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Visiting Lillie Langtry's Fabulous Home in California

California is a state full of natural wonders, including many state and national parks. See interesting sites in San Francisco and beyond.

Wonderful wrap around porch and balcony on Lillie's house

Wonderful wrap around porch and balcony on Lillie's house

Sleeping in Lillie Langtry's Bed

A very fond memory of one of our California wine country trips in late April of 1991 originated here at Lillie Langtry's house, now used as a guest house for Guenoc Winery. After flying from Houston to San Francisco, we rented a car and drove to the winery in the northern part of the Napa Valley that stretches into Lake County. We would be guests of the owners of Guenoc Winery.

It just so happened that we were the sole occupants of the guest house that night. It is a sprawling and beautiful old Victorian house, and we had our pick of the bedrooms. Naturally, we chose to stay in Lillie's old room.

Plaque attached to the house

Plaque attached to the house

Who Was Lillie Langtry?

Suffice it to briefly say that she was a famous stage actress well known to European and American theater-goers in the late 19th and early 20th century as well as being known as an International beauty. She was also "favored" by British royalty and was beloved by many men in her life.

Her nickname was the "Jersey Lily."

In 1888 she purchased 4,200 acres of land in the Guenoc Valley and decided to make wine. She brought a French winemaker from Bordeaux by the name of Henri Descelles to accomplish that goal.

A complete transformation seemed to have place in my life overnight. It was quite staggering, and thenceforward visitors and invitations continued to pour in daily until they became a source of grievance to our landlady, who was obliged to engage an extra servant to respond to the battering of powdered footmen on her humble and somewhat flimsy door.

— Lillie Langtry

On one night of my debut the Prince of Wales, the Princess, and the duchess of London came to see me. They loved me for what I was and what I gave them.

— Lillie Langtry

Exploring Lillie's House

The grounds surrounding this expansive old Victorian house are beautiful. Rolling hills and fields of orange-blooming poppies painted our view wherever we looked.

After we were let into the house and had time to look around, we decided that we wanted to sleep in Lillie Langtry's bedroom. How many people can say that? We thought that it would be fun. Supposedly her favorite color was yellow, and her bedroom was certainly ablaze with variations of that hue. Some old wallpaper in the closet might have been what she had personally selected.

Most of the furnishings in the house are no longer original to what Lillie Langtry had owned except for a beautiful old gramophone that did belong to her. The furniture in the house replicates what would have been the style to suit the period of the late 1880s.

The downstairs parlor was comfortable and over the fireplace was a portrait of Lillie. In one corner of the dining room was the wooden gramophone that was originally hers. Upstairs there was a parlor separating her room from Freddie Gebhardt's room. He was one of her male friends who also owned property adjacent to hers.

Surprise Evening

Having driven through the little town while getting to our specially arranged lodging for the night, we spotted a couple of restaurants and thought that we would probably pick one of them in which to have supper that evening when we were surprised by a telephone call.

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Karen Melander-Magoon invited us to join her for a tour of the vineyards. She picked us up and began to show us some of the vineyards nearby. Karen brought some Guenoc wines to taste as we looked down upon the land where the grapes were grown. It was such a wonderful treat and unexpected. We knew that a tour of the winery was on the schedule for the next day.

We were getting along so well. Instead of inviting us to one of the town's restaurants, Karen gave us an invitation to continue the evening at home on the estate. Of course, we happily said yes!

We learned that the Magoon family had been massive landholders in Hawaii and had descended from Hawaiian royalty and Chinese nobility. A trade for 23-acres of land needed for the University of Hawaii was made for 23,000 acres of California property. Most of the California land is for ranching. The Magoon family decided to pursue an expansion of what Lillie Langtry had established as a vineyard and have done so successfully.

Karen, who is Orville Magoon's wife, takes an active part in the winery. She handles public relations and marketing for the winery but also had a fascinating career before that. She sang opera for twenty years in Austria and Germany.

Dinner and Singing

Orville was on business in Hawaii, so we did not get to meet him. But Karen pulled out all the stops! She thawed some wild boar out of her freezer and made a delicious lasagna. We also had a fresh salad picked from her garden filled with fragrant herbs that she grows. Homemade brownies completed the meal.

Wild boar roam the estate. Hunting and fishing are an added attraction for those fortunate enough to be invited by the Magoons as guests.

Naturally, we also enjoyed an assortment of Guenoc wines to accompany that meal prepared by Karen. That night we sampled the following Guenoc wines:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Chardonnay, Regular and Reserve
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Regular and Reserve
  • and Zinfandel.

A special treat was her singing! Karen taught us "The Wine Song" that she had created, and after dinner, I joined her in some songs while she played her baby grand piano. It turned out to be a very late night, but one that will happily remain in our memories forever!

Karen's cat Falina sitting atop her baby grand piano.

Karen's cat Falina sitting atop her baby grand piano.

Guenoc Winery Tour

We met Karen the next day after a little sleep following our wonderfully entertaining night at her home. At the winery were two friends of Orville's who had come primarily to do some fishing on the grounds of the estate. Karen gave the four of us a full tour of the winery and the original Langtry vineyards.

We were driven in a four-wheel-drive vehicle over very bumpy terrain. Lillie would have traveled over the same roads in a stagecoach! It would have been even more jostling for her since stagecoaches did not have rubber wheels as we had. We saw the original winery ruins. We also passed a Native American burial mound, protected from any future development.

Superlatives cannot quite capture the fun and memories we have of our experiences. We were to move on to other sights and some more vacation fun, but the Lillie Langtry House and Guenoc Winery will remain a part of us always. We give special thanks to our most generous and vivacious hostess, Karen.

Recommendation

If you enjoy visiting the wine country in California, think of visiting Guenoc Winery. The scenery is beautiful, as hopefully, some of my pictures will have shown. I am sure that you will love the hospitality shown by the friendly folks at Guenoc Winery while you sample their luscious wines.

Sources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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