A series of Stonebrook Court manor owners

Daisy lived at Lantarnam Hall until the late 1920's, when she joined her sons in Southern California. John and Percy Jr. founded Hollywood's Cock 'n Bull British-style pub and restaurant, 9170 Sunset Boulevard; the place is credited with introducing vodka to American tastes by mixing a drink called the Moscow Mule. John Ainsworth Morgan was a published author and screenwriter.

Lantarnam Hall passed to a series of owners, many of who found upkeep too much. The years of occupancy I'm going to cite are approximate, as sources give different years or omit some owners. The first owner was local contractor Frederick Rolandi, who bought the property from Daisy and lived there until probably the late 1930's. The next occupants were a flamboyant San Bruno nightclub owner, Gypsy Buys, and her husband Jerry, an opposite, reserved personality.

Gypsy and Jerry Buys lived in the mansion apparently just incidentally, Gypsy's plans being to make it a hotel-country club-resort - whatever - but the neighbors blocked the Buys from getting a business permit for whatever it was they wanted to do.

The rumored next owner was charismatic Father Divine, possibly born George Baker, an east-coast religious leader, whose Peace Mission had national and international chapters. Father Divine being African-American the neighbors got really alarmed and tried pooling their money to buy the property themselves, but the deal with Divine apparently fell through.

The next prospective owner was picturesque. In the late 1930's Gypsy Buys announced that she had a confirmed sale to one Belle Silver, an affluent Nevada hotel-motel operator who had offered $200,000 for the property and planned to make it a swank recreation area. Silver would install a pavilion, restaurant, and other improvements. Newspaper reporters who wanted details were told that despite her business acumen, Silver was shy and preferred not to be interviewed. Jerry Buys may have been skeptical but was told to keep quiet.

When the transaction was supposedly complete, Belle agreed to be photographed for the newspapers. It was a mistake. Police noticed that the her right-hand little finger was deformed, a characteristic of one Tanya Barber, who was wanted for questioning in connection with bunco, bad checks, prostitution, and other offenses. Belle Silver, a.k.a. Tanya Barber, a.k.a. Tanya Remeneff, was arrested. Gypsy Buys admitted she hadn't really concluded a deal with her, in fact Belle had asked her to "advance" money. Gypsy Buys finally unloaded the property on a real estate man, William E. Doud, who gave her a hotel on Eddy Street in San Francisco as part of the deal. Some years later Jerry Buys committed suicide at the hotel.

Ford Country Day School

According to one source Doud did not live in the house, but even so he had to sell off all but about ten of the original 100 acres to pay property taxes and possibly maintenance costs. About 1952 the house got a stable occupant who would put it to good use. In 1935 educator John Carter Ford began the Ford Country Day School in Los Altos. Ford had founded the Palo Alto Summer Theatre for children at Castilleja School and directed five seasons. Ford School's Los Altos location was a cramped two-room building. Ford School needing a bigger location and Doud needing to divest himself of Morgan Manor, they traded, an advantageous deal for both.

Mr. and Mrs. John Ford, founders of the Ford Country Day School, on the grand staircase of the main entry hall

Ford modernized the house's wiring, plumbing, and heating, added classroom facilities, and opened his school's new location in 1955. In 1959 the school hired teacher Brent Warner. Just as Warner took a leave of absence in 1961 to assist in President Kennedy's physical fitness for youth program, Ford and his wife told Warner that when they retired they would like him to assume the school's management. A year later the Fords were ready to sell the school, purchase price $200,000. Warner couldn't come up with the money himself, but by negotiating loans from the Fords got enough for the down payment.

Warner was only 24 when he took over Ford school's management. He added 7th and 8th grades, admitted girls for the first time, and improved the facilities. Ford Country Day School had an enrollment of 200 in the 1970's, apparently its peak. Many of Warner's students remembered him with great fondness. When Warner died in 2007, John Inman, a Ford student in the 1960's, posted a touching web site tribute "He Turned My Life Around."

