Nothing surprised me more over the weekend than visiting for the first time an Italian Renaissance-style mansion in the heart of the Delta in Northern California, east of the San Francisco Bay.
It was the perfect Sunday drive along the Sacramento River to meet family members for brunch. The house, situated on the riverfront, has 58 rooms and four levels and is the largest private residence in Northern California.
According to the brochure, the mansion was designed in 1917 by renowned San Francisco architect J.W. Dolliver for Louis Meyers and his wife Audrey, daughter of Lubin of the Weinstock Lubin department stores. It served as Meyers’ centerpiece for his fruit orchard empire and for entertaining guests who arrived by riverboat. Meyers was a orchardist and you can still see wide sweeping fields of pear trees surrounding the mansion and the surrounding town of Walnut Grove.
Outside, the grounds are nice – with fountains and statues and a great big hill for the kids to run down.
It has been restored by the original architect’s great-nephew, Terrence Black. Inside there is a funny feel of luxurious period furnishings and European artwork likely not from the original private residence, but rather to transform it into a wedding location ( it is used primarily as an event venue). But several rooms including what I assume is the original private bowling alley and home theatre with beautifully carved wooded seats are a thrill to see. There is even a Hemingway Hunt room which serves as a bar lounge, with deer heads and furs on the wall.
I’m not clear if Hemingway ever stayed here, but I imagine that in the 1920s, bars called Hemingway were en vogue.
The house has been featured in National Geographic, Architectural Digest and Sunset Magazines.
Rather than pity a bygone era and beautiful home taken over by corporate events or weddings (didn’t the real Downton Abby do the same?), I rather enjoy imagining a Mr. and Mrs. Meyers escaping San Francisco on riverboat, to the laid back country delta and surrounding orchards. A welcome break from the city, then and now.
The Grand Island Mansion is open for public viewing when it serves Sunday brunch on select weekends. Otherwise it is used for private group reservation. Private tours are also offered.