By John Berkery (from issue 5486)
A bout 25 miles south of San Francisco stands a magnificent mansion. It was built because of its connection with Muckross House in Killarney,
In 1770 the Herberts came to Killarney. They made their money in copper mining. In I839 work started on the building of Muckross House and was completed four years later. The architect was Wiliam Burn, a Scot who had been engaged by Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the water-colourist, Mary Balfour Herbert.
Queen Victoria stayed there in 1861. In preparation for the visit, the Herberts had various works carried out. They also extensively improved the gardens. Some time later they put the place up for sale, and it was suggested that the cost of the preparations for the royal visit had put a serious strain on the family finances.
Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness family purchased Muckross in 1899. He used the place primarily as an occasional residence.
Eleven years later William Bowers Bourn II, the owner of the Empire Mine, the largest gold mine in California, bought the place as a wedding gift to his daughter Maud. She married Arthur Rose Vincent. The Vincents and the Bourns loved Killarney and, when Maud died in 1929 of pneumonia, Vincent and the Bourns presented Muckross to the State in her memory.
It then became known as the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. In the 1970s, the park was considerably enlarged to about 25,000 acres, and it then became the magnificent Killarney National Park.
Arthur Rose Vincent was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1931 but resigned in 1934 because of illness. He died in 1956 and is buried in Killarney.
The Bourns decided to spend more time in California, and they acquired an estate of 654 acres. It lacked the rugged mountainous scenery of the McGillycuddy Reeks nor were there lakes to match the Lakes of Killarney, but in many other ways it reminded the Bourns of Kerry.
They engaged Willis Polk as the principal architect for the residence, and they employed different architects for other features. It is said that Polk was instructed to use Muckross House as a model.
The mansion was built between 1915 and 1917. It has 43 rooms, excluding bathrooms and storerooms, and to say that some of the interiors are elegant is an understatement.
When the building neared completion, Polk asked Bruce Porter to lay out the estate and design the formal gardens which cover an area of 16 acres. Making use of the views of the mountains to the west, Porter came up with the idea of several gardens, each having its own character.
For 35 years until she died at 81, Bella Worn supervised the maintenance of the gardens. Bella was largely responsible for introducing a riot of colour.
To remind them of happy days in Ireland, the Bourns brought cuttings and shrubs, particularly yew trees, from Killarney, and Porter had them planted in Filoli. The yew trees proved to be a spectacular addition to the estate.
One of the main features of the mansion is the ballroom. On its walls are paintings and wallpapers illustrating such Killarney scenes as Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, Brickeen Bridge, Ladies’ View and Torc Waterfall.
William and Agnes Bourn died in 1936, and Filoli was then acquired by the Roths. This family had no connection with Ireland, but they realised that the Killarney scenes in the ballroom added considerably to the charm of the place. So to this day these scenes have been retained.
Mrs. Lurline Roth arranged to have the reflecting pool and screened-in teahouse constructed. The Wedding Place is one of the formal gardens. Berenice, Lurline’s daughter, was married there, and it was the only wedding ever at Filoli.
The Bourns and Vincent had made Muckross open to the public. Lurline did likewise with Filoli. It was handed over to the American National Trust for Historic Preservation and, ever since then, it has been administered by that body.
Hollywood film makers have made considerable use of Filoli house and gardens, and this is understandable. The capital of the film industry is not far away, and Filoli has so much to offer. The 1978 film Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie and James Mason, used parts of the estate as a backdrop for many scenes. Most memorably, Filoli is long-running television series Dynasty. ■