“Filoli is too beautiful to be private.”—Lurline Roth
In 1975, Lurline Matson Roth gifted her beloved Filoli House and Garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. One year later, Filoli, located at 85 Canada Road, Woodside, California, opened to the public. It remains open to this day.
The Bourn and Roth Families
William Bourn (1857–1936) was a leading investor in the Empire gold mine in Grass Valley, the San Francisco Gas and Electric Company, and the Spring Valley Water Company in San Francisco. A brilliant and successful entrepreneur, William envisioned the Filoli estate, naming it after the verbs in his personal motto: “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.”
William and his wife, Agnes, moved into Filoli when it was completed in 1917. “There,” William stated, “I hope to grow young.”
The daughter and heiress of shipping magnate William Matson, Lurline Roth lived at Filoli for over 30 years. She and her husband, William P. Roth, president of the Matson Navigation Company, purchased the Filoli estate in 1937 after William and Agnes Bourn passed away.
The Roths kept Filoli as a country retreat for themselves, their 21-year-old son, and their 17-year-old twin daughters.
Thanks to William Bourn’s original vision, Lurline Roth’s insightful additions, and the National Trust’s preservation, the Filoli House and Garden remain an alluring destination for visitors near and far.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Filoli House is one of the few remaining country estates of the early 20th century. The house is a 54,000-square-foot, Georgian revival-style mansion. Only the first floor is open to visitors, though in the future they hope to open the second floor as well.
The house was empty of art and furniture when Lurline Roth gifted it to the national trust. However, over the years, many of the original furnishings were donated back by the Bourn and Roth families as well as a private collector.
It is a pleasure to walk through and get a glimpse of the past. In some rooms, audio has been added, so visitors can imagine former occupants having a tea party in the drawing room, for instance, or staff preparing meals in the kitchen.
Visitors can walk through the mansion on a self-guided tour. There are no longer docents within the house to answer questions. That is unfortunate, as signage about specific pieces is limited.
There are, however, many signs throughout the house and garden explaining the importance of water. There is a temporary exhibit called “Blue Gold: The Power & Privilege of Water.”
Judging by the number of people wandering among the flowers and trees, it seems that most visitors come to Filoli to see the gardens.
Besides the terraces around the house, the gardens include a 6.8-acre “gentleman’s garden” and a 16-acre English renaissance garden. The renaissance garden is divided into many “rooms” with different thematic plantings. One of the latest additions is the vegetable garden.
On Aug. 5 this year, Filoli opened its newly renovated vegetable garden. It had been closed to the public for 40 years. Over the last few years, however, the trust raised enough funds to add a drip-irrigation system and general improvements to make the garden accessible to the public.
Visitors can pick up design ideas for garden plots and, from the signs scattered throughout, learn about different vegetables common to ethnic communities.
Filoli’s gardens are seasonal. Acres of tulips and daffodils bloom in spring, 500 rosebushes blossom in summer, and fall colors glow in autumn. In the winter, the house and gardens are lit and decorated for Christmas.
“You can’t help but be charmed with it—the garden, the view, the mountains, everything about it,” Lurline Roth said about Filoli in a 1980–1981 interview, according to the book “Matson and Roth Family History: A Love of Ships, Horses, and Gardens.”
The Estate Trail
If you have time, do not miss the one-mile estate trail. It is maintained, though not completely wheelchair accessible. The self-guided loop trail takes walkers across the San Andreas Fault, through oak woodlands and redwood stands, to a nature center, to a barn and stable area, and back through cultivated grasslands.
It is a beautiful, crowd-free walk. Educational signage is sprinkled tastefully throughout.
If You Go
Filoli is open every day of the year except major holidays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (their website is not up to date on holiday closures). Separate tickets are also available through Sept. 22 for their Thursday evening “summer nights,” when Filoli is open from 5 to 8 p.m.
Picnics are allowed at designated sites; there is also the Quail Café, which serves prepackaged but tasty food.
Tickets are sold via their online reservation system and checked at outdoor kiosks. You can try calling 650-364-8300 for more information, but please note that your call will likely go to voicemail and may not be returned. They seem to be understaffed in that area.
Filoli is going through some reopening pains after the pandemic, but it is definitely a place worth visiting. For more information, visit their website: filoli.org.