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Matson Line Heiress Roth Dies After 95th Birthday : Philanthropist Lurline Roth Dies at Age 95

September 06, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Lurline Matson Roth, daughter of the founder of the Matson shipping line whose palatial 714-acre estate for years was the scene of some of Northern California's most elegant affairs, has died at a Burlingame hospital.

She died Wednesday, one day after her 95th birthday.

A party had been held for the philanthropist Tuesday, but she was too ill to attend. The birthday celebration was videotaped, however, and she saw it shortly before dying.

Mrs. Roth, who was named for the wooden sailing ship Lurline, a name since given to four other Matson vessels, was both a prominent hostess and an architectural innovator.

She and her son William Matson Roth, an unsuccessful California gubernatorial candidate in 1974, purchased an old chocolate factory on San Francisco Bay and renovated it, opening a complex of shops and restaurants as Ghirardelli Square in 1964.

It was a forerunner in the conversion of abandoned factories and fish canneries into tourist attractions.

A native of San Francisco, Mrs. Roth was an avid horsewoman who late in life still was driving the award-winning trotters she bred on her Why Worry Farm at Woodside.

She and her husband, William P. Roth, who died in 1953, raised three children in the 43-room mansion surrounded by 16 acres of sunken and walled gardens.

Ten years ago Mrs. Roth donated the estate, called Filoli, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The television series "Dynasty" uses film of the grounds and home to introduce the programs.

Mrs. Roth was the daughter of William Matson, a native of Sweden who came to the United States as a cabin boy and built the Matson steamship and real estate empire.

Over the years she entertained such varied celebrities as the pianist Ignace Paderewski and aviator Amelia Earhart, who took her for her first plane ride in 1937. "I was terrified," Mrs. Roth said afterward.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Roth leaves twin daughters, Lurline Coonan and Berenice Spalding.

When those daughters made their debuts at a ball at the family estate in 1939, the party was so lavish that the San Francisco Chronicle commented: "The twins were launched like luxury liners."

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