the Bourn family’s wealth. The mine continued in operation for 106 years, despite the decline in gold mining in California. Bourn Sr. was also interim president and director of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. He was known in the financial district of San Francisco as having Bourn luck. By today’s standards, William Bowers Bourn Sr. would be considered a very successful investment banker.
Bourn Family House on Taylor Street in San Francisco.
The first Bourn family home in San Francisco was at Third and Brannan Streets (the house no longer exists) and their second home was at 1105 Taylor Street. After their last child was born in 1868, Bourn Sr. gave his wife, Sarah Chase Bourn, a house and vineyard in St. Helena, known as Madroño. Following the accidental death of son Frank in San Francisco in 1872, the family spent most of their time at Madroño.
William Bowers Bourn II & Agnes Moody Bourn
William Bowers Bourn II was born in San Francisco on May 31, 1857 at his parents’ home on Third and Brannan Streets. He grew up in and around San Francisco, attending Bates School and the college of St. Augustine (an Episcopal military academy in Benicia). In 1874, at the age of 61, Bourn Sr. died suddenly from an accidental gunshot wound at the Taylor Street home. William’s mother, Sarah, took control of the family investments and in the following year young William went to England to attend Cambridge University and travel throughout Europe.
William Bowers Bourn II in 1881 at the age of 24.
In 1878 a crisis occurred at the Empire Mine when the mine bottomed out at the 1200-foot level with all visible ore exhausted. Three well-known engineers declared the prospects grim. At age 21, William returned to California to take over the management of the Empire Mine as well as the vineyards at Madroño.
William, with his cousin, George Starr (age 19), a mining engineer, commenced further exploration of the mine. At the 1700-foot level an even richer vein of gold was discovered two years later and Bourn’s continuing financial success was assured. Starr has been called a mining genius.
Mrs. Agnes Moody Bourn.
In 1881 William married Agnes Moody in New York. The Bourn and Moody families were friends.
In 1888-1889 Bourn built the great Greystone Winery in St. Helena, one of the largest stone wineries in the world. In 1890 Bourn became president of the San Francisco Gas Company, and in 1896 he and Agnes built a home at 2550 Webster Street on the hill above the company offices. They also built a summer home, the Empire Cottage, at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley. Willis Polk, a longtime friend and hunting companion, was the architect for both houses.
Bourn House on Webster St in San Francisco, CA.
In 1908 Bourn purchased the Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied water to the city of San Francisco, and became president of the company. Bourn, like his father, had become a very successful investment banker.
After the great earthquake in 1906, wealthy San Francisco families moved to the Peninsula and built large expensive homes. From 1908, until the Bourns moved to Filoli in 1917, they rented Ski Farm (named after a man with the surname Poniatowski, but over time became known as Sky Farm) on the Crocker property, adjacent to Crystal Springs Lake in San Mateo. During this time, Bourn often took his family to Europe and while on an Atlantic crossing in 1906, his daughter Maud met Arthur Rose Vincent of Summerhill, Cloonlara in County Clare, Ireland.
Maud Bourn (Daughter of William Bowers Bourn II and Agnes Moody Bourn).
Maud and Arthur Rose Vincent were married March 30, 1910, at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in San Mateo, followed by the wedding reception at Sky Farm. The couple spent two weeks of their honeymoon in California (part of it at the Empire Cottage), and then embarked on a three-month tour of Europe and Egypt. As an assistant judge for the British Foreign Office, Arthur was to be stationed in Zanzibar, however with the encouragement of Maud and the Bourns, he resigned his post during this time. In November 1910, Bourn purchased Muckross House and its surrounding 11,000 acres on the Lakes of Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland for their daughter and new son-in-law. Bourn immediately began plans for developing the gardens at Muckross and continued to be involved in the property’s maintenance and upkeep. The Bourns were frequent visitors to Muckross and became enamored with the beautiful Irish country setting.
