Last weekend, I visited Filoli, a Northern Californian turn-of-last-century estate. Well-known, much-visited, somehow I’d never made the trip. A reader of this blog was living temporarily on the Peninsula. We’d chatted about local things to do, and before she left she was kind enough to suggest, “How about Filoli, together?”
It’s pronounced Figh-Low-Lee, by the way, after the first words in original owner William Bowers Bourn’s motto, “Fight, Love, Live.” Built in 1917, sited on 654 acres, now part of a land trust, it’s a wonderful, wonderful place. We started in the kitchen. Resurfacing my love for glass-fronted cabinets.
To say nothing of crystal sconces, in the hallway. Are they ever a bad idea?
You can see more of the interiors here. But the ballroom sent me into a fugue state of sorts.
I stood looking at the murals, the gilt, and the parquet floors, for a few minutes, seeing but not seeing. Then I turned and exclaimed to my companion, “Ah, I used to have recurrent dreams!”
Why? The photo below is where my father lived, decades ago, in the summertime. Called Wendover, the house was built in 1905 by my great grandfather, Walter P. Bliss, for his wife Katharine Bliss née Baldwin. Katharine, who went by B. in the High WASP nickname tradition, remained there after Walter died. One of her daughters, Sibyll Carnochan née Bliss, eventually returned to live at Wendover as well, along with her husband, Gouverneur Morris Carnochan, and my father.
It was a big place.
I told my tolerant companion that several years back I had a series of dreams in which I was walking through a mansion. Up three flights of a long mahogany staircase, to a ballroom. High-ceilinged, gilt, parquet-floored, gorgeous. But the first few steps are dangerous. The room starts to shake. The visitor turns in a circle, trying to see everything before the collapse, no use, the house is falling down.
Whether I actually ever saw a ballroom at Wendover is unclear. My father says that one existed, but was unused even during his years, except to host another Bliss daughter’s wedding. I was 9 or 10 when the estate was sold. But, as my companion pointed out, I live in earthquake country, I dream of past family holdings, well, things don’t get much more explicit.
My father wrote a memoir, here, with a far more coherent, real-life narrative. I only dreamed it.
Let’s return to Filoli. The house integrates beautifully into its surroundings. From side entries,
to wrought iron gates, farther afield. Serious geometry, recreational curves.
The courtyard flower beds extend the theme of lavish restraint.
Up close, Filoli’s gardens are lush, colorful, profuse. From the containers,
to the beds,
to the ponds. A pansy fell onto a lilypad, evidently.
My favorite part of Filoli’s gardens is the long views.
I do remember Wendover’s pool, and the lawn. We must gone to swim, one day in my childhood. These clouds hovered over Filoli.
The vista. Not the place itself, but what you can see from there. Which is sort of how I feel about wealth, or aspire to feel. Were I to rename this blog, I’d call it Sightlines.
If you come to Silicon Valley, or San Francisco, or even the California coast, do visit. There’s a cafe where you can eat lunch or have cake, and the live peacock may display its tail. We’ll leave the resonant imagery at that.
Credit for image at top to David McSpadden, on Flickr. Do we find the affiliate link to my father’s book ironic, or fitting? George P. Bliss, the founder of the Bliss fortune, made his first money in dry goods, after all.
Correction: It was Sibyll Bliss Carnochan who was sometimes called B. In the ways of High WASPs, even we get mixed up.