Santa Cruz Mountains

The Castle In the Sky
The Cats Estate


Leo & Leona were born in 1922. In the beginning they were simply called “The Cats”. Magnificent and mesmerizing they became a symbol of the elegant lives their owners lived in the 1920s and 30s on the hill above the town of Los Gatos, California. The Cats are magnificent, and the home they guard is as mesmerizing as they are! Built in the glorious 20s by celebrities of the day, the mountain top retreat of their owners was the place to be and the place to be seen. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be invited to the retreat of the prominent, successful attorney, turned fulltime writer, who left his long term wife for the young poet and suffragette. Scandalous in those days and the stuff history is made of.

Charles Erskine Scott Wood was introduced to Sara Bard Field by Scopes Monkey Trial attorney, Clarence Darrow in 1911. She was 28 and married to a Baptist Minister with two young children and he was 58, estranged from his wife, with five adult children. Sara Field was becoming increasingly more involved in the suffrage movement—women’s right to vote and hold public office in the United States. She began campaigning for woman’s rights as her marriage crumbed. Finally, she asked her husband for a divorce, something unheard of in 1912. She took her two young children, Albert and Katherine, moved to Goldfield, Nevada where divorces were attainable in a reasonably short period of time, and was granted a divorce in which her husband obtained custody. Shethen embarked on a campaign for woman’s suffrage across the country to Washington DC, where she was met with a ticker tape parade. Field returned to California and settled in San Francisco because her ex-husband had been transferred to a church in Berkeley, after the scandal of the divorce in Portland society.
CES Wood and his first wife had become the pillars of Portland’s high society. Wood had set himself up as the benefactor to Portland, entertaining with lavish parties while writing increasingly more politically charged articles about the social issues of the day. The first two decades of the twentieth century were turbulent, with labor unrest; strikes and attempts to unionize workers were bringing about change, and Wood was a leader in the new way of thinking. A gifted public speaker, he was also a talented writer of fiction, drama, satire, and poetry. He defended controversial figures of the day and promoted local artists. He convinced the powers to be that the library should be free to every citizen, and represented more and more civil rights cases in his practice.

In 1918, two pivotal events took place in Wood’s and Field’s lives. Wood was the attorney in a large land accusation deal netting him $750,000, a great deal of money in those days and that summer, Wood and Field planned a picnic with Field’s two children. While Field was driving to the picnic, she lost control on a hill, resulting in a serious accident, killing 18 year old Albert and injuring Field. Although Field was seriously injured, her real injuries were those to her well being. She suffered a “nervous breakdown” over her guilt and grief, and never drove again. Wood nursed her back to health, realizing that life was too short to wait any longer, he left his law practice to his son, who was forty-one, divided the money from his land deal, one-third to his wife, one-third to his children, one-third to Sara Bard Field, and moved to San Francisco to join Field. He was sixy-six years old and wanted to devote the rest of his life to writing and living life with Sara Bard Field.

Living on Russian Hill, near Broadway and Jones, in San Francisco, they enjoyed living the life of writers. However, being a successful writer requires peace and solitude. Wood wrote, “My wife, Sara Bard Field, and I were driven out of San Francisco by our friends. We are writers, and one who writes or does creative work needs all the respectful seclusion and privacy of the setting hen. If she is continually driven off her nest the eggs won’t hatch, and no one a can pursue a line of creative thought unless not only uninterrupted, but with feeling in his mind that he will not be interrupted.” They had a longing for the ocean, so they explored the coast from San Diego to San Francisco looking for the perfect spot that wasn’t too windy and that “put a wall between us and the fog.” They stayed at the Lyndon Hotel, in Los Gatos, finding a local realtor, Zedd Riggs, who drove them around for a week examining raw land, as they wanted to build their own home. They finally decided on a piece of property on a hill adjacent to the Town of Los Gatos with a view of the entire Santa Clara valley, and the promise of a good spring, on thirty-four acres of land with an old shack. Today, only the chimney still stands from the original shack.

