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Encyclopedia > Villa Montalvo
Villa Montalvo mansion in Saratoga, California is a former residence of California statesman and businessman James Duval Phelan. Now it is owned by the people of California.

Villa Montalvo is a an Italian Mediterranean style mansion nestled in the Santa Clara foothills in Saratoga, California in the United States. It was constructed from 1912 to 1914 by California statesman and businessman James Duval Phelan. After Phelan's death, it was donated to the state as a park and then a cultural and arts center, as it exists today. It is a historic landmark and in 1978 was awarded inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.


The estate

The grounds of the villa now encompass 175 acres (708,000 m˛), more than the original 160 acres (650,000 m˛) purchased by Phelan. The estate boasts several large structures as well as gardens and untouched natural areas. Montalvo includes two theaters, an art gallery, the historic Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens.

The mansion

The mansion itself boasts 19 rooms and two stories. The first floor of the mansion used to host art exibits, but is now closed to the general public.

The grounds

The front lawn of the mansion looking towards the statue-adorned garden. On the left, one of the mansion's artistic displays can be seen, a hut made from twisted tree branches.

The grounds include the mansion itself as well as several gardens embellished with marble sculptures and garden structures. Since its bequeath to the people of California, hiking trails through the surrounding Redwood-speckled hills have been added.

The Front Lawn is sometimes used as a theater for some of Montalvo's dramatic presentations.

Other buildings

  • The Carriage House Theatre
  • The Garden Theatre
  • The Fox Theatre


In 1911, James D. Phelan, a three-term mayor of San Francisco, California who would go on to be California's first popularily elected US Senator, purchased 160 acres (650,000 m˛) in the Saratoga countryside and foothills.

Phelan began construction of the mansion in 1912. The initial supervising architect was William Curlett. When he died in 1914, his son, Alex Curlett, took over supervision along with partner Charles E. Gottschalk. The construction of the building was completed that same year.

During his lifetime, Phelan hosted many celebrities and notables of the era as guests at Montalvo. Jack London, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, and Edwin Markham were among Phelan's many guests. Though not his only home, Villa Montalvo was one of Phelan's favorites. In fact, it is the estate at which he died.

Upon his death, Phelan bequested Montalvo thus:

"I would like the property at Saratoga, California, known as Villa Montalvo, to be maintained as a public park open under reasonable restrictions, the buildings and grounds immediately surrounding the same to be used as far as possible for the development of art, literature, music, and architecture by promising students."

The San Francisco Art Association (SFAA) assumed trusteeship of the estate in 1930. Within a year the association announced the intention to launch an artist residency program, the third program of its kind in the United States. The program began in 1939 with ten artists in residence.

After World War II, a shift in priorities for the SFAA left many people concerned about the future of Villa Montalvo. These citizens together formed the Montalvo Association. Trusteeship was transferred to the organization in October 1953 where it remains today.

Villa Montalvo today

Today Villa Montalvo is managed by Santa Clara County as a park and cultural center and is open to the public.

Since 1939, the villa has hosted "artists-in-residence" who live at the mansion for a year. Artists range from musicians, painters, actors, writers and architects. While in residence, the participants produce works and give performances. Since Montalvo started its artist-in-residence program, more than 600 artists from 20 countries have participated.

The grounds are open to the public and the first floor of the mansion often hosted art exibits. Some outdoor exibits are open to the public and are free, but Villa, while formerly open to the public, is now only open to the artists-in-residence.

In the fall of 2004, Montalvo opened "The Orchard" which offers facilities and staff supportive of the creative process as well as state-of-the-art technology.

Montalvo and its arts programs serve nearly 200,000 visitors each year.

The name

Phelan named Villa Montalvo in honor of the popular 16th-century Spanish writer Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo. Montalvo coined the name "California" in one of his fables. In it he described an island rich with gold and jewels, peopled by Amazons ruled by a queen named Califia. The Amazons in the fable rode griffins, mythical winged guardians of precious treasure. Griffins can be found throughout the Villa Montalvo grounds, standing guard over Phelan's precious gift.

External links

  • Villa Montalvo official website (http://www.villamontalvo.org/index.html)
  • A history of Villa Montalvo (http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Veranda/4103/montalvo.html)

  Results from FactBites:
Villa Montalvo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (801 words)
Villa Montalvo mansion in Saratoga, California is a former residence of California statesman and businessman James Duval Phelan.
Villa Montalvo is an Italian Mediterranean style mansion nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in Saratoga, California, United States.
Today, Villa Montalvo is managed by Santa Clara County as a park and cultural center and is open to the public.
VILLA MONTALVO (675 words)
PhelanÂ’s death at Villa Montalvo on August 7, 1930 was followed by the most imposing funeral ever held in San Francisco, according to newspaper accounts.
The presiding judge, Edward Molkenbuhr, rejected this compromise and ruled that PhelanÂ’s primary purpose was that the villa be used for a public park, and since the grounds had been open to the public, the main objective of the trust was clearly fulfilled.
Villa Montalvo remains as a legacy for Senator Phelan's support and encouragement of music, art, literature and architecture.
  More results at FactBites »



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