Mr and Mrs.Bourn at Filoli

The day was gray and windy. The wind pushed Daniel’s car around the highway like a rag doll. Our wet and windy drive down the two-eighty(280) reminded me of my Oregon roots. It felt nostalgic to be encompassed by grey and drenched by rain. Mary reiterated this feeling of nostalgia by calling our attention to the similarities between our northern California coastal environment and the environment of Ireland. How closely related our climate is to that of Ireland’s is the primary reason The Bourns chose Woodside California as the home of Filoli. The site with its temperate climate and rolling hills offered Mr.Bourn a sense of nostalgic similarity to Muckross, the estate in Ireland that he loved so much. When Mr. Bourn was no longer able to travel to Ireland, he commissioned paintings of his beloved Muckross to be done in the ballroom of Filoli, These were executed by Bruce Porter.

Porter was in the same social strata and a close friend to the Bourn’s. He is also credited with the landscape design at Filoli, a thoughtful mix of Georgian and English garden styles. Filoli’s gardens are free from Eastern garden design rules and regulations yet still employ some of their principles. Shakkei is a principle from Japanese garden design that deals with “borrowing landscape,” Porter employed this principle by designing the Santa Cruz mountains into his garden as a backdrop. Porter picked out enduring design elements and employed them in the service of his vision. Many of the designers involved in the execution of Mr.Bourn’s vision for Filoli “were taught to look to history for lasting design elements.” (Pg.1 Bruce Porters Hidden Legacy, The Sundial Times.)

We can see these enduring design elements clearly in the garden. I will focus on two of these elements, repetition and geometric symmetry, as seen in Filoili’s gradens. A portion of the garden is designed after the rose window at Chartres Cathedral. In this interpretation the colors of the stained glass have been painted with flowers. A rose window is an iconic example of geometric symmetry used in design. In rose windows the geometric symmetry is laid bare for the observer to see. Geometric symmetry is also used as an invisible underlying symmetry, adding structure to design without being visually depicted. Repetition can be seen in the garden as well. Entering the grounds you are met with countless Olive tree’s arranged along insinuated lines. The repetition creates a rhythm. This rhythm is carried throughout the garden with many trees and plants being used in multiples. Two of the trees chosen are the magnolia and the Irish Yew, By using these trees in multiples Porter is emphasizing their qualities and associations. The copious magnolia trees in bloom perfume the air with the delicate aroma of spring, smell is a sense strongly associated with memory. This smell might trigger a different memory for each guest to Filoli. The many Irish Yews ring a nostalgic call home to their motherland of Ireland that their new home was created to emulate. Repetition is used in the composition of gardens, music, art and prayer. Repetition creates emphasis.

An example of repetition and geometry in the garden design at Filoli

Rose Window at Chartres Catherdral

Filoli Timeline

1860-1920 Beaux Arts

greatly Influences American architecture

1877 William Bourn Jr. inherits the Empire Mine from his father. The Bourn’s fortune used to acquire Filoli was generated by this mine.

1880 – 1910 Height of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s influence

1882 Matson navigation Company Founded by Captain William Matson. This Company generated the capital used by the Roth’s to purchase Filoli.

1906 Much of San Francisco is destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent fire. Worries about seismic activity lead people with the means to build expensive houses down the peninsula away from San Francisco.

1910 Bourn acquired Muckross House and its surrounding 11,000 acres in Ireland for their daughter and new son-in-law. Mr. Bourn loved the Irish country side and chose Woodside California as the location for his new estate because of its similarity to the Irish weather and landscape.

1915 Construction of Filoli begins. The architects Willis Polk and Arthur Brown Jr. worked with Mr. Bourn to create the structures at Filoli. Filoli is an acronym for Mr. Bourn’s credo “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” It consists of the first two letters of Fight-live-love, FI-LO-LI

1917 Construction of Filoli complete.

1917-1922 Bruce Porter collaborates with the Bourns to create Filoli’s elaborate gardens.

1917-1936 One of the Bourne’s residencies during this time

1936 William and Anges Bourn pass away and the estate is sold to Mr. And Mrs. William P. Roth. The Roth’s owned Matson navigation Company. During the Roth’s stewardship of filoli the batanical gardens were built.

1975 Mrs.Roth donates Filoli to The National Trust for historic Preservation.


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