They spent weekends at “The Shack”, a three room cabin made of rough redwood from the property, enjoying the seclusion and beauty of the place. This gave them the seclusion they needed to be creative and the property was breathtakingly beautiful, giving them the inspiration to be creative. The first improvement made was a vineyard, as an act of defiance against the Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition. They hired a local Italian man from town, Vincent Marengo, to plant and maintain the vineyard. He and his wife, Mary came to live on the property in 1929, when the Gate House was built for them. The Gate House is perched on the side of a hill, two stories high with a rooftop deck and garage. They lived there until 1953 when Vincent’s asthma got so bad he had to quit working. They then moved to town, where Field (Wood had died) bought them a house and made sure their pensions were adequate for them to live comfortably.

“My wife and I had a sort of mania to prove that California was the American Italy—the very place for outdoor drama, outdoor sculptures, and so on.’’ Wood explained. “We believed the beauty of sculpture is in the form, not the material. Of course, bronze or stone is more beautiful as material, but as Art the form is the essential thing, not the material, and we thought if we could put up on the highway, where the road turned off to the climb to our place, some very imposing and dignified sculpture in the cheap material of concrete, it would be an example that would inspire others to do likewise, and possibly towns and road districts would bring in sculpture as a decoration for parks and bridges and building.” They thought that they could get “some sculpture just as real as the Sphinx or the Lions of Mycenae.” They inquired among their sculptor friends in San Francisco and were led to Robert Treat Paine (1869-1946). A sculptor and technical innovator, Paine studied at the Chicago School of Art and as an apprentice to Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the Art Students League in New York. He invented a Sculpto-point” pointing machine used to enlarge sculptures. A device for mechanically tracing the outlines of a sculpture and reproducing them on a magnified scale, a process which had previously been done by hand. Paine came to San Francisco in 1913 to work on the Panama Pacific Expedition of 1915. He was also commissioned to do numerous sculptures, including supervising the installation of sculptural embellishments to the Palace of Fine Arts and he created The Illustrious Obscure, a fountain on an island at the north end of the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon in San Francisco. His wife was a mathematics professor at UC Berkeley and in 1920, he left her and his two daughters to live in the shack for two years while he designed and built the two Cats statues for “the day wages of a mason” and lodging. He studied the large cats at the San Francisco Zoo, watching their every movement. Wood stated in a 1931 article in the Los Gatos Newspaper, “We chose The Cats as a figure, not because of any definite reference to this locality of Los Gatos—
‘The Cats’—but because at all times and everywhere the cat has suggested itself as one of the most beautiful forms for sculpture. We discussed bears, men, horses, bulls—but finally, with a strong preference of the sculptor himself, we selected cats, and we then did select the wild cat in colossal form, because of Los Gatos.” The Cats are made of tinted concrete and are sitting, ears up, tail curled around the back legs The eyes of the cat on the left are partly closed; the eyes of the cat on the right, are open. Both cats sit on 1 ½ x 2 ½ x 4 ft. concrete bases. Paine also built a large round bench with round table in the middle near the shack. The bench is constructed of concrete, engraved with poems.

In 1924, Wood and Field took a trip to Europe, engrossing themselves in Italy and all of its public art. They returned to California with the idea of building a magnificent home on their mountain property complete with artwork to complement their Cats statues. They hired noted California architect, Walter Steilberg (1886-1974). Steilberg helped design Wheeler Hall,
the University of California Library, and the Cal president’s home on the UC Berkeley campus while getting his degree in Architecture from Cal. After college, he worked for famed architect Julia Morgan, where he was an engineer on the Hearst Castle. A devastating fire in 1923 in north Berkeley convinced Steilberg that concrete was a more appropriate material for building houses. As well, a fire roared through the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1925 destroying everything in its path, further cementing the idea that building a house made of concrete was permanent and afforded protection from wild fire. A Mediterranean style home was decided on, set into the protection of the hillside, facing north with a view of Los Gatos and the entire Santa Clara Valley. The 3985 square foot house is constructed of cinder blocks and lots of rebar, with the walls left natural. A large living room spans across the front of the house, with kitchen to one side, and two wings, one on each side, containing five bedrooms and four bathrooms. This gave Wood and Field privacy in their wing, while guests stayed behind the kitchen in the other wing. Above the fireplace in the living room is a beautiful piece of artwork, Ralph Stackpole’s (1885-1973) “Allegorical Medallion of Peace.” A large solarium with breathtaking views was built above the living room’s flat roof. The third owners finally roofed it in to stop the perpetual leakage into the living room. A large basement was included for the wine production and wine storage. Originally estimated at $10,000, the cost to build their dream home more than doubled, with the difficulties of hauling all those cinder blocks up the long windy road and the issues that arose with the hillside construction.

