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March 17, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Forever Green: A conservation easement ensures one of Woodside's grandest estates, Green Gables, will be preserved Forever Green: A conservation easement ensures one of Woodside's grandest estates, Green Gables, will be preserved (March 17, 2004)

By Jane Knoerle
Almanac Lifestyles Editor

So many of Woodside's great estates are gone; the fine old houses destroyed and the properties subdivided. But one glorious example remains: Green Gables, the English-style country house designed by famed architect Charles Sumner Greene.

It sits atop a hill on 75 acres in Woodside, overlooking terraced gardens and a lily pond. Down a stately flagstone staircase stands a 300-foot Roman pool, bordered at the end with open stone arches.

Now Green Gables, which has been a summer home to five generations of the Fleishhacker family, will be protected and preserved under a conservation easement announced by the Garden Conservancy.

The easement is a gift from the Fleishhacker family to the Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving exceptional gardens in North America.

The easement means that no additional homes will be built on the property and that the gardens, buildings and landscape will be preserved as a "living example of a masterwork by the great California architect, Charles Sumner Greene."

Green Gables will continue to be owned privately by the Fleishhacker family, which has made the estate their summer home since 1911. It differs from the Filoli estate in Woodside, which was given in 1975 by Lurline Roth to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open to the public.

The donation of a conservation easement may be a tax-deductible charitable gift, provided it meets IRS requirements and is donated to a qualified conservation organization, according to Elizabeth Byers, a San Francisco-based landscape architect and consultant who works with the Garden Conservancy. A conservation easement also can lower the value of an estate and provide estate tax savings to heirs.

The easement won't increase public access to Green Gables. However, through the years, the estate has been opened to charitable events. Last year it was featured on the "Symphony in Flowers" garden tour. In 1999 the estate was filmed as the Martin family home in the Robin William's movie, "Bicentennial Man." In 1991, it was the subject of the American Society of Interior Designers Designer Showcase -- the first time the estate was open to the general public. In 1986, the estate was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Green Gables was the largest and most ambitious project of Charles Sumner Greene, who with his brother, Henry, was a partner in the famed Southern California architectural firm, Greene & Greene. The brothers designed the exquisite Arts & Crafts style residence known as Gamble House, as well as many other landmark houses in Pasadena.

Green Gables was built for San Franciscans Mortimer and Bella Fleishhacker as a summer place. The name, Green Gables, was a play on words, alluding to Mr. Greene who started the project in 1911 and for the next 22 years oversaw the building of the main house, the gardens, and several outbuildings on the property. The urns and flower containers he designed are still seen in the garden; many of the trees and plants he selected flourish today.

The house claims the earliest roof of shingles imitating thatch. Mr. and Mrs. Fleishhacker had traveled to England on several occasions and admired the thatched houses there.

While most of the rooms in the 29-room mansion, still a private home, are geared toward modern living, one room, which has not changed since 1924, is the card room. Mr. Greene designed and crafted the card table and chairs, chandelier, friezes, and four cabinet doors that still bear his name.

One of the outbuildings, called "Greene's Folly," is a small rock building with two stories. The lower story was used as a dairy. Above, the open porch with arched windows was intended as a tea house where Mrs. Fleishhacker could serve afternoon tea. However, the dairy house was too far from the main house to make tea parties practical.

In 1929 Mr. Greene built a free-form swimming pool complex as his final project on the estate. There are also three other homes, occupied by Mortimer and David Fleishhacker, and their sister, Delia F. Ehrlich, and their families. Ms. Ehrlich's home was built by another famed architect, William Wurster. None are visible from the main house.

Making the gift to the Garden Conservancy is a way to provide "assurance that this unique property will be preserved for future generations of our family and other families in the Bay Area," says David Fleishhacker, speaking on behalf of himself, his brother and sister.

The Garden Conservancy's first project in 1989 was to secure preservation of the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. The conservancy, based in Cold Spring, New York, also has a project to restore the gardens of Alcatraz.

Almanac staff writer Marion Softky contributed to this article.

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