Historic Structures

Building Description Green Gables - Fleishhacker House, Woodside California

Green Gables is a unified country estate in central Woodside, planned and used as a rustic summer residence. About a mile west of the 1-280 freeway, the property is an irregular square varying in elevation from about 440 to 610 feet. Most of its 75 acres are gentle hillsides containing no structures and kept as manipulated valley grassland interspersed with trees and denser vegetation along two creek beds. Except in the main gardens, most of the vegetation looks native and unplanned, an appearance carefully nurtured over three-quarters of a century. The property contains nineteen built resources: six contributing buildings, seven contributing structures, three non-contributing buildings and three non-contributing structures. Each building is sited to maximize its country vista, and no house can be seen from any other house. A little west of the estate's exact center, near the crown of a hill, the main house is an attenuated horizontal clustering of numerous curve-edged, gentle-gabled roofs, in English style with greenish creamy tan unpainted gunite walls, trimmed with varigated pink-orange-tan-red brick. Its stretched out Z-plan faces southeast toward the estate's most formally landscaped gardens, which terrace down to a lily pond and after a brick balustrade descend a rocky double staircase to the arcaded Roman pool (water gardens), ending about 800 feet from, the house. All the other buildings and structures honor and make way for this grand central design. The fieldstone-bordered main drive begins near the estate's easternmost point, the corner of Albion and Manuella Avenues. It winds indirectly nearly half a mile through grasslands and wooded area to approach the house from the west. Some fifteen feet above and behind the house are the swimming pool and its attendant structures. Farther west and downhill are the modern house of Mortimer Fleishhacker III and the old Butler's (now Groundskeeper's) house. West of the Roman pool is another modern house, for David Fleishhacker, another grandson of the original owners. Northeast of the main house and terraced garden lie, in succession, Bella Fleishhacker's studio, an allee of Camperdown Elms, an early Wurster house for second generation Eleanor Fleishhacker Sloss, and across the main drive a tennis court and a subsidiary drive leading north to the dairy house (Greene's Folly) and the Fleishhacker barn. At the estate's northeastern edge, Albion Avenue jogs away from its straight course to enclose a pre-Fleishhacker farmstead consisting of a Victorian cottage farmhouse, the two-story base of a Victorian water tower, an old auto barn, one badly deteriorated greenhouse and the foundations of three more greenhouses and a lathhouse. Northwest of the main drive, nearly on a line with the house-lilypond-Roman pool axis, lies a small water storage lake with attendant earth dam and pumphouse, on a natural stream. The estate's highest point is at the western corner, near the San Andreas Fault, which is marked by a line of eucalyptus trees, the southwest boundary.

The main house is in Greene and Greene's English style, not that of their more famous, carving-bedecked ultimate bungalows. Interior woodwork has a white laquerlike finish and includes plain broad moldings and two beamed ceilings. The plan combines formality and informality, with the living-room-porch (card room) wing and the servants' (kitchen) wing at different obtuse angles off the main axis of hall, gallery and dining room. Ceilings are of medium height, public rooms ample but not awsome in size. Exterior elevations repose in balance but are decidedly asymmetrical. Dormers, gables, eyelids and clipped gables enliven the imitation thatch roof, which is composed of wood shingles, steam bent around corners and laid in wavy courses.

Only one room displays the expected Greene and Greene treatment of wood surfaces: the card room, a 1923-1924 alteration of the original porch off the living room. Here are fascias, cupboard doors and panels in natural color woods with Charles Sumner Greene's own delicate carvings of the seasons, gently stained, polished, waxed and rubbed. He also carved the leather-covered main furniture: an armchair, four side chairs and a card table. This room is differentiated from the others by its dark glossy tile floor a few steps down from the living room. Its fenestration and exterior brickwork echo those on the rest of the house.

The gardens begin with a brick terrace along the whole southeast facade of the house, a terrace originally cradling an ancient spreading oak tree around which Greene and Greene planned the house. The original tree died in 1950, leaving a vacancy for several years. Recently a sapling has been planted, a different variety of oak that will grow straighter and taller, to avoid obstructing the vistas, and will have more fall color. From the brick terrace a pair of graveled walks lead through terraced lawns to a formal lily pond, some 250 feet southeast of the house, wide enough to reflect the whole house. Restrained small flower beds, glazed ceramic planter pots and specimen trees border the terraces, walks and lawns. Low brick balustrades with spiky stepped arcading (three brick courses) edge the house terrace and the lilypond's terrace. A witty illusion is created of relaxed Beaux Arts symmetry along three parallel axes: from lilypond's center toward the house, from the hall and from the dining room along their respective gravel paths to the lilypond. The near symmetry continues southeast another 400 feet or so down several flights of double staircase to the long narrow Roman pool, arcaded at each end and executed in three contrasting kinds of roughly cut stones, set in thick bands of mortar. Flagstones from Napa, CA, pave the landings; local fieldstones form the steps and some walls; small pieces of red chert stand edgewise for corners of walls and arcading. The chert also builds up large urns beside the staircase. At the Roman pool's northwest arcade (a blind arcade, functionally a retaining wall) a balustrade of more chert reflects the brick balustrade above the staircase, only the lower one is rougher, wilder, closer in a sense to unadorned nature. There is a gradual transition from the closed house to the open but formal brickwork, to the rough stonework, to the natural vegetation and mountain vista. Similarly a third path descends from the house terrace to the northeast, with trim brick steps and bulkheads near the house, rough fieldstone steps farther away. Southeast of the landing between the two materials runs a wonderful arching allee of Camperdown Elm trees, leading apparently nowhere. The fieldstone steps and gravel path continue northeast to an auxiliary drive that meets the upper floor of the square, stony, tile-roofed dairy house, nestled among trees at the stream's edge. On the knoll behind the main house is a free-form swimming pool with three bathhouses, approached by broad steps of brickwork to match that of the main house and its terrace.

Hidden from the rest by hills, dense vegetation and the visual concentration to the southeast, the north and northeast part of the estate was originally a functioning farm with cows, pigs, chickens and vegetable gardens for home consumption in both Woodside and San Francisco. Mrs. Bates raised her children on its products. The dairy house really was a place where milk was kept and butter churned, not merely a romantic picnic spot. The Fleishhacker barn was a work place three times its present size, complete with hay loft under a shallow gable roof. Cows lived on one side aisle, chickens, geese and such on the other. The younger generation gave parties inside. One can still see the concrete foundations of stalls and a ramp on one side. Semi-destruction of the barn accounts for its mixed wall surfaces: rustic siding on the end, shingles on the side, and a multi-paneled pair of doors, very rustic, designed by Greene and Greene.

In the northeast nose of land enclosed by the jog in Albion Avenue, there is a group of farm buildings which pre-date Fleishhacker ownership of the property. Their access driveway, virtually a continuation of Albion's straight run, separates an old auto barn on the west from a water tower and farmhouse on the east. This last is a Queen Anne style modest Victorian cottage with hexagonal-shingles, barge boards and an apex sunburst in the south-facing cross gable. The water tower is typical of such structures in rural California, even typical in having lost its water tank. The Fleishhackers used this complex for staff housing and the vegetable garden part of the farm, adding four greenhouses and a large lathhouse. With World War II labor shortages and subsequent labor costs, the farm and these additions were gradually abandoned, the last in the late 1960s, and only some foundations and one greenhouse remain, ready to fall down.