Town Square

Post a New Topic

Change is hard: Filoli enters its second century, but some long for the past

Original post made on Jan 17, 2018

For 29 years Filoli, the historic Woodside estate owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, celebrated the holiday season in the same way. This year, things changed.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 4:27 PM

Comments (34)

Posted by Allen Rudolph
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2018 at 6:08 pm

Thank you Barbara Wood for your article exposing the changes at Filoli. It was common knowledge that there had been a big shake up and the volunteers were leaving but I did not know the details. I appreciate the information on what was going on.
My family loved Filoli. My Mom, now 97, introduced me to the gardens and the mansion years ago. One thing you did not mention was the annual Mothers Day flower show and open house. Each year for at least 15 years My wife and I brought our extended families, 20 people/tickets, every year for at least 15 years, probably more, up until last year when the board decided to cancel the event. Everyone loved going. We would have a nice brunch at our house then up to the mansion and gardens. I always brought home a plant or tree or something for our garden. It was a solid family tradition.
The Holiday gift extravaganza was also a tradition. I was always amazed at how well it was run. You could fill up a bag and instantly one of the volunteers would take it from you, tag it with your name and hand you a fresh bag. Then at the end you went to the Garden gift shop where you reclaimed you bags, went inside where there were 8 or more cash registers with expert cashiers and helpers cranking the machines. There was ever a long wait, smooth as clockwork. The whole operation was so incredibly well organized, it was a real pleasure to experience. The volunteers were on top of everything and you could tell they were informed and appreciated. It is very hard to believe the events didn't make money especially with the spending that goes on in our area. If it is true it is hard to believe the events couldn't be overhauled and saved. My membership expired and I won't be renewing.

Posted by Liz
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2018 at 7:38 pm

Just bring back the old Filoli and I will renew my membership and then some. Thank you.

Posted by Loni Alred
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 6:51 am

This person summarizes it oooh soooo well:

Instead of a claustrophobic, over-the-top shopping experience (why on earth would you turn a historic house into Macy's on crack!?), they have presented the house the way the families who lived here would have had it which makes complete sense if you ask me!" Julie M. wrote.

I think the realization they lost control created the upheaval and it is hard for humans when this occurs. Finally; the Estate was given back to "The People" where it belongs.

Let us remember what Jimi Hendrix said;

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." Jimi Hendrix

Posted by Barbara
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 7:25 am

Its not change that the volunteers did not like, it was the way the changes were made. Ms. Newport never made any effort to show appreciation for the 1400 volunteers, some who had been there for over 20 years. She never made contact with them, in fact sometimes showing distain. Several discrimination lawsuits were filed. She made a point of saying more people were hired as the volunteers left. What purpose does that serve? She pushed aside volunteers who knew that place like the back of their hands, who loved it dearly, and “volunteered” their time every month, for younger, inexperienced, minimum wage helpers. And why couldn’t they open Filoli to more events, and still keep Holiday Traditions?
Is it “always” just about the money?

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2018 at 11:15 am

I'm very sad to hear of the changes to the Holiday Traditions at Filoli. I wasn't able to visit Filoli this year for the holidays but have in the past on opening night, the day after Thanksgiving. It was a magical experience, kind of like the moment in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the kids and their parents who won the golden ticket, entered the factory for the first time to see the edible wonders. It felt like that for me, entering each beautifully decorated room with enticing items to purchase, set out beautifully throughout the house. Entering each room was a magical experience and I loved it.

Every new director wants to make a big name for themselves and create an impressive resume, showing how they increase revenue for a company. It's all about the resume. Although Filoli is not a corporation, it still depends on revenue to survive, so changes are often necessary. It seems to me though that the things that work - like Holiday Traditions - could have remained the same but maybe had the hours extended. For example, I think it was a good idea to keep the event running till the end of December so that more people would have a chance to enjoy the experience, but there was no need to completely change something that had worked for years and that people enjoyed.

Posted by Nazir Naji
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Keep doing what you are doing Filoli.

The community at large is very satisfied with the new changes at Filoli Estate. Our law firm plans on scheduling some client visit events in Spring. Current and prospective clients love this place. The event schedule on your website seems to offer a wide array of choices so we will have our staff start coordinating: I like the look of Filoli’s Jazz Series celebrating world-renowned jazz masters and top talent from the Bay Area. Exciting stuff guys.

On a side-note: We have a couple employees who wish to apply to be volunteers during weekends.