Because of its similarity to the country setting of Muckross, the Bourns wanted to have an estate built along Crystal Springs Lake, on land owned by the Spring Valley Water Company. Even though Bourn was the president of the company, a law forbade private ownership of the public domain property that supplied water to the city of San Francisco. So the Bourns commissioned their attorney to find land available for purchase as close as possible to the lake.
Mr. William Bowers Bourn II at Filoli during construction, 1917.
In 1915 Bourn purchased 1,800 acres at the southern end of Crystal Springs Lake from E. A. Husing of San Mateo. The property fronted a line which is today Cañada Road and extended west to the top of the mountain ridge along Skyline Boulevard. The Bourn family retained 715 acres of this land from the easternmost creek to the top of the mountain for their estate, and sold the remaining acreage to the Spring Valley Water Company. Cañada Road at that time ran through the estate’s property, so the Bourns obtained permission to move the road to the east of the property where it is today.
Mr. Bourn chose the name Filoli for their country estate from the first two letters of the words: FIGHT – LOVE – LIVE. The origin and meaning of the name was a mystery that tantalized their friends for a long time. It was their fancy that it remain so, but Bourn’s right-hand man, Sam Eastman, president of the Spring Valley Water Company, finally found the solution. FI – LO – LI, Fight, Love, Live. To fight for a just cause; to love your fellow man; to live a good life was a credo that Bourn believed in.
Willis Polk was asked to be the architect of the country estate. The construction of the house began in 1915 and the Bourns took occupancy in the fall of 1917 before the House was completed. Mr. Bourn always referred to this as a home for Mrs. Bourn.
Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II
at Filoli (last known photo).
In August of 1921 William Bourn had a severe stroke while at the Empire Mine. In October, 1922 he had another paralyzing stroke, also at the Empire Mine, and from this time on he was confined to a wheelchair. Bourn was a proud man and disliked having anyone see him in a wheelchair, so the gardeners were instructed to stay out of his sight when he was wheeled through the Filoli garden. He enjoyed being taken to the High Place at the top of the Yew Allée where he would have the best view of Crystal Springs Lake. A series of nature trails were developed on the property to the south, which Mr. Bourn frequented. They still exist today.
In 1922 Mrs. Bourn founded the Hillsborough Garden Club, which became a member of the Garden Club of America in 1929. She often held an open house for her friends for tea any afternoon they wished to join her at Filoli. Tea was served in the Reception Room during cool weather and on the Dining Room Terrace in warm weather.
In 1924 Bourn built a Spanish style house designed by George Washington Smith in Pebble Beach on the 17-Mile Drive for his daughter Maud Vincent. Asilo was the name given to that house. Smith is best known for his work in Santa Barbara where he designed several Spanish revival style buildings.
Maude Bourn Vincent with daughter Elizabeth Rose Vincent (Rosie).
On February 12, 1929, following an Atlantic crossing en route to California with her two children to visit her ailing father, Maud Vincent died in New York City of pneumonia. Her body was brought across country by train to Filoli and she was buried in a cemetery created on top of a small knoll to the west overlooking the House and valley. At the time the gravesite was chosen, the view to the lake was clear and the hillside was bare of the many oaks and madrones that cover it today.
After the death of his daughter, Mr. Bourn gradually retired from the business world. The Empire Mine was sold to the Newmont Mining Corporation, and a year later the Spring Valley Water Company was sold to the City of San Francisco.
In 1932, finding the management and expense of the Muckross estate too difficult and too expensive, the Bourns and their son-in-law, Arthur Vincent, presented Muckross House and the surrounding 11,000 acres of land to the Irish Nation as a memorial to Maud Bourn Vincent. The estate became the first national park in Ireland. Visited by thousands of tourists each year, the house and surrounding gardens are known as the Bourn-Vincent Memorial Park and the estate is known as the Killarney National Park.
Mrs. Bourn was taken ill in 1932 with diabetes and was confined to her bedroom at the north end of the house. Parties and balls, hosted by Mr. Bourn’s sisters, continued to be held at Filoli for the Bourns’ friends, even though neither Bourn attended.
