cake and culture: Filoli estate, San Mateo County

by Stevie on August 16, 2011

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What could be better than a surprise day trip?

John and I standing a the entrance to the Filoli mansion

John and I standing a the entrance to the Filoli mansion

soaking up the sun in the Sunken Garden

soaking up the sun in the Sunken Garden

We’ve a super good friend, John, who told us to free up Saturday for an all-day extravaganza. He didn’t say a thing about our destination until we were riding in his huge Ford SUV on I-280 South of San Francisco. Then he asked the following question:

What started on January 12, 1981 that became a huge gay popular culture icon?

If you’re thinking of the brilliant eighties TV drama, Dynasty, you’d be right! (I guessed it right off the bat.) Turns out the Filoli mansion is the famous Carrington residence that’s featured in the opening credits of that marvelous series. John played the theme music several times on our way to visit the estate. You can see and hear it here:

rear view of the mansion

rear view of the mansion

Filoli grand stairway  Can't you just imagine Crystal Carrington coming down those stairs in a white evening gown with huge shoulder pads

Filoli grand stairway Can't you just imagine Crystal Carrington coming down those stairs in a white evening gown with huge shoulder pads?


The great house also appeared in that classic seventies movie, Heaven Can Wait, with Warren Beatty. Wow! I had no idea.

Development of the estate began after the famous 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. The fabulously wealthy Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II made a fortune from the Empire Gold Mine, which they owned outright. The historical film at the Filoli Visitors Center estimated that the mine produced about $120 million in gold, and this was a hundred years ago, when money really meant something. These people were loaded and liked to spend. For example, Mr. Bourn purchased an Irish estate, Muckross, for his daughter, Maud, in 1910, for her wedding present. Apparently he liked it so well, that he had Filoli designed in a similar way.

The mansion is huge and filled with fascinating furniture and art. The 16 acres of gardens are in the English style. They were overflowing with flowers when we visited, and many of the fruit trees were bearing. We broke the rules and sampled some pears, apples and really intensely good peaches directly from the Fruit Garden. Wonderful!

The gardens are divided into many different areas with charming walls separating them. We especially liked the Knot Garden which had lots of native California plants and flowering herbs growing in intricate patterns. The Sunken Garden was glowing with hundreds of bright orange zinnias. In the Woodlands Garden, the hush of the greenery was so soothing, I felt as if I’d entered an enchanted place.

The Library at Filoli

The Library at Filoli

Butler's Pantry at Filoli

Butler's Pantry at Filoli

massive stove at Filoli

massive stove at Filoli

The mansion itself is quite stunning. In one room, the Study, there’s a massive safe hidden in the wall where Mr. Bourn would store bags of gold! The Roths, who purchased Filoli in the nineteen-thirties, converted it into a wine cellar. I was hard-pressed to decide which would be better to have in my home: a safe full of gold or full of wine? Hmmm. Tough choice: what would you pick?

The building had inhabitants through the mid-seventies, so the furniture and appliances are sort of a mix of several decades. I especially enjoyed all the paintings, oversized ceramics from Asia, various collections of fine China, and the Library, full of stunning built-in bookcases. The house has a grand staircase that apparently featured in the TV show and the movie. Oddly, the very informative brochure fails to mention the history of Filoli in Hollywood.

relaxing in the Rose Garden

relaxing in the Rose Garden

the Knot Garden

the Knot Garden

romantic entrance to the Woodland Garden

romantic entrance to the Woodland Garden

the enchanted Woodland Garden

the enchanted Woodland Garden

TIME BEGAN IN A GARDEN

TIME BEGAN IN A GARDEN

view of the Wedding Place

view of the Wedding Place

sycamores at the edge of the Bowling Green

sycamores at the edge of the Bowling Green

The name is peculiar: Filoli. Apparently, it comes from Mr. Bourn’s credo, “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.”

The house, formal gardens and surrounding acreage were donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975 “so that future generations could enjoy its timeless beauty” according to the pamphlet that came with the self-guided tour. More cynically, I suspect that the Roths couldn’t bear the idea of maintenance. The mansion had a musty smell that I associate with an aging structure. Plus, we didn’t see any electric outlets in the great house. Can you imagine living in a place without computer access? Ugh.

After our lovely stroll through the house and the many spectacularly lovely gardens, we needed something sweet to tide us through until our late lunch. The café at Filoli had lots of interesting cakes, cookies and various savory dishes. But what could be better than iced cookies in the shape of ladybugs and bumblebees? These were darling to look at and unlike many I’ve tried before, were perfectly fresh. To me, the art of the playful cookies complemented the stunning grandeur of Filoli.

eye catching zinnias

eye catching zinnias

purple hydrangea

purple hydrangea

wild turkies in the Medow

wild turkies in the Medow

succulent peaches growing in the Fruit Garden

succulent peaches growing in the Fruit Garden

playful sugar cookies

playful sugar cookies

This is a hidden gem, well worth the short ride from the City. You should consider a visit next time you’re in town.

close up of a mulberry tree in the Fruit Garden

close up of a mulberry tree in the Fruit Garden

cheery daisies seeking the sunshine

cheery daisies seeking the sunshine

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

purabi naha August 16, 2011 at 3:07 am

Loved the pictures! The gardens and the flower pics look incredible!! Enjoyed the post thoroughly!!

Devaki @ weavethousandflavors August 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

All of a sudden I am feeling my age! I loved watching Dynasty growing up…gotta love Crystal 🙂
The estate is stunning and I loved seeing those pics of you Stevie! What fun!

chow 🙂 Devaki @ weavethousandflavors
Devaki @ weavethousandflavors recently posted..Got Cake? Bread, Grape & Rosemary Tea CakeMy Profile

Heavenly Housewife August 16, 2011 at 7:16 am

What a stunning estate! I especially love the gardens. I would have hours of fun there, picking fruit that did not belong to me and chasing scared turkeys (Thanksgiving is just around the corner LOL). Amazing post, I really loved this!
*kisses* HH
Heavenly Housewife recently posted..Hotel des Saints-Peres, ParisMy Profile

OysterCulture August 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm

What an awesome post, I pass by the exit for this place regularly but have not visited yet, nor did I have any idea of the history. What a fun read!
OysterCulture recently posted..Long Lines and French PastriesMy Profile

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