Carolands Chateau is a 46,050-square-foot (4,278 m2); 4.5 floor, 98 room mansion on 5.83 acres (2.36 ha) in Hillsborough, California. An example of American Renaissance and Beaux-Arts design, the building is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harriett Pullman Carolan (1869–1956) was the daughter of George Pullman, the 19th century American industrialist, who became one of the wealthiest men in Chicago after creating the Pullman Company, famous for its Palace railway cars. Perhaps because her father was one of the inventors of modern "luxury" or "first class" travel, Harriett Pullman came to expect perfection and beauty in her surroundings. In Chicago in 1892, Harriett Pullman married Francis Carolan of San Francisco and moved with him to California. In 1912, Harriett acquired 554 acres (224 ha) of land on which to build her dream house. She had been actively planning to create a house and garden that would excite "the wonder and admiration of America" and reflect her refined and cultivated interests. The result was an authentic Beaux-Arts architecture masterpiece, inspired by the court architecture of Louis XIV. The property was situated at the highest local geographical point in order to command the best views of the Bay and surrounding hills.
The Chateau exterior was inspired by the 17th century designs of François Mansart. The project was executed by San Francisco architect Willis Polk, following plans commissioned by Mrs. Carolan from the Parisian architect Ernest Sanson, who was at the time one of the foremost designers of prestigious private homes in France and perhaps the world. Sanson, aged 76 and near the end of a long and distinguished career, never visited the California site. Willis Polk, a distinguished American architect in his own right, was engaged to be the structural designer and manager of construction. He was instructed by Mrs. Carolan to execute Sanson's French plans faithfully. The gardens were designed by the leading French landscape architect Achille Duchêne. He was inspired by the great 17th century works of André Le Nôtre whose most famous creations are the Palace of Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Jardins des Tuileries . Duchêne's original designs consisted of many thousands of trees and shrubs, with plans for fountains, statues and roadways.
Carolands has been called one of the "last of the great homes" built during the Gilded Age. This is a reference to a period of great mansion-building that included such famous residences as the Vanderbilt family's Marble House, Biltmore Estate and The Breakers. In California these included Filoli and The Huntington mansions.
Soon after the land was secured in 1912, Duchêne arrived in San Francisco and laid out the grand Parterre gardens. Only a portion of these magnificent landscape plans were completed. Late in 1913, Sanson was given the commission to plan the chateau. One aspect of the project was to incorporate into his design the three exquisite period rooms that Harriett had purchased in Paris with the advice of the famous antique dealer Boni de Castellane. Two of the many tasteful elements of Sanson's design are the elegant Porte-cochère and the discreet dry moat which provides practical access for service without blocking the views of the gardens from the house above.
In 1914 the grading began on the great terraces planned by Duchêne. Photos were taken to show the progress of the work being done and were sent off to the architects and to the owners. Willis Polk designed the unusual reinforced concrete superstructure. The walls were created using brick infill. The exterior walls were made of concrete sanded and scored to resemble natural limestone.
In mid 1916 the elaborate interior elements were arriving on the site. The plans as completed include 9 bedrooms and baths for the owners and guests; each bedroom has an antechamber to guarantee quiet and privacy. The service accommodations are equally elaborate; these include a remarkable kitchen with walls and a ceiling made of white or milk glass, a servants' elevator serving all floors, and a grand butler's pantry with a mezzanine level and walls of Delftware tile. In all there are 98 rooms. Harriett and Francis Carolan moved in with their staff in the autumn of 1916.
The Carolans separated in 1917 and in 1918, the Carolans closed the Chateau; Harriett moved to New York City, while Frank remained in California. After Frank's death in 1923, Harriett married Colonel Arthur Schermerhorn in 1925. Although the new couple occupied Carolands on occasion, it would remain only sporadically inhabited until 1928 when Harriett removed her original furnishings and put the property up for sale.
In 1939, the U.S. Government evaluated the purchase of the Carolands Chateau to be used as a Western White House. It was considered again for this purpose during the Kennedy administration.
Harriett sold the home and surrounding 550 acres (2.2 km²) in 1945 to Tomlinson Moseley for development. Life Magazine covered a charity event held in the house in 1947, which marked the first opportunity many San Francisco-area residents had to see its interiors. In the Life account, the house was said to have been abandoned for the last twenty-five years, with party amenities provided on a temporary basis: plumbing was via fire hose and lighting was via portable generators and flood lights.
Moseley sold the property, by then down to 25 acres (10 ha) to Mrs. S.Coe Robinson in 1948. By 1950, much of the surrounding land had been carved into smaller parcels and the house itself was slated for demolition.
Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini purchased Carolands Chateau in 1950 and saved it from demolition by promoters more interested in developing the land than in its historic architecture and significance. Prior to becoming a countess by marriage to Mexican-born Count Alessandro Dandini di Cesena in 1932, Lillian Remillard was the heiress of the Remillard Brothers fortune, a family which had supplied bricks to San Francisco since the gold rush and benefitted from the 1906 earthquake rebuilding. The 23 years, until her death, she lived in the chateau were a period of entertaining and holding charity benefits. Countess Dandini frequently invited the French Community to the Chateau and opened it annually to San Francisco Bay Area French students. The Countess's generosity in sharing the house resulted in her receiving a "Woman of the Year" award from the Town of Burlingame.
Unfortunately, in later years the Countess lacked funds to maintain the house, and when she died in 1973 the Chateau was in greater risk of demolition than ever before. The Countess willed the Chateau and its remaining 5.83 acres (23,600 m2) to the Town of Hillsborough to be used as a French and Italian musical, artistic and literary center. Unfortunately this was without an endowment for this purpose and maintenance, hoping that her gift would spur the Town of Hillsborough to accept it. The Town ruled out any such use, saying the planned use was inconsistent with the town charter and it could not afford to pay the necessary maintenance expenses. The estate was sold after it continued to be vandalized.
The Chateau suffered through inconstant ownership after Countess Dandini; while Dr. Selwyn McCabe won the probate auction to purchase the house in 1976, he did not follow through on the purchase, and it went to the next bidder, Rose 'Roz' Franks. Franks lost the house in 1979 to George Benny, who in turn lost it to foreclosure in 1982 after he was convicted of racketeering while conspiring to defraud institutional lenders. Michael DeDomenico, one of the heirs to the family controlling Rice-a-Roni and Ghirardelli, purchased the mansion in 1986, but planned to sell it after the 1991 showcase.
In 1975, the house was nominated for and placed on the lists of California Historical Landmarks (CHL #886) and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP #75000478). Contemporaneously, adult filmmakers gained access to the site and later released the 1982 film All American Girls with scenes shot at Carolands. During the years of unsettled ownership, the property remained mainly vacant, and curious local high school students would often enter the house.
In 1985, David Allen Raley, a security guard at Carolands Chateau, tricked two high school students onto the property where he sexually assaulted and stabbed them. He later took the two of them from Carolands and left them for dead in a ravine near San Jose. They managed to climb out of the ravine and flag down a passing motorist for help, but one later died of wounds received during the ordeal. Raley had bragged earlier that day that he often received bribes from curious students interested in the mansion's interior, but that "he only let girls in." Raley received the death penalty in 1988 after his conviction.
In 1986 an Environmental Impact Report was conducted for a proposal to further subdivide the parcel and build additional homes. When the building suffered superficial damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, demolition was again considered. In 1997, the new owner proposed carving fifteen condominiums out of the building, but was blocked by the Hillsborough town charter, which banned multi-family residences.
A 1991 Hillsborough Designer Showhouse event held from 10 September through 20 October revived local interest in the house and had 68,000 visitors paying $20 admission, netting more than $1 million for the sponsoring charity. Among the visitors were Dr. Ann Johnson and her renowned decorator, Mario Buatta who would later handle the challenge of restoration.
In 1998, after years of neglect, the Chateau and its remaining land were purchased by Charles Bartlett Johnson and Dr. Ann Johnson for under $6 million. Dr. Johnson undertook extensive renovations to the mechanical systems, asbestos removal, roof replacement, and meticulous restoration work to bring the building back to the state originally intended by its architects. The Johnsons, like the Countess, often shared the house for charity fundraisers and other worthy causes. It was always their intention that Carolands be preserved in perpetuity.
The Johnsons donated the Chateau to Carolands Foundation in 2012. Carolands Foundation is conducting small group tours, without charge, on Wednesdays at 2:00 PM. Tours are available by reserved appointment only, generally booked months in advance, and restricted to guests of 16 years old and up.
In 2006 a feature-length documentary Three Women and a Chateau  which tells the nearly 100-year history of Carolands, premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and was featured in seven other film festivals, winning Best Documentary (Grand Jury Award) at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. The film was produced at Luna Productions, the documentary film-making partnership of Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg.
After that, The Heiress and Her Chateau: Carolands of California, another documentary about the history of the chateau, was made by Luna Productions. The program first premiered January 19, 2014 on KQED-TV. and the following year was broadcast nationally on PBS. It was nominated for two Emmy Awards: Outstanding achievement Documentary – Cultural/Historical and Outstanding achievement Writer – Program.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Carolands.|