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The Pullman Heiress

One of Peninsula’s First Fashionables Slips Into Town


With less noise and ostentation than a streamliner pulling into a station, Harriet Pullman Carolan Schermerhorn arrived in town last week and affixed her name to the register at the Clift Hotel.

The daughter of the late parlor car magnate, George M. Pullman, has spent but little time in California during the last couple of decades, but there are many hereabouts who still remember the magnificent affairs the Carolans used to give early in this century.

About 30 years ago the Pullman heiress and her husband bought the Charley Baldwin house at Cupertino, the same place which a few years ago Barbara Hutton showed interest in buying after her Reno-wedding to Count Reventlow von Haugwitz.

La Petit Trianon Reproduced

The house was modeled closely along the lines of La Petit Trianon, the favorite residence of the ill-fated Marie Antoinette and had beautiful gardens like those of the Tuileries at the height of the glory of the French kings.

One September night in 1909 the Carolans gave a fete at their estate which sent the society editors digging in their dictionaries for adjectives. Upward of 100 guests sat at tables on the broad verandahs in front of the residence and the terraces, winding from the house to a lake, were marked with subdued lights. The lake itself was illuminated and in the center was a fountain, a brilliant creation of electric lights and gold and silver fireworks.

Music from an orchestra placed at a distance from the house floated over the autumn evening air and the voice of a hidden singer lent sheer enchantment to the scene.

In the Neopolitan Manner

Just at the close of the dinner a gondola was seen crossing the lake with spotlights following it from afar. At the landing three Neopolitans stepped out and sang Italian songs and then proceeded, still singing, toward the guests.

A handsome display of fireworks lasted as long as the night did.

The Carolans were among the first fashionables to settle on the Peninsula and for many years they occupied “Crossways” in Burlingame. Just before the war [World War I] they selected 1000 acres in Hillsborough and chose the highest hilltop on which to build a 90-room house.

“Carolands,” as the place was called, has remained through the years a strange sort of sepulcher without even a ghost to haunt it for although the place was furnished it was never occupied. Just this summer a bill was introduced into the House of Representatives which would authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to investigate the desirability of acquiring the property as a West Coast White House—a presidential headquarters and conference building for public officials.

Much of the land surrounding Carolands has been subdivided and gay, modern homes are now creeping up on the old mansion.

After her husband’s death Mrs. Carolan married Colonel Arthur F. Schermerhorn of the old Knickerbocker family who has since passed away.

And now she’s here again on a visit with no one knows what memories.

People, a Sunday magazine section of the San Francisco Chronicle
October 1, 1939

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