About 15 minutes away from downtown San Mateo, the Filoli House, just off Cañada Road between State Route 92 and Edgewood Road, is virtually a world away.

The 103-year-old estate, which features a 54,000-square-foot mansion on a 654-acre property, gives visitors a taste of how the rich lived in the early part of the 20th century.

Now officially a museum, the Filoli House weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and, after opening the grounds surrounding the mansion back in May, the house itself is now open for self-guided tours.

“One of my board members said, ‘Filoli was meant for this (dealing with a virus outbreak),’ and it’s kind of true,” said Kara Newport, executive director of Filoli House. “It was a pretty natural fit for us. We already have one-way flow we can create pretty easily. We have big, wide hallways. There is one route in the house that already existed.

“When we were ready to open, we just opened.”

Touring the house has only been available since San Mateo County entered the “red” tier of the state’s reopening system at the beginning of the month. But all the grounds surrounding the mansion have been open for the last several months, including the Gentleman’s Orchard — which is now open every Saturday and Sunday through October for what the organization calls “Orchard Days.”

Previously, the orchard was open once a year to the public, but it was decided to allow people to safely take in the various fruit and nut trees. A refreshment stand and picnic table-style seating area are also available under the shade of almond and oak trees. Orchard Days also feature various artists and their works for people to view while they wander through the orchard.

“What we’ve been doing is pushing our edges in the outdoor areas,” Newport said. “The orchards are never open to public, but now they’re kind of free range. … It’s just added value for people coming in. What it does is let people spread out more.”

The group has also opened up the nature preserve on the grounds, for guided or self-guided tours. Just another way to allow guests to social distance while still taking in the wonders of the Filoli House.

Holiday season

Additionally, the museum is planning a “Howl at the Moon” event on Halloween night in the garden, that will feature a scavenger hunt. Filoli is now also offering guided tours of the garden three times a day.

Meanwhile, the house and grounds are already gearing up for the holiday season, which begins the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The house itself was built in Georgian-style — that would be King George III of England. Big, huge rooms are the norm and each room guests are allowed to visit features a theme of what life would have been like at the time. The dining table, for instance, was set for a lavish dinner party. The game room was set up with a billiards and card table. Original owner William Bourn was reportedly a very good card player. Liberté Reilly, part of the house’s marketing department, said Bourn once “broke the bank” in Monte Carlo.

In addition, each room has a “soundscape” of what the room might have sounded like with people going about their lives. It was a stroke of luck for the museum because it furthered their goals of abiding by health protocol.

“Before COVID, our exhibit for the house was based on soundscapes. Each room has a different sound activity happening,” Newport said. “What’s great is they’re no-touch.”

While the museum does not offer guided tours of the house, Newport said it will be releasing a booklet guests can buy for self-guided tours.

Closure, reopening

Filoli House, in total, was closed for eight weeks when the pandemic first shut down society. It happened to coincide with the house’s busiest time of the year — spring, when all the flowers on the grounds are in full bloom. Newport estimates the organization missed out about 65,000 guests, but has been pleasantly surprised with the rebound, despite having a reduced number of guests on the grounds at a given time.

“Fifteen hundred (guests) is our daily cap. We never had a cap pre-COVID,” Newport said. “Even with our daily cap, our attendance has been up 10%.”

Newport said her biggest concern with the reopening of the museum was guests following the rules of having a face mask on while visiting the house and grounds and trying to remain socially distant.

Turns out her fears were mostly unfounded.

“There was a lot of anxiety (at the beginning). There was concern people wouldn’t wear masks,” Newport said. “But our audience has been amazing. They follow the rules.”

Filoli House is open every day, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made on the organization’s website. But more than anything, Newport is just trying to give people something to do as the world continues to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think everyone is looking for a place for rest and recovery,” Newport said. “A respite.”

For more information or to make reservations, go to filoli.org

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