MAY, 2009, NEWSLETTER and NOTICEof May 28th Board of Directors & Members Meeting
3:30 PM, THURSDAY, MAY 28TH OUR MEETING WILL BE HELD AT THE CAROLANDS, 565 Remillard Drive, Hillsborough, CA. Meet in the Garden (directions enclosed). Wear comfortable walking shoes.
It took nearly a century, but the historic house on the highest hill in Hillsborough is finally as resplendent as intended. Thanks to the determination of its owners, Charles and Ann Johnson, and more than $20 million spent on restoration, the 98-room Carolands mansion has been saved from deterioration. A coffee-table book, "Carolands," and a documentary, "Three Women and a Chateau," also celebrate Ann Johnson’s efforts and the history of Carolands. Carolands is a California Historic Landmark, and it's on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the book: "Carolands was abandoned and neglected for many years, but through its recent restoration, it looks today much as it did when it was built -- making it a rarity among the houses of its class and era." Its history is filled with dreams of grandeur, disappointments and brushes with destruction. Around 1912, Harriett Pullman Carolan, heiress to the Pullman railroad-car fortune and a leader of the San Francisco social scene, decided to build a grand estate on more than 500 acres that she and her husband, Frank, owned in Hillsborough. Carolan, one of the wealthiest women in the nation, commissioned celebrated French architect Ernest Sanson to design the more than 65,000-square-foot house, landscape designer Achille Duchêne to design the grounds and San Francisco architect Willis Polk to supervise construction. Sanson's design reportedly was inspired by, but not a copy of, Vaux le Vicomte, a French 17th century chateau that was said to be the prototype for the Palace of Versailles.
Construction began in 1914 while Carolan was in Europe, where she had already bought three antique rooms in 1912. Sanson designed three spaces in the Carolands where these rooms -- complete with wall panels, ceiling, flooring and fixtures -- were installed. In the meantime, Carolan continued to buy furniture for her estate. She hoped that it would be ready in time for her to welcome friends visiting the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, but that was not to be. While construction continued, the Carolans ran into money problems that even an infusion of cash and stock from her mother, Hattie Pullman, couldn't alleviate. Consequently, the ballroom and most of the landscaping were not completed. The other work was essentially done in 1916. Carolan and a staff lived there for most of 1917, said Paul Price of Berkeley, an amateur historian who has studied the early history of Carolands for decades. However, the Carolans separated in 1917. Harriett Carolan closed Carolands and never lived there except for occasional visits, including a prolonged one in 1924, Price said. Frank Carolan died in 1923. Harriett Carolan married Col. Arthur Frederic Schermerhorn in 1925 and made a few trips to Carolands, the last in 1927.
Over the years, various owners sold off the grounds for subdivisions, so that by the late '40s, it was down to about 5.65 acres, its current size. In 1950 the estate was threatened with destruction, but Lillian Remillard Dandini, a countess by marriage and the owner of the Remillard family's Bay Area brick factories, bought it. She renamed it Chateau Remillard and opened it to parties and other events even though her marriage had ended. The guest list included celebrities Liberace, Hillsborough neighbor Bing Crosby, the Rev. Billy Graham and opera stars. She lived there for 23 years but ran out of money. The house deteriorated and by the time she died, in 1973 at age 93, she was living in just a few rooms. She willed the house to the town to be used as a cultural center, but she had included no money to support her gift, so the town sold it. Oil and real estate heiress Roz Franks bought it for $313,000 in 1976, according to Wikipedia, and lived there for about 17 months. She lost the title in 1979 after a legal battle with developer George Benny, and he lost it to foreclosure in 1982 after being indicted on racketeering charges.
In 1985, the empty house was a crime scene: A caretaker invited two teenage girls to tour the house, then sexually assaulted and stabbed them, one fatally. Escape Velocity Inc. bought the estate for $2.75 million in 1986. The town later rejected a proposal to remodel the mansion as a corporate think tank, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake inflicted some damage. Businessman Raymond Hung bought the estate in 1994 and thought about living there. Instead, he sold it to developer Kevin White in 1997. White proposed spending $20 million to convert it into 15 luxury condominiums. Doing so would require a change in Hillsborough's strict zoning ordinance, which prohibits commercial and multifamily development. White indicated that if the town didn't approve his request, the house would be torn down. Although the Johnsons have lived in Hillsborough since 1973, Ann Johnson had not been inside Carolands until 1991, when it was a designer showcase benefiting the Coyote Point Museum Auxiliary in San Mateo. Preparing for the showcase had required months of restoration work by D.J. Dowling Inc., a Redwood City contractor. In keeping with an agreement that the auxiliary had with Carolands' owner, Dowling made more repairs after the showcase. Johnson had no intention of buying the house then, but she changed her mind seven years later, in 1998, when the mansion was threatened with development or destruction. Restoring and furnishing the house took four years. The Johnsons finally occupied it in June 2002. The Johnsons have been married for 52 years. Charles Johnson serves as chairman of the board of Franklin Resources, the giant mutual fund company founded by his late father, Rupert Johnson Sr., and headquartered in San Mateo. Ann Johnson is a retired Burlingame psychiatrist with a specialty in psychopharmacology. Ann Johnson wants to establish a foundation with an endowment. One possibility she envisions is to use the mansion as a school where artists and architects could study the Beaux Arts style during short-term stays. She also hopes that it would be open to the public perhaps once a year, and "it should be used to have fundraisers," just as it is now, she said. It is now recognized as one of the great architectural masterpieces in America, a testament to the genius of those who designed, built and furnished it, and a tribute to the will, ingenuity and determination of those who cared for it and restored it.
President’s Message - Bill Applegate:
The Grass Valley trip was a wonderfully inspiring, learning, and bonding experience for all who participated, CHC members and new friends alike. A big vote of thanks again to John Hodges for a well put together weekend, and to Dianne Rowe for her untiring support.
The trip is in some ways pivotal to the CHC mission and future, as It brings to the fore our recognition of ongoing and visionary preservation/ repurposing projects such as the North Star Julia Morgan building. North Star is a “living communit y” heritage project in every sense, lead by a dedicated core group,and with broad local participation, including enthusiastic high school students and committed Boy Scouts doing their Eagle Scout projects. The involvement of several Grass Valley generations guarantees long term continuity and life for this inspiring heritage landmark restoration undertaking. As those of you who were present know North Star was voted on the spot to be on of the CHC 50th anniversay awardees.
One of the initiatives CHC is currently exploring for the future is the introduction of architectural school student interns at projects like North Star, with an eye to supporting these projects, and at the same time bring in new energy and fresh perspectives to help carry on the overall CHC tradition and mission. We can thank Chirs Layton for this excellent concept.
In North Star Julia Morgan introduced the then new and durable French ferro-cement construction method. So too the introduction of architectural interns into CHC’s plans could help shape and reinforce CHC’s launch into the next 50 years. There will be more on this and other exciting and innovative ideas at our next monthly meeting.
Our raft of 50th anniversary achievement and recognition awards speaks richly to every aspect of the CHC purpose and mission. The evening of 25 June at the St Francis Yacht Club should prove a most enjoyable event for all, awardees, CHC members and guests. This will be a great opportunity to introduce the best of CHC and its vision to prospective members. We look forward to seeing you and your prospective member guests there!
Our next monthly meeting is May 28 at the beautifully restored Carolands “Chateau” in Hillsborough thanks to the kind and generous hospitality of its owners Ann & Charles Johnson, and thanks also to Tony Aguirre who made the arrangements. See you there at 3:30 PM sharp.
Chair of the Board Remarks - John Hodges:
Long before there was an FDIC, banks went bust all the time. If you read the history of the old west or history of the US you know about the currency devaluations, the bogus land deals, the "salting of mines" with gold nuggets. There is even one story about lemons literally being tied to non-lemon trees to entice prospective ranch buyers. And it seems we are living through the same cycles of economic despair again only in modern times. Why are people so forgetful of Ralston and Sharon and the Bank of California for example? Yes I know it happened long ago. Oh well, I'll tell that story another time.
Life was lived at a pretty fast pace in the old West with the pioneers immersed in each new day. They just did not have the time to pause in the midst of plowing a field, discovering a mine, building a railroad or a city and cry out: "Wait! Don't let this get lost! Set it down on paper, preserve the records, establish the facts, write the biographies before the cast has left the stage and been scattered, capture the color of the new land before its riches are dissipated and its too late to document the story." And so many times the story vanishes as though it never happened!
And that folks is why we have a California Heritage Council to keep the stories alive. And that is why our June 25 Awards Dinner is so important. You all must come out for this event for all the right reasons. First of all CHC is the oldest of the historic preservation organizations in California and this is our 50th Year Anniversary! Man am I proud of you all!
Next, we will honor our friend and fellow Board member Redmond Kernan at the Awards Dinner. I can not express now we all felt about this beautiful man. Red lived for the preservation of his historic Presidio. The man was involved with so many aspects of our community that the Board of CHC feels compelled to honor his many contributions and we will on this special night.
Our dinner speaker for the evening is Ron Kaufman. Let me be clear and straightforward. You can talk preservation and you can walk preservation. This man has done both. Ron Kaufman today holds the record in San Francisco of more square footage of historic preserved architecture than any other individual past or present. Without his foresight and contribution the waterfront would not be as it is today. His insights will be very important to us all.
The Awards Committee under the leadership of Chris Layton have developed a very solid lineup of diverse Awards for 2009. This year we will be making more awards in celebration of our 50th Anniversary than usual. The Award set has been selected as representative of all we stand for and I know you will all be very pleased to hear their individual stories.
Lastly, let me report on the recent field trip to Grass Valley. Thirty six of you made the trip up the hill to visit the Empire Mine, the Bourn Cottage, the Owl Saloon, and the Julia Morgan North Star House Conservancy. The local Grass Valley folks turned out for us and, as the local newspaper reported on the front page about our visit, "Custodians of the 'masterpiece' get a nod from the Heritage Council." The paper of course is referring to Julia Morgan's first major residential commission, the North Star House. It is clear to me we have made a significant contribution helping this small community get its arms around a great local historic asset. Thank you to Dianne Rowe for logistics support on this very successful weekend.
And so we of CHC continue to tell the stories of the historic buildings and sites of the West before they vanish. Join us on June 25 and learn what President Bill Applegate will further propose for our next fifty years to honor the contributions of all Awardees both past and in 2009. By the way, thanks to Betty Ann Prien for hosting the reception at the beautiful Saint Francis Yacht Club.
(P.S.: For you history buffs, Ralston would have loved to join us at the SFYC, but Sharon would be way to busy in 1885 defending his name and the Bank of California in Court to attend, but as I said at the beginning....that's another story.)
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