…when I was in 5th grade, my school first discovered that I could not yet read 1st grade materials. My parents sent me to batteries of testing, psychologists, etc. to try to figure out what the problem was. My IQ was high, but I had severe problems in learning. They discovered that I was dyslexic. Thank God I had parents that cared enough to find a solution. We visited many private schools including a military academy and visited Brent and Ford Country Day School. This is truly the beginning of the story.
…we were not an affluent family. When my parents sat down with Brent, he reached out to help. He arranged for my tuition to be offset by my mother driving students to school in her station wagon. I have no idea to what extent this actually off set my tuition, I do know however, without Brent reaching out to my family, my life would have taken a turn for the worst. Brent and my parents agreed to have me retake 5th grade and to start the next school year.
I can not even begin to explain the terror I experienced joining a school with such extraordinary academic standards, not being able to read, and leaving all of my friends behind, permanently. Brent's kind and loving support and that of his outstanding staff, helped me slowly learn to grow and overcome my learning disability. Ford Country Day School has become the most important turning point in my life. We had a great class and I to this day look at our class pictures and remember my classmates. I often wonder how they are all doing!… What an extraordinary experience. The foundation that Brent gave me has in many ways set my direction in life.

Ford Country Day School continued at Morgan Manor for 33 years, until 1988, when finances, particularly insurance costs, forced it to close. The house was sold to a private party.

Kelly & Christina Porter

By 1999 the house had deteriorated badly and was up for sale again. Venture capitalist Kelly Porter and his wife Christina saw an advertisement by Coldwell-Banker realtors, and went to the property.

Kelly Porter described it as looking like "a beat-up fraternity house:" broken windows, cracked chimney pots, the grounds neglected. The Porters saw it as a challenge. After buying the house they hired architect Richard Beard of BAR Architects. Beard arrived for his first visit with no idea of what he would find. "But then there it was," said Beard, "this fantastical structure that looked as if it had been dropped in from who knows where… I had to compose myself before getting out of the car."

Because the house - now Stonebrook Court - has historic designation, its restoration had to conform to Department of the Interior standards. Beard's additions had to look like they had always been here. Kelly and Christina Porter searched Europe and Asia for furnishings that conformed to the house's style and their own tastes. Landscape designer Stephen Suzman of Suzman & Cole Design Associates completely redesigned the entranceway.


Stonebrook Court, April 2009
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Remarkably, Stonebrook Court is practically invisible from the main road. A sharp left turn brings you through trees, then at the top of the road the house suddenly appears. Suzman added a splendid garden in back, with boxwood parterres and long perennial borders.

Exterior


Four stone entryway pieces 1660-1775 are from the home of Irish dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Entrance hall


The second floor
The plaster ceiling in the grand stair hall has mahogany detailing.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Kitchen, Breakfast Room & Family Room

Beard revamped the kitchen to include a coved ceiling; the arches are echoed in the gothic windows in a new breakfast room.



1935 chandelier above the island is from a chateau in France. The island is dark mahogany with honed, paprika-colored onyx counters. Beard added a breakfast room with Gothic arch windows.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Family room. Beard's changes in the family room included a molded plaster ceiling designed by Czech artist Batbajar Gongorzar. The squares include representations of the Porters' children as mythical animals.

Terraces

Beard added terraces outside the family room and kitchen.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Staircase, Murals and Wine Cellar

Murals on the staircase are by San Francisco artists. A spiral staircase leads to wine cellar
Beard added a wine cellar with temperature control, necessary to age the Porters' Bordeaux, Burgundies, and other wines. Bordeaux wines include all five first growths.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Formal Dining Room ("Francis I Room")

A carving from Bruges, Belgium is above the dining room door. The sideboard is the only original furniture from Morgan Manor
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Living Room and Library


This was the 3rd grade room at Ford Country Day School. The library was rebuilt with floor-ceiling bookcases. One panel opens to a secret room; reminds one of the secret priest rooms in Speke Hall - there were no priests, but there is a wet bar and beer taps connected to casks in the basement.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Master suite

Back upstairs we are in the master bedrooms and baths. Ivory damask on the walls contrasts with ruby and gold canopy over the headboard. The headboard is an approximate replica of one of Henry VIII's beds. The wall painting is the Three Graces, from a 19th-century Pittsburgh estate.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Master Bath

The marble bathtub, from India, was chiseled from a single marble block.
Images Courtesy "Ralston Independent Works"

Please continue with Part 3 of the presentation, The Grand Ballroom and Grounds

 


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