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2018 at 1:06 pm

I don't think the Roth family intended for Fioli to be used for corporate events. It's main purpose is to be enjoyed by the public.

How do you know that the community at large is satisfied with the new changes? Have you interviewed everyone? I wasn't asked.

The Jazz Series is nothing new so don't try and give credit for that to the new director.

A poster above mentioned that the Mother's Day event, which was extremely popular and brought many visitors, has been discontinued. I hope this isn't true. I attended the Mother's Day event with my now deceased mother. How sad.

Posted by Fight Love Live
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 18, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Barbara Wood-- thank you for a very detailed look at the changes at Filoli. For those of us who have been long time members, it has been disappointing to witness the struggles involving this historic gem over the past few years.

Some changes may have had to happen for long term financial preservation. However, given the numbers cited in the story, the changes to Holiday Traditions seem to have run counter to the goal of raising money. (I cannot believe that Ms. Newport does know know how much money was made with the new format. In previous years, Filoli organizers always knew how much had been made within a very short time of the event ending.) Having attended the night after Thanksgiving-- a historically sold out evening-- this year's event was like touring a ghost town; I only saw about two dozen other people touring the grounds during our allotted time slot (but perhaps other days had more visitors). More importantly, the changes were a huge hit to the spirit of community and tradition that scores of people who attended year after year felt. This used to be a "community event" filled with laughter and joy. It was not that this year.

Like two of the previous commenters, I will not be renewing my annual membership, although I do not think that Ms. Newport cares about that. It sounds as if making Filoli a wedding/ event venue is now the top priority of Ms. Newport and the board. I simply cannot imagine that was the vision the Roth and Bourn families had in mind for their beloved home.

One characteristic that has always made Filoli special is that it is cared for by so many kind volunteers who so generously give of their time because they are so committed to preserving this special place. Long time employees like those mentioned in the article are people those of us "regulars" came to know and love. Their treatment by the new administration is, again, something that goes against the beliefs of the very people who established Filoli; Mr. Bourn created Filoli's motto: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” It does not sound as though current employees and volunteers feel respected, much less loved.

Looking at the situation from a corporate perspective, I think that Ms. Newport and the board fail to recognize something very important: customer loyalty. It is very expensive to lose a loyal customer. I hope I am wrong. I hope the board does find value in those of us who have been helping to support Filoli for years and even decades. Of course they can rent out the venue and seek corporate sponsorships to fill the void. But again, I just can't imagine that was the legacy that the Roths and Bourns wanted for such a special, unique place.

Posted by Ann Ellison Zuckerberg
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 18, 2018 at 3:56 pm

As a family, we intend on supporting Filoli and its team members any way we can.
Filoli will be here for many years beyond my years and with positive support from the community, we will make this a place for our children to enjoy.

Our goal as a family is to always concentrate on the "possibilities ahead of us" and do what we can to make this Estate the best estate we can for others.

Thanks to those from the bottom of our heart for the positive feedback and to those who have different opinions we also understand and have heard what you had to say.

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Who is Ann Ellison Zuckerberg? Her name is not listed on the Filoli website under Leadership but her post seems to indicate that she has some kind of influenced on the decisions made at Filoli: "thanks from the bottom of our heart for the positive feedback and to those who have different opinions we also understand and have heard what you've had to say." ????

Posted by Selby Lane
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2018 at 5:14 pm

I think she is referencing feedback from the posts. Just a simple guess.

I am interested in the classes below for a novice gardener:

A Year in the Garden is an informative series of classes for the home gardener who wants an in-depth understanding of plants and gardening. It is suitable for the novice gardener or those with gardening experience.


Posted by H. Jones
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 18, 2018 at 5:29 pm

We loved the tour and spent 45 minutes in the Cafe for a light lunch.
I never knew the Roth's or Bourn's but it was certainly nice this Estate was preserved. We all felt a bit overwhelmed with the size of the Estate.

Next stop after our visit we will visit the Art Exhibit: 'The Crown under the Hammer: Russia, Romanovs, Revolution' the newspaper listed.

I feel wealthy even though I am not after this tour.

Posted by Opening up HT
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 18, 2018 at 7:43 pm

I have enjoyed Holiday Traditions at Filoli in the past but to me opening the house and grounds to allow wider participation sounds like the right move to me. Better for Filoli to be enjoyed by more of the public rather than an exclusive few.

