AKA: Villa Montalvo, Saratoga, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Curlett and Gottschalk, Architects (firm); Curlett, William, and Son, Architects (firm); Alexander Edward Curlett (architect); William F. Curlett (architect); Charles E. Gottschalk (architect)

Dates: constructed 1912-1914

2 stories

Saratoga, CA

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James Duval Phelan (1861-1930), the son of an Irish immigrant businessman, had a long and influential career as a politician in the State of CA, first as Mayor of San Francisco, CA, (1897-1902), and, subsequently, as a Senator from the state (1915-1921). Phelan built this retreat in addition to his residence in San Francisco; since the mid-19th century, many wealthy San Franciscans had maintained a house in the city and one on the San Francisco Peninsula, where the weather was consistently warmer and sunnier, without the city's thick, cold fog. Phelan commissioned the elderly William Curlett (1846-1914) to design his 19-room mansion, but the architect died in 1914, before it was completed. Curlett's son, Alexander E. Curlett (1881-1942) finished the Italian Renaissance Villa Montalvo shortly thereafter, collaborating with architect Charles E. Gottschalk. After his death, Phelan made clear that wanted his estate to serve the public good as an arts center. The Villa Montalvo web site noted: "At his death in 1930, Senator Phelan was explicit in his bequest of Villa Montalvo. 'I would like the property…to be maintained as a public park open under reasonable restrictions, the buildings and grounds immediately surrounding the same to be used as far as possible for the development of art, literature, music, and architecture by promising students.'” (See "Montalvo Arts Center--Villa and Grounds,"Accessed 2012-0-08.) His heirs argued about his decision to leave it for public use, and fought the decision in court.

James D. Phelan assembled a 160-acre property on which he built his weekend house, Villa Montalvo. It was later expanded to include 15 more acres, its current extent. A complex of buildings covers the property: the main house, the Front Lawn Ampitheatre, Garden Theatre, and the Carriage House Theatre, an Art Gallery ("Montalvo's Project Space Gallery"), artist-in-residency studio/living area, and various gardens. The studio/loft space includes "10 discipline-specific live/work studios and one commons building" and accommodates individuals in the the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program. Tel: 408.961.5800 (2012).

National Register of Historic Places (May 1, 1978): 78000784 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 17675