George Dennison, world-renowned artist, purchased a 127 acre estate from Flora Haines Loughead, mother of the soon to be famous Lockheed Brothers in 1910. He established himself there with his partner, Frank Ingerson, in 1911. Located on a hill above Alma Bridge Road, uphill from the town of Alma, California, their little piece of paradise was appropriately called, Cathedral Oaks, because of the serene beauty of the grove of large live oak trees in front of the house. George Austin Dennison was born in New Boston, Illinois on November 20, 1873. He moved to San Francisco in the 1890’s where he was employed as assistant secretary of the State Board of Trade. It wasn’t until he met Frank Ingerson in 1911 that he became an artist.
Charles Frank Ingerson was born in Victory Mills, New York 1880. He said that he knew that he had to become an artist the day he entered law school. He moved to San Francisco where he obtained a job teaching at the California School of Design, San Francisco Institute of Art. After he moved to Cathedral Oaks, traveling by train, he also got a job at San Jose State Normal School.
George was appointed chief of the Department of Horticulture for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1913. He had previously served as secretary to the California Commission at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904) and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909) in Seattle. Both men used Cathedral Oaks as a home base, but traveled the world studying and creating art. During the ‘teens’ they advertised, “Cathedral Oaks and School of Art” on a picture postcard showing the two seated in the vintage auto looking over their shoulder waving. Many prominent people visited. English art tile specialist and professor at San Jose State met his wife, Emma, a budding art student during one of the many Cathedral Oaks gatherings. They went on to found S&S Tile Factory in San Jose in 1920.
“The Boys” as they were affectionately called, spent a year decorating the 65 room Casa Dorinda, home of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss of Montecito, California. They lived on the site for a year and were paid $100 per day to design the interiors and the gardens. They also decorated the Samarkand Hotel in Santa Barbara and the Coconut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
In 1925 a fire swept through the Santa Cruz Mountains destroying everything in its path. Cathedral Oaks was rebuilt installing an impressive high-ceiling living room with a large north-facing window with a view of the magnificent oak trees. The rustic wood-shingle home had a large comfortable studio. They also rebuilt several sleeping cabins scattered around the property for the many guests who came to enjoy the peace and serenity. George and Frank attended to their manicured gardens filled with a variety of brilliant flowers and flowering shrubs. It was a favorite retreat among artists as the beauty inspired them to create. They would come together to create, perform, have readings, and discuss philosophy surrounded by art and beauty.
Certainly their most treasured work is the Ark of the Covenant commissioned by the Koshland Family in memory of Marcus S. Koshland. The boys traveled to Paris to study the Baron de Rothchild’s collection of Jewish Art and to London to do research at the British Museum. They stayed in London spending
14 months building the ten-foot high, 3000-pound Ark. The work was cast in London by the only foundry using the ancient and arduous ladle pouring method. Hailed by European authorities who consider it “the most impressive single art object in modern times”, on January 1, 1927, a London dispatch said of the Ark, “It is conceded by Old World Authorities that never since the Middle Ages has a commission of this magnitude and character been given, and certainly that never since that time has a work of such religious and symbolic dignity been accomplished.” Made of bronze, gold repose (thin hammered gold in intricate relief), old cedar, and 600 ruby and sapphire jewel enamels on the sides of the Ark. After being on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1927, the Ark was shipped to its permanent residence in the Temple Emanu El in San Francisco. In 1927 while in Paris, the boys were introduced to Moshe Menuhin and his 11-year-old son, Yehudi, a child prodigy violinist. They came to visit Cathedral Oaks and fell in love with the serene beauty of the oaks and the mountains. In 1935, the Menuhin’s purchased 100 acres of the land and Yehudi built his own haven called “Villa Cherkess”. Neighbors of the boys, the Menuhin children, Yehudi, and sisters Hepzihah and Yalta, visited often. The boys were instrumental in Yehudi meeting his second wife.
Multi-talented and versatile the partners experimented in many art forms. Metal work, leather craft, weaving, sculpturing, painting, inlays, decorating tiles, ceramics, jewelry, needlework, as well as enamels and interior decorating. Every year they sent their many friends a picture of Cathedral Oaks on a Christmas Card. (Two of these cards grace the front and back of this book.) Versatile they left no media untouched. They designed interiors for wealthy patrons and jewelry for famous opera singers. Their attention to detail was evident in the horsehead George fired 135 times spending fifteen years perfecting the ancient Greek process for sculptured enamels; an art form that had been lost to modern society. Frank was only one of four people ever allowed to copy the ancient Greek painting “Nozze de Adobraudini”. The only life size replica, undistinguishable from the original, it hangs in the Vatican. Frank says in his manuscript, This Is Art, “A man who simply paints is of course entitled to call himself a painter, but it seems to us that an artist should have a variety of tools”.
In the early thirties they were asked by their friend Lillian Fontaine to design some costumes for a play she was directing in Los Gatos, staring her two teenage daughters, Joan and Olivia. This encounter fostered a lifelong friendship with Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine. They drove Olivia to Hollywood for her first professional engagement. Olivia de Haviland went on to play Melanie in Gone With the Wind and received two Academy awards for her leading lady rolls in 1940.
The boy’s home was always open to friends and neighbors. They were generous and outgoing. Sara Bard Field (1882-1974) and Charles Erskine Scott Wood (1852-1944) who lived on the hill south of the Town of Los Gatos guarded by two large cat statues wrote in a thank-you note “Your exquisite gift to me has become a symbol of something more than beauty. It has become the symbol of the true artist who has the ability to take infinite pains. Underneath all the inspiration is the painful technique. It is this I want you to know. And lastly I want you two to know to your hearts’ depths that though we have no words to express it there lives within us an underlying gratitude for all you have been to us….”
Their last exhibit was at Villa Montalvo in 1963. The exquisite exhibit of their antique glass collection was chronicled in the San Jose Mercury News by Clover Cummings who described them as an “inspiring presence”. There attendance at the opening was one of their last public appearances.
In their twilight years, Yehudi Menuhin purchased he land and allowed them to live out their remaining years for payment of the property taxes. George was the first to die in 1966 at the age of 92. Frank followed in 1968 at the age of 88. The Menuhin’s caretaker, Carl Coate, maintained the property until his retirement in 1983. Carl’s son Barrie Coate, the arborist, and his wife, Carol took over the caretaker duties until 1987. Narrowly escaping complete destruction in the Lexington Hills Fire of July 1985, the bottom, flat piece of land adjacent to Alma Bridge Road was used as the staging area for the large tractors used to fight the fire. Yehudi Menuhin sold the land to the Mid-Peninsula Open Space Trust in 1988, well below market value in an effort to preserve this most pristine site. The barn in which the Lockheed Brothers invented the hydraulic brake amazingly withstood all natural disasters for almost a century. The Loma Prieta Earthquake on October 17, 1989, however wasn’t so kind. All of the buildings on the property were damaged beyond repair. In 1991 all of the buildings were torn down returning the land to its nature beauty. George and Frank would be pleased.