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Carolands Chateau.jpg
West façade, 2006
Location Hillsborough, California
Coordinates 37°33′19.8″N 122°22′14.7″W / 37.555500°N 122.370750°W / 37.555500; -122.370750Coordinates: 37°33′19.8″N 122°22′14.7″W / 37.555500°N 122.370750°W / 37.555500; -122.370750
Built 1914
Architect Ernest Sanson; Willis Polk
Architectural style Beaux-Arts Classicism
Governing body Carolands Foundation
NRHP Reference # 75000478[1]
CHISL # 886[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 21, 1975
Designated CHISL 2004

Carolands Chateau is a 67,066 square foot (6,000  m²)[citation needed]; 4.5 floor, 98 room mansion on 5.83 acres in Hillsborough, California. An example of American Renaissance and Beaux-Arts design, the building is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Harriett Pullman Carolan[edit]

Harriett Pullman Carolan (1869-1956) was the daughter of George Pullman, the 19th century American industrialist, who became one of the wealthiest men in Chicago after creating the Pullman Company, famous for its Palace railway cars. Perhaps because her father was one of the inventors of modern "luxury" or "first class" travel, Harriett Pullman came to expect perfection and beauty in her surroundings. In Chicago in 1892, Harriett Pullman married Francis Carolan of San Francisco and moved with him to California. In 1912, Harriett acquired over 500 acres of land on which to build her dream house. She had been actively planning to create a house and garden that would excite "the wonder and admiration of America" and reflect her refined and cultivated interests.[3] The result was an authentic Beaux-Arts architecture masterpiece, inspired by the court architecture of Louis XIV. The property was situated at the highest local geographical point in order to command the best views of the Bay and surrounding hills.


The Chateau exterior was inspired by the 17th century designs of François Mansart. The project was executed by San Francisco architect Willis Polk, following plans commissioned by Mrs. Carolan from the Parisian architect Ernest Sanson, who was at the time one of the foremost designers of prestigious private homes in France and perhaps the world. Sanson, aged 76 and near the end of a long and distinguished career, never visited the California site. Willis Polk, a distinguished American architect in his own right, was engaged to be the structural designer and manager of construction. He was instructed by Mrs. Carolan to execute Sanson's French plans faithfully.[4] The gardens were designed by the leading French landscape architect Achille Duchêne. He was inspired by the great 17th century works of André Le Nôtre whose most famous creations are the Palace of Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Jardins des Tuileries . Duchêne's original designs consisted of many thousands of trees and shrubs, with plans for fountains, statues and roadways.


Carolands has been called one of the "last of the great homes" built during the Gilded Age. This is a reference to a period of great mansion-building that included such famous residences as the Vanderbilt family's Marble House, Biltmore Estate and The Breakers. In California these included Filoli and The Huntington mansions.

Soon after the land was secured in 1912, Duchêne arrived in San Francisco and laid out the grand Parterre gardens. Only a portion of these magnificent landscape plans were completed. Late in 1913, Sanson was given the commission to plan the chateau. One aspect of the project was to incorporate into his design the three exquisite period rooms that Harriett had purchased in Paris with the advice of the famous antique dealer Boni de Castellane. Two of the many tasteful elements of Sanson's design are the elegant Porte-cochère and the discreet dry moat which provides practical access for service without blocking the views of the gardens from the house above.

In 1914 the grading began on the great terraces planned by Duchêne. Photos were taken to show the progress of the work being done and were sent off to the architects and to the owners. Willis Polk designed the unusual reinforced concrete superstructure. The walls were created using brick infill. The exterior walls were made of concrete sanded and scored to resemble natural limestone.[5] In mid 1916 the elaborate interior elements were arriving on the site. The plans as completed include 9 bedrooms and baths for the owners and guests; each bedroom has an antechamber to guarantee quiet and privacy. The service accommodations are equally elaborate; these include a remarkable kitchen with walls and a ceiling made of white or milk glass, a servants' elevator serving all floors, and a grand butler's pantry with a mezzanine level and walls of Delftware tile. In all there are 98 rooms.[5] Harriett and Francis Carolan moved in with their staff in the autumn of 1916.


In 1918, the Carolans closed the Chateau; Harriett moved to New York City, Frank remained in California. After Frank's death in 1923, Harriett married Colonel Arthur Schermerhorn in 1925. Although the new couple occupied Carolands on occasion, it would remain only sporadically inhabited until 1928 when Harriett removed her original furnishings and put the property up for sale. In 1939, the U.S. Government evaluated the purchase of the Carolands Chateau to be used as a Western White House. It was considered again for this purpose during the Kennedy administration. Harriett sold the home and surrounding 550 acres (2.2 km²) in 1945 for development. Life Magazine covered a charity event held in the house in 1947, which marked the first opportunity many San Francisco-area residents had to see its interiors.

Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini[edit]

Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini purchased Carolands Chateau in 1950[citation needed] and saved it from demolition by promoters more interested in developing the land than in its historic architecture and significance. Prior to becoming a countess by marriage in 1932, Lillian Remillard was the heiress of the Remillard Brothers fortune, a family which had supplied bricks to San Francisco since the gold rush and benefitted from the 1906 earthquake rebuilding. The 23 years, until her death, she lived in the chateau were a period of entertaining and holding charity benefits. Countess Dandini frequently invited the French Community to the Chateau and opened it annually to San Francisco Bay Area French students. The Countess's generosity in sharing the house resulted in her receiving a "Woman of the Year" award from the Town of Burlingame. Unfortunately, in later years the Countess lacked funds to maintain the house, and when she died in 1973 the Chateau was in greater risk of demolition than ever before.[6] The Countess willed the Chateau and its remaining 5.83 acres (23,600 m2) to the Town of Hillsborough to be used as a French and Italian musical, artistic and literary center. Unfortunately this was without an endowment for this purpose and maintenance, hoping that her gift would spur the Town of Hillsborough to accept it. The Town ruled out any such use, saying they could not afford to pay the necessary maintenance expenses, and sold the estate after it continued to be vandalized.

Carolands Chateau- The Famous Bordeaux Salon after restoration

In 1986 an Environmental Impact Report was conducted for a proposal to further subdivide the parcel and build additional homes. When the building suffered superficial damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, demolition was again considered. A 1991 Hillsborough Designer Showhouse revived local interest in the house and had 68,000 visitors paying $20 admission, netting more than $1 million for the sponsoring charity.[6] Among the visitors were Dr. Ann Johnson and her renowned decorator, Mario Buatta who would later handle the challenge of restoration.


In 1998, after years of neglect, the Chateau and its remaining land were purchased by Charles Bartlett Johnson and Dr. Ann Johnson for under $6 million. Dr. Johnson undertook extensive renovations to the mechanical systems, asbestos removal, roof replacement, and meticulous restoration work to bring the building back to the state originally intended by its architects. The Johnsons, like the Countess, often shared the house for charity fundraisers and other worthy causes. It was always their intention that Carolands be preserved in perpetuity.[7]

Current status[edit]

The Johnsons donated the Chateau to Carolands Foundation in 2012.

Images of Carolands[edit]




Films about Carolands[edit]

In 2006 a feature length documentary Three Women and a Chateau [8] which tells the nearly 100-year history of Carolands, premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and was featured in seven other film festivals, winning Best Documentary (Grand Jury Award) at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. The film was produced at Luna Productions, the documentary film-making partnership of Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg.

A documentary by Ryan and Weimberg, The Heiress and Her Chateau: Carolands of California, premiered January 19, 2014 on KQED-TV.[6] [9]

Further reading[edit]

  • "CAROLANDS" - Michael Middleton Dwyer. Carolands. Redwood City, CA: San Mateo County Historical Association [1], in association with [2], Institute of Classical Architecture & Art [3], Mick Hales (Photographer) [4] 2006. Charles Davey (Book Producer)[5]. ISBN 0-9785259-0-6;
  • "CALIFORNIA SPLENDOR" -Kathryn Masson (Author), Published by Rizzoli [6], 2013. ISBN 978-0-8478-3965-0;
  • "MARIO BUATTA: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration" -Emily Evans Eerdmans, Mario Buatta, Paige Rense (Authors), published by Rizzoli, 2013.[7] ISBN 0847840727;
  • "DECK THE HALLS" -Ann Seymour (Author), Jack Hutcheson (Photographer)-Gentry Magazine [8]. [9] Decor by Image Three Events [10]
  • "GARDENS PRIVATE & PERSONAL" -Nancy D'Aoench, Bonny Martin (Authors), Mick Hales (Photographer) [11], published by The Garden Club of America [12] 2008. ISBN 0810972808
  • "SFGATE: THE HOUSE ON THE HILL" -Judy Richter, SF Chronicle [14], 2007.


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15. 
  2. ^ "Carolands". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  3. ^ Price, Paul (March 2008), "'Carolands Hillsborough, California'", Architecture: 2. 
  4. ^ Price, Paul (March 2008), "'Carolands Hillsborough, California'", Architecture: 3. 
  5. ^ a b Price, Paul (March 2008), "'Carolands Hillsborough, California'", Architecture: 4. 
  6. ^ a b c Info at Luna Productions
  7. ^ Eerdmans, Emily (November 2009), "'Carolands House Visit, Part I'", design. 
  8. ^ Film info at
  9. ^ Trailer


  • California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Historical Landmarks (1981)
  • California State Historic Building Code, California Senate Bill no. 2321, September, 1984
  • C. Michael Hogan, Steven Wanat et al., Environmental Impact Report for the Proposed Nine Unit Subdivision at 565 Remillard Drive (Carolands Chateau Site), Hillsborough, prepared for the town of Hillsborough by Earth Metrics Inc, Burlingame, California, January 15, 1986
  • Chet Rhodes, The Doomed Chateau, San Francisco Chronicle, July, 1985
  • John Horgan, Carolands Chateau may be Razed, Peninsula Times, June, 1985

External links[edit]