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Holiday Traditions has always been open to the public. I bought a ticket to the evening event three years ago although I was not a member (I was a member years ago). It's never been exclusive but has always been open to anyone who buys a ticket, so I'm not sure why you're implying that it has only been open to an exclusive few.

Posted by JJ
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 10:33 pm

What is the board's current mission statement? From both stories in the Almanac, it seems that their strategy is now corporate money from events.... not the community or historical preservation. That is too bad. They made an unfortunate hire that is counter to what Filoli has always represented.

Posted by Drew A
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2018 at 7:59 am

Good point Judy and JJ. I agree somewhat but it seems the Board at Filoli has gone a different direction and that is OK with me. In my many years, I have seen a bunch of CEO's, Presidents and managers come and go and I have learned while I always don't agree I simply pray things work out for everyone involved and hope for the best.
Filoli is all of ours and we all have passion enough to all come together and leave our differences aside for the sake of Filoli and our children who will hopefully enjoy its magic for many years to come.

With great respect to all...

Posted by Course Correct Quickly!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:30 pm

How Holiday Traditions at Filoli is run is, bottom line, most relevant in terms of whether or not it generates revenue for the organization. Based on the article, it seems like this year was a bust.

The conversation is missing a bigger point: the new executive director has behaved in such a way as to cause the filing of several lawsuits that have been settled. Her behavior cost Filoli money, negative publicity, a loss of volunteers, and a loss of memberships. I'm surprised that Donna Colson and the rest of the board is doubling down and throwing good money after bad.

Board-- course correct. There are effective leaders for hire who do not invite so much destruction, negativity and cost to the organization.

Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:46 pm

I have hesitated to write following my holiday visit to Filoli, but the articles and blog have provoked my feelings towards Filoli. I completely agree with the post from "Fight Love Live" above. Well stated. I volunteered for some years and gave many hours in different roles to Filoli. I no longer volunteer and am not renewing my membership solely because of the leadership. Although change is hard, it is often good and some of the recent changes make sense. But the treatment of some of the employees and volunteers is deplorable. Having been in the corporate world my entire career, you learn there is no percentage in disrespecting or humiliating people. There is a strong feeling among the volunteers that we are no longer needed and not valued. There isn't a reason to give free time if one is not needed and if the environment is unpleasant. I have firsthand knowledge of the mistreatment and disrespect and cannot support such an organization. What a miss for Filoli to discount this extremely talented dedicated volunteer group.

The holiday visit was extremely disappointing. While I believe the past HT event had grown to be "over the top", this year the house was like a morgue. It was not a neutral experience, but rather depressing and extremely disappointing. To add to the cheery day, one of the employees reacted badly and defensively to a comment made by one of our group. It could have been easily diffused with a bit of customer diplomacy . The employee actually radioed to Headquarters(?) about us. The employee was talking to a very small group who combined have given approximately 20,000 hours to Filoli. It was almost laughable - but it wasn't.

I will miss the tranquil beauty of Filoli. It was not an estate but a home - a wonderful respite from the rest of the peninsula. Although grand, it was filled with love, life and peace. It seems to be on a different mission now - an event center fueled by greed and ego. We are losing a treasure.

Posted by Opening it up
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:57 pm

Judy, Holiday Traditions used to be only 9 days, with tickets selling out well in advance as stated in the article. Nice for the exclusive few who got tickets, but clearly more of the public was interested in attending. So I think the expansion is a positive development.

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 20, 2018 at 1:45 am

Opening Up: Tickets to the Holiday Traditions event have always been available to the public for purchase. I don't know why you are calling those who purchased the tickets "exclusive." There were a limited number of tickets sold (the house can only accommodate so many people) but it doesn't make those who purchased them "exclusive."

I agree with you that the event should be extended, but that does not mean that it needs to be completely changed. And even though Filoli was open for a longer period of time for Holiday Traditions last year, there were still a limited number of tickets for purchase each day and was sold out on a few of the days. Does that mean it was "exclusive?"

