Issue date: January 06, 1999

The Fleishhacker estate in Woodside is featured in "Greene & Greene: Masterworks," a new book on the famous architects from the Arts and Crafts era The Fleishhacker estate in Woodside is featured in "Greene & Greene: Masterworks," a new book on the famous architects from the Arts and Crafts era (January 06, 1999)


One of the hottest trends in home building today is the use of design elements from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.

Drive through the Vintage Oaks development in Menlo Park, as well as west Menlo, and you will see several new examples of the Arts and Crafts style, which, as the saying goes, is so old it's new again.

Between 1900 and 1920, the architectural firm of Greene & Greene designed many of the finest homes of the Arts and Crafts era. Twenty-five of the brothers' residences are featured in a new coffee table book, "Greene & Greene: Masterworks" (Chronicle Books, $40) by Bruce Smith, with color photographs by Alexander Vertikoff.

A chapter of the book is devoted to the Fleishhacker house in Woodside, known as Green Gables, which was designed by Charles Greene in 1911 as a country home for the prominent San Francisco family.

Young architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene opened their offices in Pasadena in 1894, a few months after moving to California from the Midwest. At the time, Pasadena was a popular winter locale for Easterners.

The large houses Greene & Greene designed for wealthy Pasadena families were noted for their refined simplicity, using stucco and half-timber framing, coverings of shingle and redwood construction. The houses blended into their surroundings, making use of natural materials. If clients were willing, the brothers became involved not just in design, but also furniture, carpets, lighting and landscaping. They built their best-known houses in California in a few short years between 1903 and 1909.

Charles Greene, the older of the brothers and the primary designer, considered himself more an artist than an architect. Henry Greene's talents lay in construction and running the business. In 1916 Charles Greene moved north to the artists' colony of Carmel. For a time, the brothers worked together from a distance, but by 1922 they stopped using the name Greene & Greene. Henry continued to work alone while Charles followed his artistic pursuits.

Author Bruce Smith says when Mortimer and Bella Fleishhacker were looking for an architect to design their Woodside home, they thought the Greenes' work was too Japanese, wanting more of a thatched-roof, cottage-style English country home. However, they were charmed by Charles Greene, and after hiring the firm, requested to work only with Charles.

The main house was placed on a hill in the center of the 75-acre wooded property. For the next 25 years, Mr. Greene was the principal architect for Mortimer and Bella Fleishhacker. He continued to work on the formal gardens, added a swimming pool in 1916, and a magnificent water garden in 1927, with a double stone stairway leading down 65 feet to a Roman pool.

The 300-foot pool ends in a series of arched stone columns that look like a centuries-old Roman aqueduct. Throughout the gardens are dozens of urns and flower pots, each individually designed for its place.

Charles Greene also designed a stone dairy house where Mrs. Fleishhacker hoped to serve tea. It was called "Greene's Folly" because it was too far from the house and rarely used.

The interior of the Fleishhacker house is bright and airy. High plaster ceilings are curved, but still have Greene detail in the form of delicate bas-reliefs on the ceilings. Charles Greene enclosed an open sunroom to make a card room for the Fleishhackers. He designed a tooled-leather card table and chairs, and carved the cabinet doors as well as four panels depicting the four corners of the earth. This is the only room in the house completely designed by the famous architect.

Although the house is a private residence for the Fleishhacker family, the public was able to tour the residence a few years ago when it was a designers' show house.

Today, the Fleishhacker estate continues to be home to four generations of the family. For a time, the estate was available as a site for weddings and certain corporate events, but no longer. The family decided these events caused too much wear and tear on the house and gardens.

"We want to preserve this house for posterity. I don't want it to ever change," says family member Mortimer Fleishhacker.

Much of the information for this article is from "Greene & Greene: Masterworks" by Bruce Smith and Alexander Vertikoff, Chronicle Books, which is available at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park.

One of the finest examples of the Greene brothers' work is the Gamble House in Pasadena, constructed in 1908. The Gamble House, a National Historic Landmark, presented to the city of Pasadena, in conjunction with the University of Southern California, is open for public guided tours Thursday through Sunday from noon until 3 p.m. It is located at 4 Westmoreland Place, Pasadena.

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