The hillside in front of the house was terraced and a large amphitheater was built and landscaped. Behind the house is a courtyard surrounded on three sides by the house. This was a sheltered area they adorned with artwork of all kinds.

The two fountains made of tile that beautify the courtyard were designed and built by the renowned San Francisco artist Benny Bufano (1898-1970). His Fountain of Two Children is the centerpiece of the courtyard and his bronze relief, Tree of Poetry hangs on the wall. Benny accompanied Wood and Field to a San Jose tile factory to select the ceramic tiles used in the fountains. Beniamino Bufano was born in Italy, and moved to New York when he was three. He is best known for his large-scale monuments, usually of granite and steel. His modernist work often features smoothly rounded animals and relatively simple shapes. In 1915, Bufano entered a nationwide art competition winning the $500 first place prize with a sculpture in tile, granite and steel entitled Peace. Benny came to San Francisco to work on the Panama-Pacific Expedition and slept on Robert Paine’s floor. Examples of his distinctive and large-scale work are found throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including Saint Francis of the Guns, a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi—San Francisco’s namesake—made from melted-down guns mixed with bronze (to prevent rust from dampness). This work commissioned in 1968 was inspired by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Above the courtyard on the chimney is a large Ralph Stackpole sculpture, Representation of Maia. He was an American sculptor, painter, muralist, etcher and art educator, considered San Francisco’s leading artist during the 1920s and 1930s. He was also involved in the Panama-Pacific Expedition and he taught at the SF Art Academy, as did the other artists who worked at the Poet’s Canyon. Some of the works at the Palace of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Stock Exchange are his creations, along with the murals on Coit Tower.

Ray Boynton (1883-1951), the well-known western painter and muralist designed and built the mosaic on the wall below Ralph Stockpole’s sculpture. Another San Francisco Art Institute instructor and UC Berkeley professor, he taught and influenced generations of sculptors. Field spoke about this piece of art in an interview, “I should add that always beauty was above all with Erskine; he just could not live in an atmosphere that wasn’t beautiful. He was an artist in every sense of the word, so he brought in his artist friends to cooperate in the building of the house, with the result that we had this beautiful painting done by Ray Boynton, who did the Mills College mural, and later we had it changed to a mosaic because the painting wouldn’t hold. The dripping from the rain at night sent the concrete film over it and it just didn’t last, so he came down and took the painting off and made a mosaic of the same design. When I asked him whether he had any special subject in mind, he said, well, there were some lines of Yeats that kept running through his mind when he was doing it: ‘My love went up into the mountain top and hid his face among a crowd of stars.”

The last set of artwork is on the hill above the house, next to the remains of the original shack that was on the property. The Robert Paine’s round bench is near, on the knoll. Lawrence Tenney Stevens (1896-1972) was the mastermind behind the bust of Wood and Field. A sculptor of western animals, a painter and printmaker who studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, he believed that the bigger the better, producing colossal pieces of artwork. The bust of Wood and Field are made of limestone, seven feet high by four feet wide. Inscribed with a poem on each side.