November 24, 1933 was the last dinner party given by the Bourns at Filoli. The Drunks Dinner was to celebrate the repeal of the 18th Amendment, with Mr. Bourn’s sister, Ida, acting as hostess. The Bourns remained in their rooms upstairs.
Mrs. Bourn died at Filoli on January 3, 1936 at the age of 75 and six months later, on July 5, William Bowers Bourn II died at Filoli at age 79. Both Agnes and William Bourn were buried in the cemetery on the knoll overlooking the House and valley, with Maud and their infant son, whose grave had been moved to the site. In 1981 their granddaughter Elizabeth Rose was buried in the family plot. The Bourn family still owns the five-acre burial plot. A copy of a Celtic cross at Muckross Abbey stands on the knoll with the words Fight, Live and Live carved on its base. The first live was undoubtedly a mistake.
William Matson & Lillie Low Matson
Lurline Berenice Matson Roth was the only child of Captain William Matson, founder and President of the Matson Navigation Company, and Lillie Low Matson. William Matson, born in Sweden, came to New York in 1863 as a cabin boy at age 14. Working his way up in the maritime world, he arrived in San Francisco after a trip around Cape Horn in 1867. His first job in this area was on a two-masted coal scow. During this time he sailed and, later, piloted ships on the West Coast.
In 1882 he bought his first ship called Emma Claudina, named for the daughter of Claus Spreckles who loaned his part of the finances for the ship. William Matson, now a Master Mariner, built his first ship in 1887, the 400-ton brigantine he named Lurline (the name comes from Lorelei, a mythical siren who lured sailors to their deaths), and sailed it as a supply ship between San Francisco and Hilo, Hawaii.
In 1888 Lillie Low, traveling to Hilo to teach in the missionary school, sailed on the Lurline and met the ship’s captain, William Matson. After teaching a year in Hawaii, Lillie married Captain Matson in Hawaii in May, 1889. In September, 1890, Lurline Berenice, named for her father’s ship, was born in San Francisco.
Lurline Matson Roth & William P. Roth
After Lurline was born, Captain Matson did not command a ship again, but the family often traveled on the Matson ships to Hawaii, staying there for a month or more at a time. During one of these trips, Lillie and Lurline created the Matson Navigation Company flag from old signal flag pieces; the design is a circle with a large M surrounded by seven stars depicting the seven ships then in the fleet.
William P. Roth and Lurline Matson Roth.
Captain Matson continued to expand the Matson Navigation Company, initiating the first ship with electricity, the first with cold storage, the first with a radio, and the first powered by steam. He was one of the founders of the Honolulu Oil Corporation.
The family bought a house near Mills College where they spent summers, and they would rent a house in San Francisco for the winter months. Lurline commuted to the city with her father to attend Miss Hamlin’s, a private girl’s school, studying music and art. Captain Matson valued Lurline as a companion and confidante even when she was a child. He loved horses, was an accomplished rider, and often took Lurline to horse auctions and amateur trotting races.
Although indulgent, Lurline remembers her father as strict and straight-laced. In 1913 when Lurline met Bill Roth, a young stockbroker in Honolulu, Captain Matson was very much against the match and delayed the engagement, sending Lurline and Lillie abroad. But Lurline persisted, and she and William Roth were married in 1914. Bill Roth sold his brokerage business and went to work as a secretary for Matson Navigation Company in San Francisco. He worked to advance and was named secretary-treasurer in 1916.
In October 1916, Captain William Matson died at age 67. After his death, Bill Roth was named general manager and vice president of Matson Navigation Company.
Bill and Lurline lived in San Francisco. Their son, William Matson Roth, was born in September 1916. Identical twins, Lurline and Berenice, named for their mother’s first and middle names, were born in 1921.
In 1924 Lillie Low Matson purchased Why Worry Farm in Woodside for her daughter’s family as a summer home and lived with them until her death. Why Worry Farm was a comfortable place for the family and had ample acreage and stabling for Mrs. Roth’s horses.
