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Lily Langtry's Lake County Home

August 17, 1986|STAN OLD | Old is a Hayward, Calif., free-lance writer

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Although famous for the boating and fishing at Clear Lake, Lake County just inland from coastal Mendocino County rivals the gold country in California pioneer history.

The star historic attraction is the gracious Lily Langtry House at Guenoc Winery, which will be open to visitors on Fridays this summer as part of a county winery tour.

Lily Langtry reigned supreme as "the Jersey Lily" among the professional beauties in Prince Edward's set of Victorian England. Later she achieved renown as an actress on both sides of the Atlantic, but she always retained her childhood attachment to horses and the land that she loved in her native Isle of Jersey.

She became a citizen of the United States and California as a means to shed her superfluous husband. Her 1888 purchase of the 4,200-acre Guenoc Ranch property here was prompted by the need for California residency, a desire for a place to raise horses and a consistent talent for investing the money she made in her acting career into profitable ventures.

Lake County was booming, and there was talk of railroads that would increase land value further. Regardless of her motive, when Lily first saw her property on a fair May day, she was enchanted with what she found. She telegraphed her attorney: "Am delighted. Words don't express my complete satisfaction. Join me in Paradise."

A Paradise Found

Lily's paradise was the beautiful Guenoc Valley, favored as home by Indian tribes, once a Mexican land grant and later home to Lake County pioneers.

Her unpretentious two-story white frame home sits on the valley floor in the midst of the green vineyards of Guenoc Winery, sheltered somewhat by ancient trees.

A straight drive leads to the front of the house where a white fence, festooned with alternating white and yellow roses, marks the boundary between the working ranch and the lawn.

The house faces south, with a broad brick path leading to the equally wide entrance stairway. A grape-trellised barbecue area is near the southeast corner of the house. A white gazebo sits in the scent garden at the northeast corner. The kitchen garden is on the north side, behind the house.

This is no museum but the elegant home of Oroville Magoon, curator of the Lily Langtry Collection, a principal of the Magoon Estate Ltd., which acquired Guenoc Ranch in 1963, and the head of the Guenoc Winery.

Views of the Vineyards

The house has wide verandas on both floors on the front and two sides, with magnificent views of the vineyards and the surrounding hills. An outside stairway at the front of the house provided the only access to the second-story bedrooms in Lily's time.

A simple green front door leads to an entry sitting room where a portrait of Lily hangs over the fireplace. To the right is a large family parlor with its great braided rug over a plain wood floor, matching the rug in the entry. It's an airy, friendly room with an upright piano, card table and inviting chairs and settees. Lily's phonograph sits in a corner, out of the way.

Fabric Wall Covering

Both rooms have white wainscots and fabric wall covering in a bird and vine pattern on a blue background.

The house has much in the way of Lily Langtry memorabilia and is furnished with Magoon family furniture and locally acquired pieces in the period and spirit of Lily's time.

The downstairs bedroom is to the left of the entry and has blue vine-pattern wallpaper and a white painted floor. The dining room, behind the entry, is distinguished by a cornice-high plate rail, a large still-life painting and a fireplace backing the fireplace in the entry hall. Three door windows look out to a covered porch.

Good wines are the business of this enterprise, and a rear room has been converted into a comfortable English tavern where guests sample the wine. The rear of the house has a modern, professional kitchen area to handle large affairs.

Stairway Eases Access

An interior stairway has been added to ease access to the second floor. At the top, it terminates at an upstairs sitting room in the center front of Lily's house. It is a relaxing room in white wainscot and white-vine-on-red wallpaper. It has a desk, chairs and bookcases around the white wood-manteled fireplace and, above, a stunning picture of Lily against white wood paneling.

Lily's boyfriend, Fred Gebhard, shared the Guenoc dream. He had a neighboring ranch to the east, and they raced their horses at a track near the boundary of the two properties.

Upstairs, the east bedroom is called Fred's room. Its tones are the brown of the furniture and the green wallpaper pattern, repeated in the draperies, cornice and bedcover.

Lily's bedroom, on the opposite side of the sitting room, has a white-leaf-on-cheerful-yellow wallpaper pattern carried over into the fabrics, including the canopy and draperies of the four-poster bed and skirted night stands.

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