Field’s side: Had we not clutched love flying by
Where had you been where had I
Wood’s side: I know for everyone were he but bold
surely along some starry path his sole awaits him
By 1928, they were having so much trouble with friends stopping by that they decided to build a small cottage for working. This way, Vincent and Mary could tell everyone that they were not home and would be truthful. They even inscribed the beams with poems:
There are hills for all
There are oaks for all
And the airy blue covers the world

The Cats was known for the famous of the day who visited and attended the many dinner parties the owners hosted. Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit having been introduced by Congresswoman Nan Wood Honeywell, Erskine’s daughter. Nan was a bridesmaid in the Roosevelt’s wedding. They were close with Senator James Phelan who lived close by at his country estate, Montalvo, and artists George Dennison and Frank Ingerson were in Alma. In the thirties, Yehudi Menuhin moved next door to George and Frank, becoming a regular at The Cats, when he was in town. John Steinbeck lived in Los Gatos from the mid-thirties to 1941, enjoying the magic of the Poet’s Canyon. Family being very important, Wood’s daughter Lisa who lived in San Rafael with her family, visited often. Field’s daughter, Katherine, settled in Berkeley after college on the east coast and raised her family there, to be close to her mother. Wood and Field also had an array of guests who would come for the day, or the weekend, or just for one of the many dinner parties they were known to host. They were friends with a diverse group of people, from Bennett Cerf, a founder of Random House Publishing, to Roger Baldwin, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and its executive director until 1950. Their artist friends included California poet, Robinson Jeffers, and feminist poet, Muriel Rukeyser, as well as Carl Sandberg a writer with two Pulitzer Prizes, to name a few of the guests to this magical estate in the sky.

CES died in 1944 after a long illness and Field stayed on the property until 1955. Having lost Vincent and Mary in 1953, she was completely alone and unable to maintain such a large estate, so she moved to Berkeley to be closer to her daughter, passing in 1974 at the age of ninety-one.
Fred G. Hampton, a retired oil executive purchased the property from Sara Bard Field in 1955. Shortly after, his wife died, and he lived in seclusion until 1960, when Eva “Diane” Ogilvie wooed him into selling his little piece of paradise to her and her husband, San Jose State Sports Psychology professor,
Bruce Ogilvie.

The Ogilvies bought up the adjacent properties, expanding the property to nine parcels of seventy-five acres. They kept all of the important buildings in their original condition. They did not add, nor did they remove any of the original artwork from the estate.

Bruce Ogilvie, a very important pioneer in the world of Sports Psychology, is known as the “Father of North American Applied Sport Psychology.” He taught at San Jose State University, writing books about his research. Then he put his theories into practice advising nine NBA teams, four NFL teams, and six MLB teams, including the San Francisco 49ers during their Superbowl run of the 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Mets, and the Dallas Cowboys, to name a few. The Gate House was the one time home to Pierce Holt and his teammate, Bill Romanowski, who was known to sleep on the couch. Ogilvie was also a consultant for the United States Olympic Team from 1960 until his death in 2003. His wife Eva “Diane” was a colorful figure in her own right. A singer, who opened for Wayne Newton in Las Vegas, she sang her way through life dressed in glamorous clothes with feathers, into her 90’s.
Entrepreneurs, they owned several businesses in Los Gatos, including the Hotel Los Gatos. Diane passed in 2011 at ninety-two and her two children, Doug and Terrie, have decide to pass on this magnificent property to another caretaker. They have spruced up the place and have decided not to remove any of the artwork or sell the property in pieces, looking for the right buyer who will respect the history and the magic of this enchanting estate.

YouTube Videos by Duane Adam
Special Thanks To:
Sara Wood Smith CES Wood’s Granddaughter
Sara Caldwell, Sara Bard Field’s Granddaughter
Duane Adam, Realtor, Sotheby’s, Monterey, CA
The Ogilvie Family
Dr. Peter Blodgett, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA
Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Library, Los Gatos, CA
George Barriaga, husband of the late writer, Joan Barriaga
Los Gatos Mail News, July 30, 1931,”CES Wood, Noted Author Tells Why He Selected Los Gatos”
Barriga, Joan, The Raucous Bluejay, CES Wood, CA Pioneers of Santa Clara County, April 21, 1989
Frank, Dana, Local Girl Makes History, City Lights Foundation, 2007
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