Green Gables was Greene & Greene's largest Project
By Marion Softky
Green Gables, the Woodside estate of the Mortimer Fleishhacker family with its 70-year old house and formal gardens, was the largest and most ambitious project of noted California architect Charles Greene.
"The architect's greatest attribute was his ability to match the form of the house to the site," explains Marc Fleishhacker as he stands by the lily pond looking across an expanse of formal lawn toward the large, slightly curving house on top of the knoll. "The whole house slopes down and feeds into the hill. It's very natural."
Marc, who studied political science at Brown University, is the great-grandson of the banking and paper magnate who commissioned the house in 1911. When Mortimer Fleishhacker Sr. wanted a summer home for his growing family, he searched the Bay Area before settling on 75 roiling acres in Woodside. Then he searched the state looking for an architect.
The Greene brothers had established a reputation for developing ultimate California bungalows in the Pasadena area and were ready to expand their scope. But when Fleishhacker hired the Greene firm, he wanted an English-style country house with thatched roof.
Greene designed and built the house and then spent the next 20 years off and on developing the formal gardens. Both house and gardens show the same sense of detail the Greenes lavished on all their projects.
The soft curve of the roof seen from the lily pond results from a unique process of bending redwood shingles and molding them individually onto the roof to resemble thatch. Craftsmen steam the shingles and then nail them onto the roof when wet to give the free form feel of a thatched roof, Marc explains. The roof was recently redone by the original techniques, and the only way to tell the new from the old is a slight difference in color and a smoother, less weathered surface.