Posted by Jenny
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 20, 2018 at 3:56 pm

I attended Holiday Traditions in 2015 and 2016 and found it to be exquisite. In an age of digital shopping and cookie cutter malls we have in our backyard a grand home filled with specially curated holiday magic. I couldn't wait to someday take my little girls and watch their faces as they looked around in awe. I had no idea that this year would be different. My heart sunk to the floor when I walked through the front door. The magic was gone. My group of six women had run into three other friends at the ticket counter who had never been to Holiday Traditions before and I had told them what a treat they were in for, not realizing the change. I was so disappointed they couldn't experience the grandeur of years past. I agree with Allen Rudolph and was amazed by the way Holiday Traditions was run in the past with shopping bags, cashiers and smiles. In prior years I had spent three hours looking at all of the beautiful decorations. This year every person in my group was ready to leave after 30-45 minutes and we all agreed we would not waste our time next year if it didn't go back to the previous Holiday Traditions. I bought a few items this year (much less than in years past), but sales from my group next year will be $0. As I perused the tiny gift shop and stood in line waiting to pay this year, every single conversation I overheard was the same, people expressing their bewilderment and sadness at the new format. I don't think those people will be back in 2018 either. While Filoli may have had more visitors this year, I don't think they are going to be planning for the huge drop off in visitors in 2018 that, like me, will not come back due to their extreme dissatisfaction with this year's Holiday program.

Organizations need to change with the times and it is understandable they need to find new sources of revenue with weddings and corporate events, but they could have made those changes and expanded the number of days of the Holiday Traditions and seen more visitors and more retail sales. Additionally, if an organization is trying to shore up its cash flow wouldn't it add volunteers and shed employees? The decisions being made just don't make good business sense.

Posted by Marty
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2018 at 5:42 am

Took the company specialty tour this week. We visited Filoli during winter to experience the magic of the winter Garden and heard new tales of the families we loved. Very cool and we enjoyed the several hour event to the max. Nice move guys. Generally, there is not much to do after the Holidays so this is a nice change for our family.

I visited the Clock Tower Shop and purchased some exclusive products like stationery and soap for my parents and friends.

We visited during Christmas with our cousins who were in town and they went back to London raving about Filoli even compared to the great castles in England. They felt the Estate was preserved correctly and seem to know alot about the importance of preservation living in England and touring the oldest castles in the countryside.

We appreciate the cleaner more professional look of the Estate compared to past years. We and many of our friends felt Filoli was taking on a "rummage sale" look.

Thank you Kara and staff for the last minute coordination with our team. Very professional.

Posted by Laura Wuest
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Filoli is the heart of this zip code!

Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 21, 2018 at 10:04 pm

Nice try, Marty. Anyone who has been to England and has toured castles and/or the grand estates like Highclere castle (where Downton Abbey was filmed) will not think that Filoli is on par with those great houses. Filoli is a treasure and one of the few grand estates remaining in the Bay Area, but I doubt that a visitor from England will be blown away by the house itself. The gardens are very nice though, but without much in bloom during the winter months I don't understand why anyone would want to visit then. I think it was a good idea to let the garden rest during December and January, and then reopen in February when the spectacular magnolia trees are in bloom. I don't think it's very cost effective to keep a paid staff during the early winter months when Filoli does not attract many visitors.

Again the word "exclusive." What was so "exclusive" about the products purchased in the gift shop? Was the soap manufactured at Filoli? Did the stationary feature a likeness of Filoli? I'd like to know what makes items - like soap and stationary - for sale at Filoli "exclusive."

It seems that some of these posts are suspect...

Posted by PhD in English Lit
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 7:07 am

Here's a clue to what posts are from Filoli's paid social media "consultant." Look for the capitalized letter E in Estate (sic) in every one of their posts.

Posted by Don't have to be a rocket scientist
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 8:43 am

I agree with Phd, you can tell that these comments were planted by someone that is not that all familiar with Filoli.
Who capitalizes Estate, Garden, Cafe? You get my drift. Ann Ellison Zuckerberg? Nice try combining Larry Ellison's and Mark Zuckerberg's last name. Not buying it. Nazir Naji? If you knew anything about Filoli's volunteers, you just can't want to volunteer for the weekends.

It is my observation that Filoli is desperatley doing damage control. Hiring a pr social media company, sending threatening cease and desist letters to Yelp reviewers (yes they did), most of the negative posts from Yelp have been challenged or removed, seems they are scrambling to make up for the blunders that have occurred.

The damage has been done and maybe some day the board of directors will wake up and correct the mistakes that have been made.

Posted by karen
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 22, 2018 at 12:44 pm

I would just like to say that the count of 10 volunteers who have quit is way off. I believe it is upwards of 40 or so. Our whole shift in the gift shop quit and I know of so many others that have.

