kohl on hilltop2

The 100 Year Old Kohl Mansion, with a view of the San Francisco Bay and the Burlingame hills, has had many identities from sophisticated to sacred, always with a touch of mystery. Born in 1863 in San Jose, Charles Frederick Kohl grew up in another mansion on an estate in San Mateo, now known as Central Park. His father William Kohl had made his fortune as a founder of the Alaska Commercial Company, and the son was accustomed to an opulent and fashionable life style. After Frederick married Mary Elizabeth Godey (Bessie) in 1904 and the two had traveled to Europe, they built the mansion they named “The Oaks” in what is now Burlingame between 1912 and 1914.

The four-story Tudor became the site of lavish parties the couple gave for the “smart set,” and the Great Hall’s fluted wood paneling set off Bessie’s singing. The changes in the Great Hall over the years reflect life in the building around it. The Hall became the chapel for the Sisters of Mercy who bought the house in 1924 for use as motherhouse and novitiate. When the sisters moved down the hill to a new building, Mercy High School opened in the mansion in 1932. The hall with its soaring ceiling was transformed into an assembly hall for students, offering reverberant acoustics for plays and choral performances. The high school opened the building to the public in 1982, offering it for rent for parties, weddings and celebrations. Music at Kohl Mansion has brought chamber music to the Great Hall’s intimate setting beginning in 1984.

Written by: Liz Dossa, Sister Marilyn Gouailhardou, RSM and Catherine Wilkinson