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Biden-Xi APEC meeting will take place at Filoli estate and gardens. Here’s a look at the grand Peninsula mansion’s history

Quiet, secluded Woodside property chosen for private conversation

The sunken garden at Filoli, shown here in a January 2023 photo, features a reflecting pool surrounded by low hedges and formal garden beds. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
The sunken garden at Filoli, shown here in a January 2023 photo, features a reflecting pool surrounded by low hedges and formal garden beds. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
AuthorJoan Morris, Features/Animal Life columnist  for the Bay Area News Group is photographed for a Wordpress profile in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, July 28, 2016. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Filoli, the grandest country estate in San Mateo County, always gets gussied up for holiday season visitors.

This year, the arrivals start early. On Wednesday, the historic Woodside property will serve as the site for the historic meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping, who are in San Francisco this week for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund, told the Associated Press that the location likely has met Xi’s expectations for a private meeting with Biden away from the main summit venue. “It appears to be a quiet, secluded estate, where Biden and Xi can have an intimate conversation in a relaxed environment,” she said.

Filoli is indeed secluded, and has quiet acreage in spades.

Noted architect Willis Polk designed the circa 1917 house in the style of a Georgian mansion for owners William and Agnes Bourn, who made their money in gold mining. They had intended it to be just a country retreat, but grandeur won out as the home rose from its foundations to include 56 rooms covering more than 54,000 square feet.

According to the estate, William Bourn created the name “Filoli” by combining the first letters of the first words in his personal credo: “Fight for a just cause // Love your fellow man // Live a good life.”

After the Bourns’ deaths, the 654-acre property was sold to William and Lurline Roth, who continued to expand the gardens. The Roths wanted the estate to be a place of horticulture significance, where people could visit and learn about the astounding aspects of nature. Before her death, Lurline — she was the Matson steamship heiress — ensured that would happen, refusing to sell the estate and instead putting it in the hands of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Filoli has been open for public tours of both the house and the gardens for almost 50 years. The estate hosts 100,000 visitors annually, primarily garden enthusiasts, artists, music lovers and architecture and history buffs. Most come to tour the spectacular grounds, with 16 acres of formal gardens, 250 fruit trees, a vegetable garden and a daffodil meadow that in springtime blooms with more than 75,000 flowers.

At the heart of the expansive Filoli garden is its caretakers’ drive to preserve historic plantings while keeping up with the times, including an emphasis on reducing water use. That has led to some interesting landscaping decisions that include a formal English garden planted with Mediterranean stalwarts and a traditional cottage garden filled with native California plants.

Filoli was closed to the public this week in preparation for Saturday’s opening of “Holidays at Filoli,” an annual event that invites visitors to stroll the lighted gardens, tour the decorated mansion, sip hot cider and mulled wine around fire pits and shop for holiday gifts.