I think the notice that we got saying that to be a volunteer you "have to be able to walk a mile in uneven terrain" spurred many on, not that we couldn't do it, but just how sad it was getting and how we were being treated.

Posted by betsaloo
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 22, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Wow, I never add to comments, but feel i must this time given the divisive words about Filoli. I've been attending Holiday Traditions every year since 1986. I was so disappointed in the 2017 version...dreary shabby furniture and lackluster items from the daily vendors. However, I suggest the board really listen to the loyal public and strike a balance between the old and the new. Bring back the big tent, heat it, and curate the items for sale. Hire a buyer and send them to the Atlanta Gift Fair to choose quality items. Reach out to local craft makers - half of Etsy vendors live in the bay area!
Lets just chalk 2017 up to beginner's jitters and hope 2018 Holiday Traditions is a bit more.....well, traditional.

Posted by William D
a resident of Ormondale School
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:22 am

[Post removed; Town Square is a commercial-free forum; please respect the rules.]

Posted by Opening it up
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 24, 2018 at 8:35 am

@Judy, seems to me you are reading a lot more into my comments than was there. I loved the old event. If that could last longer or even the same but have the house and grounds open additional days in the fall without the event that would be great. I think it is good that Filoli is open to more people and for more days over the holidays than it used to be. It is not as exclusive and limited, it is more inclusive by having increased capacity so others can attend who did not get tickets a month in advance. The truth is that many of the Holiday Traditions tickets were snapped up by people who knew to be ready immediately when they went on sale because they had gone year after year, or had had missed prior years not being fast enough. There clearly was way more demand. It would be a shame not to share the Filoli wonderful experience with new people.

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:13 pm

I have loved the Christmas and Mother's Day events of the past. They bring lovely memories to myself and family. I'm surprised that there are some who think Filoli has not been open to the public and shouldn't be attended by those who want to visit. My question is what will be the long term impact on creating new venues and being open all year, thus more and more people, be on the house and gardens?There's nothing wrong with creating new venues for the public to attend but I also worry about bringing in corporate events and, again, the negative impact versus making more money. Too many cooks in the kitchen/too much politics without producing something worth digesting.

Posted by Harrison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2018 at 2:26 pm

This story is DEAD Move on. Filoli is doing just fine and the Almanac and others just can not stand it.

Watch how The Almanac censors this post

Posted by Change for Change Sake
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2018 at 7:10 pm

Many comments refer to income, visitor growth, a new and younger membership, etc.. Other comments focus on the past. By the way, the year ending 2015, Filoli had $25,000,000 in reserve (non-profit tax returns are a matter of public record). By any accounting, the Filoli's board, employees, volunteers and membership were doing pretty well.
Why was slow and steady growth not good enough?...In Kara Newport's world, Filoli needs corporate money (See's Candy...the Colson's???), needs to open all year (so that the garden can't rest and the hard working stewards of that garden can't do the necessary repairs), needs to change HT into a new and less interesting tradition. More days, more private parties, more people, less peace. I could go on, but what's the point.
When I supported the terminated employees, Kara Newport canceled my trip to Ireland and had Lisa do her dirty work. When Kara Newport was challenged for retaliating, she canceled my membership ($1,000)...more retaliation...more threats.
Whoever said that Kara Newport is a bully was correct. Her management style is simple..."her way or the highway". She is not interested in an opinion other than her own. Unfortunate because the millennials will see Filoli as..."one and done". How do I know...the ho hum attitude and of course the words..."so boring" for visitors under the age of 30.
I am hopeful that with the exodus of employees and even more important, the volunteers and the loss of members, the Board of Governors will see the light and by letting Ms. Newport go and return Filoli to her kinder, gentler self.

Posted by Erica M.
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2018 at 12:19 pm

I love the changes and fresh approach to visiting Filoli. I feel that they are reaching out to a wider audience and adding more modern events and attracting a younger audience. I do miss the Holiday Traditions, but appreciate the overall changes. The centennial event from 2017 was equally magical and enchanting as well as the Solstice event in a December. Filoli will never lose it’s magic and will always be a special place to visit.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Analysis/paralysis: The infamous ‘Palo Alto Process’ must go
By Diana Diamond | 6 comments | 2,023 views

Common Ground
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 1,533 views

The Time and Cost Savings of Avoiding a Long Commute
By Steve Levy | 5 comments | 1,457 views

Planting a Fall Garden?
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 889 views