Filoli Historic House and Garden offers an escape to the past

For more than a century, the Filoli Historic House and Garden has been nestled in the mountains of the San Francisco Peninsula, offering an escape from a world that has grown and changed around it. 

It takes a while to meander through the area. 

"We have 16 acres of formal gardens, " said CEO Kara Newport. 

The gardens vary from the sunken garden to the walled garden. There are countless spots to sit and enjoy the beauty. Visitors can walk through its nature preserve or explore the grove of olive trees. 

This 654-acre estate feels like a stroll back through time.  

"All the walkways are the same, some of the plantings may have changed," said Newport, "but a lot of them are the same as well. It's a magical place where you come and you feel like you've come really far away. It’s an escape and it's beautiful." 

Filoli has deep Bay Area roots.  

William Bowers Bourn, a San Francisco native, built Filoli as his retirement home in 1917. He had made his fortune in gold, wine, and eventually utilities 

"One of Mr. Bourn's main causes was water, so we are on the end of Crystal Springs Reservoir," explained Newport, "and so it was really important to him to create a public water system that the public could have access to. The public utility corporation was his company originally and now it’s where water for San Francisco comes from, so he really helped create that system and that system still exists today."  

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He sold the estate to the Roth family 20 years later, who then gave it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. It has been a public property since, and yet in many ways, it has stayed a hidden gem through the years. 

Visitor Susan Vaughan said she has known about Filoli for years. "I've lived here forever and I've seen the sign driving up 280 and I've never really considered it until now and I am glad we are here." 

Filoli welcomes 300,000 visitors a year, to see both the house and the gardens.

Debbie Lewis drove from Santa Cruz with her friends and said the walk up was striking, "I just came up to the house and was like ‘it’s pretty impressive.'"  

While it feels like time has stopped when walking into the 54,000-square-foot house with its 56 rooms, the smell of fresh flowers around the house is a reminder that there is still work being done. 

"It's a hundred-year-old working estate," said Newport. "We still do productions and this fall we'll have our orchard days where you can go into the orchard and drink the hard cider that we produce."

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They also produce jellies and all kinds of honey. 

"That's one of the founding principles that this estate was created, so it could feed everyone who worked here and the community," said Newport. "That's still one of our principles that we carry."

Visitors come to see the changing flowers every season. At night, music plays for concerts, and people stroll on through gardens during art walks and wine weekends. It is currently a peak time for the rose garden.  

Now more than ever, the mix of past and present offers visitors something quiet in these difficult times. 

"A lot of people came here for refuge and respite and recovery emotional and physical," said Newport, "so we really provided that safe space." 

The home that William Bowers Bourn built to be his personal escape has become an escape for others in 2021. 

Maybe it is because more than a century later, the spirit of Filoli has proven to be timeless.   

"Our founder named Filoli after his credo," explains Newport, "which is fight for a just cause, love your fellow man and live a good life, fight love live, Filoli."  

The credo has a new meaning today. 

"With everything that happened in 2020", said Newport, "from the pandemic to social justice causes the credo really began to mean more to our staff and to our diversity and inclusion work and that was really important to us to think about what that just cause is today."