Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Phelan Legacy

A person can decide to donate time, efforts, goods, or money to support variety of causes or simply for the sake of giving things away. Small or big, a gift may leave a legacy that exceeds the person life span.

Having said that, when I was driving by Saratoga, California, cruising by the hills of Santa Cruz Mountains that afternoon, passing by the exit to Montalvo, a person's name flashed in my mind. The name behind the existence of Montalvo Art Center, one of the beautiful spots at the South Bay.

Montalvo Arts Center is a historic landmark spread over 175 acres of land, home of two theaters, an art gallery, the legendary Villa Montalvo, an artist residency complex, hiking trails and gardens.

A view of Villa Montalvo. Photo's taken by HHwang.

In the early 19th century, James Duval Phelan, who was then a San Francisco mayor, assigned William Curlett to oversee the supervision and the design of Villa Montalvo. Unfortunately, he did not live to finish what he had started, his son, Alex Curlett finalized the assignment by 1914.

The name was adopted from Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, a Spanish writer. In one of his fables, he described an island rich with gold and jewels, full of Amazons (a tribe then living by the Amazon river in South America), with its queen, Califia.

Villa Montalvo was one of Phelan favorite places where he hosted many friends and dignitaries during his life. As a matter of fact, he chose to die on Villa Montalvo ground. His love and appreciation for arts preservation was such that upon his death, Phelan clearly stated in his will that:
I would like the property at Saratoga, California, known as Villa Montalvo, 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.

To date, the Trustee of Montalvo continuously follow Phelan wish and has rename the facility to Montalvo Arts Center. Montalvo has served the community as a center for creativity, by offering art courses on various buildings spread over the facility, organizing performing arts events and gallery exhibitions.

The garden of Villa Montalvo. Photo's taken by Sunil Menon.

Montalvo hosts many local and guest recitals and performances. One of its great annual events is the Montalvo Food and Wine Festival, which this year will be held on June 1. During this event, visitors will have the opportunity to sample a variety cuisine freshly made by local chefs, and a variety wine made by local vintners. More than half of the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to the preservation and maintenance of Montalvo Arts Center.

78 years after Phelan decided to bequeath his property to the community, I wonder if he really knew then that his legacy exceeded his fame. Not too many Californians know who Phelan was, but the communities surrounding this place know about Montalvo and are proud of it.

I thought that while Phelan might not expected that his gift to the community will be as valuable as it is now, his spirit is smiling up there in realizing how his gift has been preserved and has benefit others in a big way. James Duval Phelan can really rest in peace.


  1. Hola:
    Acabo de ver tu blog.
    Espero que visites mi blog, son fotos de mi pueblo, de España y de Italia y Francia:


    donde encontrarás los enlaces de todos los blogs.

  2. miss this blog..
    how r you bung?

    yes donate what u can give!

  3. @jfmarcelo: Gracias por leer mi poste. Usted tiene muchas imágenes interesantes en su sitio. En cuanto a enlacing los dos blogs, yo no puedo contestar eso, yo soy justo un contribuyente Con saludos,

  4. kapan daku isa main kesono ya,mas. doain dooooong....

  5. 1914? wew, nenek saya saja belum lahir. Tapi bagus bgt ya bangunannya. Kalau ditukar sama sendal jepit saya, mereka mau gak ya om?? *guoblog mode on*

  6. @sboentaran: it would be nice if you can go inside and take pictures of some of the museum collections, if it's allowed.

    @elly.s: I'm doing fine jeng, hope all is well with you too.

    @Kristina DIAN Safitry: percaya dengan kekuatan mimpi nduk, then you'll be surprised when you are there one day.

    @junjungpurba: lhah kalau sandal jepit se-propinsi kali2 bisa bung...

  7. Wawww liat di luar halamanya aja udah betah... palagi kalau berada disana ya.....Boleh tuk salasatu tujuan liburan.....
    Villa Montalvo-nya itu , diurusin turun temurun, lumayan tua ya usianya...
    Harus nabung dulu deh kalo mau kesana (ampe kapan hehe)...

  8. @Rita: gak perlu nunggu harga nikel naik kan buat nabung...:D

  9. I am new to this blog and the site is very impressive.

  10. as the saying goes--"it's better to give than to receive"