For Miss Noble's Fifth Grade Class

Hotaling Mansion Steps
Photo by: Paul Penna

For Miss Noble’s fifth grade class, Faye had to write a very important report on Sleepy Hollow’s history. Part of the grade involved reading her report in front of the class. This made her nervous but she was determined to get an “A.” Faye walked three miles to the San Anselmo Library in order to look at the historical archives. The kindly librarian, Mr. Phelps, helped her find what she was looking for. An old, sepia-coloured book explained: In the mid-to-late 1800s, a Mr. Peter Austin acquired the land. He planted the now-famous eucalyptus and poplar trees lining “Butterfield’s Road” to create a shaded canopy leading to his planned luxury hotel, golf course and artificial lake. Almost immediately, Austin had to abandon his life’s dream due to financial loss and foreclosure. He sold the property to the wealthy, eccentric Hotaling family. They owned A.P. Hotaling & Company Whiskey Distillery located on historic Jackson Street in San Francisco. The Hotalings built an impressive mansion at the end of Butterfield Road, featuring a Romeo and Juliet style balcony to accommodate their many plays and famous bohemian-style parties. The Hotalings named their grand estate ‘Sleepy Hollow’ in honor of a close friend and favorite author, Mr. Washington Irving, who penned The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

For reasons lost in time, living the country life grew boring for the cosmopolitan Hotalings. Faye liked to think they had been haunted and frightened away by old Indian spirits. The Hotalings returned to San Francisco. They sold their estate to dairy farmer, Sigmund Herzog. In 1910, Sleepy Hollow became the first certified milk dairy in the United States.

By the 1930s, Herzog’s dairy had been transformed into a beautiful golf course; the first play-as-you-go, 18-hole course in the West known as the second largest golf course in the world. The golf club disappeared in 1939. The land was given to the U.S. Army in preparation for World War II. Secret bunkers and stockpiles of artillery and ammunition were hidden in the hills. Military trucks, filled with armed-guards, patrolled Butterfield Road. It became ‘off-limits’ to the public.

Faye kept reading. The famous Hotaling mansion survived all of these transformations. Then, in 1946, a Mr. A. G. Raisch purchased the house and an additional five hundred acres for the then princely sum of $50,000. Not to be outdone by the property’s notorious history, the rakish and globe-trotting Mr. Raisch held lavish parties.

Faye remembered her grandmother, Nana Mil, telling stories about cocktails for six hundred being made in cement mixers while live orchestras played under crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceilings of beautiful striped canvas pavilions installed on the grounds.

Mr. Raisch’s impressive estate sat vacant most of the time. Mysteriously, it burned to the ground in 1957. Only the concrete basement walls surrounding the empty indoor swimming pool and a wide set of sweeping stone steps remained.

Ever the adventurous tomboy, Faye made numerous solitary expeditions to the charred remains. On foot, it took her almost half an hour to get there. Inevitably, she would stop-in at the Sleepy Hollow stables to pet the horses and watch the giant goldfish swim in the outdoor metal drinking troughs. By bike, it took her half the time.

The abandoned stone staircase and enormous vault that had once been a magnificent swimming pool were far spookier than anything she saw on Saturday monster-movies. She made a great adventure of sifting through the bits of expensive broken china, crystal, burnt-out appliances, ruined antique furniture, scorched draperies and other intriguing artifacts that had been abandoned. Faye fancied herself an archeologist looking for undiscovered treasures.

Sometimes, Faye arrived to find a group of boys rummaging through the site. Everyone loved to climb down into the pool and run across the steep slope to the deep end. They made a race of it. Back and forth. Faye would watch from above, perched on the highest stair which overlooked the basement. How many times did I nod and smile at the boy whose life and future would become inextricably woven with mine?

The Dominican Order of the Roman Catholic Church purchased the land in the early 60s. Their new acquisition extended from the end of Butterfield Road, far back, into another undeveloped valley and surrounding hills. The Dominican nuns had innovative plans. In 1965, their new ‘state-of-the-art’ school opened its doors. The ‘Lower School’ referred to grades 1-8. The ‘Upper School’ grades 9-12. The beautiful and expansive campus included an equestrian center, tennis courts, a hockey field, an Olympic-size swimming pool, as well as a student center, dormitories, gyms, a cafeteria and dining room, a music school and a lovely small chapel. The vacant cavern of the original pool disappeared. But, the stone stairway of the Hotaling mansion was restored and became the revered location for Upper School graduations.

No comments: