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March 17, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

A summer place: Green Gables has been home to generations of the Fleishhacker family A summer place: Green Gables has been home to generations of the Fleishhacker family (March 17, 2004)

By Jane Knoerle
Almanac Staff Writer

"As a child I didn't appreciate this place as I do now," says David Fleishhacker, grandson of the late Mortimer Fleishhacker Sr., recalling summers at Green Gables, his grandparents' country estate.

"We would come down in the middle of June," he says. "My grandparents arrived the first of June."

The Fleishhackers, like many wealthy San Francisco families, fled from the city's cold and foggy summers to the sunny Peninsula.

"Grandfather commuted to work in San Francisco," his grandson reealls. "His chauffeur would take him to the train in Redwood City."

In the early part of the 20th century, Mortimer Fleishhacker was a prominent figure in banking, industry and philanthropy in San Francisco.

How did David Fleishhacker spend his days as a child at Green Gables? "I wandered around with the butler's kids. We would bicycle down to Woodside or up to the Pulgas Water Temple. About all that remains from those days in the town of Woodside is the Pioneer Hotel. My grandfather liked the Pioneer."

Even in the country, life was formal. "We always ate in the children's dining room, not with our parents or grandparents," says David. "We were expected to be quiet and we never entered our grandparents' room."

The household included a butler, cook, upstairs maid, downstairs maid, and several gardeners.

The liveliest spot at Green Gables was the outdoor pool where everybody gathered for a swim. At one time there was also a small golf course, and, later, tennis courts. The chauffeur taught David, his brother and sister to drive on the estate's private roads.

David Fleishhacker realized his life was different than most when, as an 18-year-old camp counselor, he begged a ride home from a fellow counselor living in Menlo Park. When they turned into the estate and drove down the long road leading to the big house, his friend's eyes got bigger and bigger. "I had never said anything about where we lived," he says with a laugh.

As a child, Delia Fleishhacker Ehrlich recalls following the gardeners around, riding horses (not on the estate), and walking to Roberts for ice cream. She was married at Green Gables, as were many members of the family.

"There were weddings on the terrace, by the lily pond, and down by the Roman pool," she says.

Ms. Ehrlich lives in a William Wurster house on the property in the summer. She shares the "big house" with her brothers. Each has possession every third year.

"My grandchildren come down and spend July and we all also have Thanksgiving dinner there," she says.

The mansion's kitchen was updated during the 1991 Decorators Show House, says Ms. Ehrlich, a public relations consultant.

The main house's many bedrooms are used for the overflow of summer guests. "We have cousins all over the world," says David Fleishhacker, who served as headmaster of the Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco for 25 years.

Mr. Fleishhacker, his brother, Mortimer, and sister, Delia, are the current owners of the estate. Their father, Mortimer Jr., bought out his sister's interest in the estate. Mortimer Jr. and Eleanor (Sloss) were the senior Fleishhackers' only two children.

"We three decided long ago we wanted to preserve the property as is," says David Fleishhacker. "The easement prevents anyone from coming and doing anything to it." (The three siblings have 13 grandchildren "and likely more to come.") In the future the property could be sold, but not subdivided.

The Fleishhackers continue to spend summers at Green Gables, but there are no nightly gatherings for drinks and a barbecue on the terrace their grandfather loved.

"The reason we get along so well is because we respect each other's privacy. We're very private people," says David Fleishhacker.

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