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GREAT ESCAPE: Montalvo Arts Center

by Gilroy Patch
07-28-2011

Quick – where can you see a concert, learn about California history, hike a trail and admire art, all in the same place? The answer lies in a gorgeous old villa in Saratoga.

Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga not only has beauty, but a bounty of surprises for those who have never visited before. This heart of the arts in Silicon Valley is not only is rich in history and lovely sights, but also offers music and theater events, exhibitions, art installations and artist residencies. 

What to do here: The Center (known in times past as Villa Montalvo) offers a mix of special events and regular public hours, so that you can either visit in a casual way, strolling the grounds and the gardens at your own pace, or you go all out and attend a special concert or gala.

Montalvo’s most striking feature is the 99-year-old Mediterranean-style villa, but the grounds also include three performing arts venues, a 10-studio artist residency complex, a formal Italianate garden and 175 acres of open space.

Why we like it: If you’ve ever wanted to hear music or see theater in a stunningly beautiful setting, Montalvo is the place to go. Upcoming concerts include Blues Traveler on Aug. 4 and Christopher Cross on Aug. 19, and the fall chamber music series starts up with the Ariel Quartet on Oct. 30. Shakespeare Santa Cruz will offer six performances of The Comedy of Errors in September, and a theater series for kids and parents opens later this fall with Charlotte’s Web.

Diane Maxwell, director of marketing and communications, says Montalvo is a very busy place indeed, with some 200,000 visitors entering the grounds each year. Coming up next: the opening party for “Sculpture on the Grounds,” celebrating two new exhibitions, this Friday from 6-9:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public; RSVP through the Montalvo website.

And even more to like: If you want to delve deeper into the history of the villa and grounds, take a free, 20-minute docent-led history walk offered the first Saturday of each month, April through October. (Although there’s no charge, an RSVP is required by calling the Montalvo box office.)

A longer, more in-depth tour lasting two hours is also available; the tour is free for Montalvo members and their guests, or $10 per person for non-members. Reservations are required two business days in advance by calling the box office at 408-961-5858.

Or if you want to take yourself on a tour and hike Montalvo on your own, as thousands do each year. A self-guided tour map is available online to point out the 2.5 miles of trails and points of interest along the way.

About Montalvo Arts Center: Built in 1912 by James Duval Phelan, a three-time mayor of San Francisco and California’s first elected senator, Montalvo was the setting for the senator’s busy artistic, political and social life. Among the luminaries who visited the home were writer Jack London, stage star Ethel Barrymore, and Hollywood celebrities Mary Pickford and Douglass Fairbanks.

When Phelan died in 1930, he expressly requested that the property be used to aid the cause of art, music, literature and architecture, and the Montalvo Association was formed in 1953 to preserve Phelan’s legacy.

Directions and phone: Montalvo Center for the Arts is open year-round except for Dec. 25, Jan. 1, special events, and days of bad weather. Hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as holidays. It’s a good idea to call ahead to confirm hours at the box office, 408-961-5858, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

The center is at 15400 Montalvo Rd. in Saratoga. Take Highway 17 south to the second Los Gatos exit (Los Gatos/Saratoga/Highway 9). Continue 3.5 miles. Turn left onto Montalvo Road. Continue one mile to the Montalvo grounds. For more information, see montalvoarts.org.

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