West elevation of Carolands Chateau
|Architectural style:||Beaux-Arts—Second Empire|
|Added to NRHP:||October 21, 1975|
The Carolands Chateau is a 65,000 square foot (6,000 m²) mansion in Hillsborough, California. Its 75 foot (23 m)-high atrium holds the record as the largest enclosed space in an American private residence. Considered a masterpiece of American Renaissance and Second Empire Beaux-Arts design, the building is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Harriet Pullman Carolan, born in 1869, was the daughter of George Pullman, the 19th century American industrialist, who became the wealthiest man in Chicago after creating the Pullman Palace railway car. Perhaps because her father was the very inventor of modern "luxury" or "first class" travel, Harriet Pullman came to expect perfection and beauty in her surroundings, and her particular tastes revolved around the French. The mansion originally occupied a 544 acre (2.2 km²) plot of land, situated at the highest local geographical point in order to "look down on the Hearsts and surpass the Crockers."
The Chateau exterior was inspired by the 17th century designs of 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 said to have chafed under the strict instruction of Mrs. Carolan to execute Sanson's French plans faithfully, despite the fact that they were intended for a different climate and notated in the metric system.) Only a portion of the magnificent landscape plans commissioned from leading French landscape architect Achille Duchêne were completed, probably due to cost.
It is often claimed that the Chateau was modeled after the French chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, although the resemblance is remote apart from the shared circular room featured in both buildings (one of which was purchased by Mrs. Carolan intact from a 1760 Bordeaux residence). More accurately, it can be said that both share an authentic Beaux-Arts tradition, inspired by the court architecture of Louis XIV. The gardens on the original Carolans property were patterned after those at Versailles and originally consisted of 32,000 trees and shrubs, with plans for fountains, statues, and roadways.
The Chateau is occasionally called the "last of the great homes" in the U.S., a reference to a spree of mansion-building that began with the residence of W.K. Vanderbilt in 1881 and ended with Carolands, just after the national income tax was enacted in 1913. The Carolan marriage became embittered over quarrels concerning the building. In 1917, the Carolans separated and moved out of the Chateau; Harriet moved to the East Coast, Frank remained in California. After Frank's death in 1923, Harriet married Colonel Arthur Schermerhorn in 1925, and although the new couple briefly reinhabited the Chateau in the year 1927, it would remain essentially uninhabited for its first 29 years.
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.
Harriet sold the home and surrounding 550 acres (2.2 km²) in 1946 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. In 1948 the Burlingame High School Senior class held its prom at the Chateau, bringing the home to life in a glittering candlelight setting.
Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini, a San Francisco heiress (whose personal fortune derived from the re-building of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake with one of her companies, Remillard Brick, headquartered in what is now Larkspur, California), purchased Carolands Chateau in 1950, and in so doing, saved it from demolition by promoters more interested in developing the land than in its historic architecture and significance. The 23 years she lived in the chateau were a period of parties, of entertaining and holding charity benefits. Countess Lillian 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 city of Burlingame. The city of Hillsborough, derived much of its property base from the former development of Chateau Carolands. Sadly, when the Countess died in 1973, the Chateau was in greater risk of demolition than ever before, owing to its enormous upkeep (heating alone averaged $12,000.00/month) The Countess left 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 cultural center rather than pass it through the Remillard Family Trusts. The Countess did not, unfortunately, leave an endowment to run such an undertaking, hoping that her establishment of a gift of this historical importance would spur the City of Hillsborough. The city fathers 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.
Oil and real estate heiress Roz Franks bought the Chateau in 1976 for $313,000, but lost title three years later to land developer George Benny in a legal battle. Benny in turn lost the property when he was indicted on racketeering charges in 1982. Robert Clayton offered to spend $10,000,000 to remodel the Chateau and use it as a corporate think tank, but the Hillsborough city fathers turned down the proposal on zoning grounds. The city's founding charter mandates a community of single-family residences.
During its years of abandonment in the 1970s and 1980s, the grounds and structure were visited by many local high school students who regarded it as "their" haunted house. On February 2, 1985, Laurie McKenna and Jeanine Grinsell, two students at a local high school, went to tour the vacant Chateau and were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, beaten, and tortured by David Allen Raley, a security guard for the property. Raley bound both women and dumped their bodies in a ravine near his house. While Laurie McKenna survived the ordeal, Jeanine Grinsell later succumbed to her wounds in a nearby hospital. David Raley was sentenced to death in 1988 and is presently awaiting execution.
In 1986 an Environmental Impact Report was conducted for a proposal to further subdivide the parcel and build additional homes thereon. The building suffered extensive (but mostly superficial) damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and demolition was again quietly considered. A 1991 Hillsborough Designer Showhouse revived local interest in the house, as well as a new debate on whether the home could be zoned to use as a multi-family residence or converted to alternate use. (The issue remains unresolved.)
in 1998, after many years of abandonment and neglect, the Chateau and its remaining land were purchased by Charles Bartlett Johnson and (Dr.) Ann Johnson, of the Franklin Templeton fortune, for a purchase price just under $6 million. Dr. Johnson undertook an estimated $30 million or more worth of renovations to the mechanical systems, including asbestos removal, roof replacement, and extensive and scrupulous restoration of interiors and exteriors, which in large measure restored the building to the state originally intended by its architects. Doug Wilson, of Doug Wilson Construction, a Gardnerville, Nevada-based general contractor, oversaw all aspects of the restoration. The building is of steel I-beam construction, with five-inch (127 mm) thick reinforced concrete floors, and while the concrete had weakened, the steel super structure remains intact. An additional $40 million might be required to bring the building to current structural code. Although the Caroland's walls look like large granite blocks, they are actually hollow, and made of expanded metal lath and plaster.
Current status 
The Carolands Chateau remains a private single family residence on 5.83 acres (23,600 m2), and has undergone an extensive restoration since 1998. Although no tours are available, the home is occasionally opened for charity benefits and fundraisers. U.S. President George W. Bush made a rare northern California appearance on January 30, 2008, helping the Republican National Committee raise $1.5 million. Mitt Romney appeared for a $2,500-$50,000 per plate fundraiser on June 1, 2012.
Films about Carolands 
A feature-length documentary film entitled Three Women and a Chateau tells the nearly 100-year history of the chateau. In 2006 the documentary had its world premier 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.
Further reading 
- Dwyer, Michael Middleton. Carolands. Redwood City, CA: San Mateo County Historical Association, 2006. ISBN 0-9785259-0-6
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- "Carolands". Office of Historical Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- Kinney, Aaron (January 30, 2008). "Contra Costa Times (Insider blog): A brief visit by Dubya". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
- "Romney attends fundraiser at famed Hillsborough mansion". Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- 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 Poposed 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