Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Local Adventures- Villa Montalvo

In the last year, I've been spending a significant amount of time exploring locally and I've found that playing tourist among the familiar can be as much fun as being a tourist in other countries. I suppose it's all about "looking" in a new way, and the local adventures I've embarked on have been great fun!

One my favorite discoveries recently is Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, California. The property was once the country estate of James Duval Phelan (1861-1930), the first popularly elected Senator from California and three-time mayor of San Francisco. A native of San Francisco elite society, Phelan built this estate as a personal resort where he could hand-feed baby deer, entertain artists, and enjoy the restorative country air at the base of the Santa Cruz mountains. For me, Phelan's role as a leading patron of the arts in San Francisco and the Peninsula holds particular fascination, as does his desire to fashion a life that so clearly references European traditions. The architectural style of his country house was greatly influenced by Italian villas and formal gardens- such as the ones I visited in Tuscany. Learning more about Phelan, I can see why the aesthetic of the Tuscan villa and its broader implications of wealth and stature held appeal.

Construction on the Villa began in 1911 and by the Roaring Twenties Phelan was entertaining actors, actresses, a local Tennis star on whom he had a crush, opera singers, poets, and people in the community like the American Boy Scouts and local poetry teachers. Phelan's salon and the fresh air of the Saratoga mountains drew an interesting crowd including Gertrude Atherton, Edwin Markham and many others. Although the accommodations were quite out of way, Phelan drew high ranking government officials to the country, like the Attorney General and future president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and visiting European aristocrats. Walking where they walked and in such quiet, natural beauty is a rare pleasure in our technologically driven valley.

After Phelan's death, his beloved Montalvo was given to the community. In his will Phelan declares that he wants his country estate to be used as a public park and "as far as possible for the development of art, literature, music, and architecture by promising students." At first the property was managed by the San Francisco Art Association. However, after a brief period of neglect caused by a World War and the high cost of the property's upkeep, for which Phelan did not leave sufficient funds, the will was contested his heirs. In a remarkable feat, the people of the community rallied against the heirs and won an epic court battle in San Francisco. In 1953, the property was turned over to the local community in Saratoga. Following their victory in San Francisco, Saratoga's leading women launched new efforts to raise money and promote art, music, and literature. Today Montalvo is one of the oldest artists in residency programs in the United States; nestled near the mountains, visual artists, musicians, and writers continue to live and create.  It is also a beautiful and popular venue for live music and weddings.

In 2011, one of the artists in residence created a sculpture installation on the front lawn. Using plastic bags, Claudia Borgna created a whimsical piece called Mighty Like a Flower. I found it to be quite eloquent and delightful.


Borgna's flowers were a beautiful accent to the villa's aesthetic!

View from the mansion to the entrance of the formal Italian garden.

Montalvo is definitely a local treasure.

I love walking along the paths and smelling the fresh air.


The trees are gorgeous and I particularly love the green of the estate, which is helped by the damp weather at the base of the mountains.

 Looking through these pictures makes me strongly consider another weekend excursion,

as visiting the estate always leaves me smiling! :-)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jumping for joy in San Francisco

Well this past weekend was wonderful. Once again, San Francisco I love thee!

Here are some pictures from a surprisingly warm day on the beach and a beautiful walk to Eagle Point from Sutro Heights!

Peach and Sour Cherry pie with tea from Beachside cafe at 48th and Judah! So dang cute!!!

 Container ship!

The Pacific at low tide!

Sutro Heights from the shoreline

The very end of Golden Gate Park along the Great Highway!

A family of Cypress trees above the Sutro Baths

 View towards Baker Beach

The sun shimmering off the water!

I love, love, love these California colors and the few fleeting minutes when fog and mist suddenly cleared :-)

Eagle Point! 

And the sea churns...

And the fishermen wait...

And on such a beautiful day, I like to jump for joy with a friend! ;P

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Renegade photo of Sunnyvale!

I've been wanting a photo of this for over a year and one night I was daring enough to tresspass to get it. It's a shot of the sun going down over the Sunnyvale Caltrain tracks.

It's funny how a bit of whimsy makes the familiar seem magical. Every time I pass by the sunset or sit in traffic overlooking the tracks, it makes me smile!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Camping in Marin County!

In and out of the Golden Gate within two days is awesome fun! A change of scene can really change your mood and whole outlook on the world. Adventuring in Sonoma County = top ten places for sure!

Like bookends for our trip, the fog covering the Golden Gate Bridge was a gateway and a beacon toward home.

Rolling into and out of the mysterious fog- one of my favorite things about the city by the bay!

The unofficial border of San Francisco! ;P ....

Et voila! Sweltering heat...

The mountains just north of San Francisco.

For lunch we stopped at a place called Tomales Bay, where you can buy freshly harvested oysters and eat them to your heart's content. If I have to eat oysters, this is the best place to try them!

The trip was a great occasion too! One of my favorite people in the whole world was celebrating a birthday by inviting a bunch of friends to go camping!

The campsite was called Doran park which is a tiny strip of land between the Pacific Ocean and Bodega Bay.

It's very pretty and also very, very, very foggy. The night was cold, but the campfire was warm and the company as well!

After staying in Doran park overnight, I spent a few hours the next morning hanging out in Petaluma's historic downtown district with a friend! 

This mecca of early European settlement is one of my new favorite places to visit. In fact many of the towns in this area are adorably cute. Future vacation plans = in the works.

Among the treasures of the morning was breakfast at Hallie's Diner. Plantain breakfast burritos and homemade blueberry pancakes = what?! :)

Downtown Petaluma was filled with antique shops and cute boutiques. As per usual, I bought books I didn't need, but couldn't resist. Who can say no to "Historic Buildings in California"? Not me!

My favorite store by far was a crazy museum/antique store/historic site/treasure trove/awesome! Housed within what was once the American Trust Company Bank and later Wells Fargo, there is a literal treasure trove that is a sight to be seen. I wish I'd taken more photos, but somehow photography seemed inappropriate, even though no one seemed to discourage it.

I did sneak a few from the upstairs balcony, which overlooks what was once the main floor of the bank! If you get a hankering to visit, ask for the grand tour! Shower, bank vaults and ancient elevator below!!!

Highly, highly recommend Vintage Bank Antiques!

Driving into the city from Marin County after a few errands!

With the city's Iron Walls shrouded in the misty fog!

The official border. I really do prefer the foggy one. 

C'est finis! What a wonderful trip to remember for years to come! 

On the staircase of Vintage Bank Antiques, née the American Trust Company Bank, ca. 1926!