Stepping Back in Time at Filoli

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Strolling Filoli’s beautiful gardens, early jazz tunes playing in the background and dressed in art deco-era attire you’re easily transported back in time.

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It’s a treat that comes once a year, at the great house’s Step Back in Time event. The majestic location coupled with the volunteers “downstairs” period dress gives a particular Downton Abbey feel to the evening.

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There is magic in the air as you greet others and marvel at their creative costumes. While most are just beautiful period dress others evoke actual characters, I spied a military officer, an equestrian, among others.

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The gardens are simply exquisite and there are imaginative sculptures everywhere. The elegant simplicity of Jeff Owen’s Protea and the Richard Stark’s Lock and Key were particularly appealing.


Walking along the reflecting pool I was stuck by the beauty all around me. Filoli is a special place indeed. Even sans period clothes it would harken back to anther, more gracious, time.


The house tour beckoned me and I somewhat reluctantly left the garden. The house itself is as grand as you would expect, having starred as in quite a few movies including: Heaven Can Wait and The Game. It has many small screen credits as well, including the opening sequence for the 1980s soap hit Dynasty.


filoli dining room


filoli’s hidden wine cellar!


filoli grand ballroom

I love that the estate has a sailing connection too. Filoli was originally built by William Bower Bourn II, but the second owners were Mr. and Mrs. William Roth of Matson Shipping fame. Matson was founded by Captain William Matson, who in 1882 sailed his three-masted schooner “Emma Claudina” from San Francisco to Hawaii in 13 days. In fact, Matson operated sailing ships exclusively from 1882 to 1901 and only retired the last of its 24 sailing ships in 1926.


Matson is also a longtime sponsor of the Pacific Cup, the transpacific yacht race out of San Francisco.


The sample Matson menus in the kitchen brought back fond memories of traveling via tramp steamer in my youth. For those not familiar, there is a special romantic character to traveling this way and the food is, or at least was, quite wonderful.

I learned they didn’t just include steamer fare, but rather their cruise line of the 1930s. In the 20s Matson espanded into travel tourism, created an upscale passenger line to Hawaii and hotels there, including the iconic Royal Hawaiian. Mrs. Roth, Captain Matson’s daughter, made Filoli her home until 1975 when she donated 125 acres, which included the house and formal garden, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The remaining acreage was given to Filoli Center, which operates the property. A special nod should be given to Mr. Bourn for building such an amazing estate. I especially like how he arrived at its unusual name. He combined the first two letters from the key words of his credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”

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