Mrs. Roth started a show stable buying a five-gaited horse, a three-gaited horse, a Standardbred road horse, a Hackney horse, a Hackney pony and a jumper and hired a trainer. She competed her horses nationally every year, except during World War II when she devoted most of her time to Red Cross work. Lurline’s favorites were the stallion Chief of Longview, a gift from her mother in 1925 and considered the greatest show horse of all time, and Sweetheart on Parade, a mare who was the winner of two consecutive world championships, purchased a few years later. Both were five-gaited American Saddlebred horses.
During the 1920s, the Matson Navigation Company, under Edward Tenney as President and Bill Roth as Vice President, expanded significantly, acquiring subsidiary companies, building super-freighters and building the 16-story Matson Building in San Francisco. The first of the Matson’s hotels was built in 1927 – The Royal Hawaiian.
After Tenney’s death in 1927, Bill Roth was named President. In the 1930s, under Roth’s leadership, the Company built its fleet of luxury cruise ships and expanded into the hotel business in Hawaii. Four luxury passenger ships – the Malolo (later christened the Matsonia), Mariposa, Monterey and Lurline – were added to the fleet. New hotels – the Surfrider, Moana and the Princess Kailani – were built by the Matson Company. (These hotels were sold to the Sheraton Corporation in 1955.)
In 1937 the Roths purchased Filoli and its furnishings from the Bourn estate, selling excess furnishings at auction in San Francisco. Keeping Why Worry Farm for the stabling and tending of the horses, the family moved in to Filoli. At age 19, young Bill, although already at college, had the suite of rooms off the main staircase landing. The twins’ bedroom had an adjoining sitting room. Because the twins had a wonderful screened-in sleeping porch at Why Worry Farm, Mrs. Roth had an upstairs porch at Filoli enclosed for them. However, because it was directly over the noisy kitchen and overlooked the garage, the sleeping porch was rarely used. It later was used as an aviary for Mrs. Roth’s many caged birds. (The porch enclosure has since been removed.)
Filoli was very much a family home for the Roths and their three children. The debut party of the twins on their eighteenth birthday in September 1939 was one of many memorable balls at Filoli. Other grand occasions included Berenice’s wedding and reception in September 1941 (Filoli’s only wedding), and Lurline’s wedding reception in November 1943.
At Filoli Mrs. Roth took a great interest in her garden. She ordered seeds, kept records of everything she planted and began adding new plants to the gardens. Bella Worn, who worked with the Bourns on the original selection of plants for the gardens, came out of semi-retirement to work with Mrs. Roth and continued to come to Filoli weekly until just before her death at age 81 in 1950. Some of Mrs. Roth’s favorite new acquisitions were magnolias, maples, roses, rhododendrons and camellias. She filled the house with arrangements of flowers from the gardens and plants from the greenhouses, a tradition that continues today.
Mr. Roth loved walking through the garden each morning before work, talking with Louis Mariconi, the head gardener, and getting the first bloom for his lapel. He loved to cook and especially to barbecue for the family.
Roth had a minor stroke in 1943. In 1946 the swimming pool was added for his exercise and rehabilitation, and quickly became a favorite summer gathering spot. Designed and developed by Mrs. Roth and Bella Worn to fit into the overall garden plan, the pool and its surrounding plantings seem today to have been part of the original design.
Bill Roth continued to have small strokes. In 1945 he was named Chairman of the Board of Matson Navigation Company. He retired from the company in 1962 and died in 1963 at age 83.
During these years the twins would come to Filoli with their own families on Thursdays and Sundays for dinner and to stay the night. Grandchildren played in the upstairs hall, using bolsters for horse jumps and the basement and attic for hide-and-seek.
All of the Roth family rode, and the children had horses from the time they were very young. At Filoli each member of the family had a trail horse or pony (often a Christmas present from Mrs. Roth) for local riding.
Mrs. Roth made the Filoli Garden known worldwide and hosted many distinguished visitors, including botanical and horticultural societies, garden clubs and other organizations. In 1973 Mrs. Roth was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the Garden Clubs of America for her achievements as a collector.