Lotusland History

Key: The property pre-Madame WalskaMadame Walska’s lifeActivities after Madame Walska’s death
1882Ralph Kinton Stevens buys the estate, which he names “Tanglewood” and uses grounds for home and commercial nursery.
1887Ganna Walska born as Hanna Puacz in Brest-Litovsk, Poland.
1896Stevens dies. His struggling widow operates it as a guest ranch, leases it to a school, and eventually rents it out to winter visitors until selling the property 17 years later.
1907 Hanna Puacz elopes with Russian count, Arcadie d’Eingorn.
1913Stevens’ widow sells the property to George Owen Knapp.
1914Hanna Puacz studies singing in Paris with Jean de Reszke and changes her name to Ganna Walska.
1915 The marriage of Ganna Walska and Count d’Eingorn is dissolved by the Russian Orthodox Church. Madame Walska moves to New York to avoid World War I.
1916New Yorkers E. Palmer and Marie Gavit purchase the property, naming it Cuesta Linda (pretty hill).

Madame Walska is a singer at the Century, a French theater in New York. A throat ailment takes her to Dr. Joseph Fraenkel. They marry ten days later. He is twice her age and encourages her musical career.
1918 In February, Madame Walska makes her concert debut at the Biltmore Morning Musicale, sharing the bill with tenor Enrico Caruso. Madame Walska makes her operatic debut in Havana, Cuba in December. The performance is not a success. She meets with Harold McCormick of International Harvester, who is a key supporter of Chicago Opera Company, to pursue hopes of performing there.
1919Architect Reginald Johnson designs the main house for the Gavits. It is completed in 1920.
1920Dr. Fraenkel dies of a “stomach ailment.” Walska is devastated. Three months later, aboard Aquitania en route to Paris, she meets Alexander Cochran, sole heir of Smith Carpet Manufacturing. He proposes two days later and several times again until she accepts and they marry on September 15. Harold McCormick, who had received a divorce, sails to Paris to ask her to leave Cochran. Though Walska regrets her marriage, she refuses.

Madame Walska begins her lifelong interest in mysticism and the meaning of life, attends séances, consults the Ouija board, explores yoga, astrology, meditation, telepathy, numerology, Christian Science, and Rosicrucianism.

Cochran’s jealously over her career – and friendship with McCormick – forces Walska to cancel her long-anticipated performance with the Chicago Opera.
1922Madame Walska’s divorce in May from Cochran is scandalous and the subject of much speculation in the press. She marries Harold McCormick in Paris in August, again to much public attention.
1923The first half of Walska’s 13-city U.S. concert tour is cancelled when McCormick undergoes emergency appendectomy. McCormick purchases Theâtre des Champs Elyseés in Paris for his bride. She manages it for more than 10 years, owns it for nearly 50 years.

Madame Walska makes only three trips to America during her marriage to McCormick, all for concert tours (1923, 1925, and 1928).
1925 The Gavits hire architect George Washington Smith to construct a perimeter wall, pavilion, stable, swimming pool, bathhouse and several other outbuildings.
1928Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover visits Cuesta Linda as part of a garden tour fundraiser.
1929Madame Walska purchases Chateau de Galluis and opens the Paris social season with a grand party; McCormick does not attend.
1931 McCormick, resigned that Walska will never live with him in Chicago, files for divorce on the grounds of desertion. He and Walska remain on friendly terms.
1933 - 1936Walska lives half the year in France and half in New York, using it as a base for her search for the “Great Purpose” of her life. She explores hypnotism and Indian philosophies.
1937Madame Walska is introduced to Harry Grindell-Matthews, a physicist and inventor who shares her love of opera. Though initially uninterested in him, their engagement is announced in August. She is bothered by his egotism, jealousy and social aspirations.
1939Marie Gavit dies in 1937, having been preceded in death by her husband. The estate is sold to British diplomat Humphrey Clarke in 1939.
1940Walska escapes France on the last commercial passenger ship before the German occupation. She returns to New York and begins writing her memoirs. She begins yoga lessons and seminars with “The White Lama,” Theos Bernard.
1941Walska learns of Grindell-Matthews’ death via telegram from his housekeeper. Bernard declares his love and proposes. Madame Walska travels to California for six weeks and is inspired to purchase a small self-sustaining ranch or farm. Bernard comes to California to look for a property to serve as a retreat for Tibetan lamas.

Madame Walska and Bernard purchase Cuesta Linda, which they rename “Tibetland.”

Madame Walska hires landscape architect Lockwood de Forest, Jr. to design and install an orchard, succulent garden, and various gardens around the cottages.
1942Madame Walska and Theos Bernard are married in a secret ceremony in Las Vegas; a prenuptial agreement protects her property in case of divorce.

De Forest replaces the traditional landscaping in front of the main house with cacti before he departs to serve in the Army.
1943Always Room at the Top, Madame Walska’s autobiography, is published.
1943Ralph Stevens, son of the original estate owner and Santa Barbara Superintendent of Parks, begins working on garden projects at Lotusland.
1945 Bernard serves Madame Walska with divorce papers, removes many valuable furnishings and books from the house on the estate. He sues for separate maintenance, which is refused when he is caught committing perjury about his financial situation. Their divorce is final in 1946. Madame Walska renames the estate Lotusland.
1946 - 48Stevens designs the iron gate on Sycamore Canyon Road, the new swimming pool and shell-strewn “beach,” rooster grotto, and the theatre and blue gardens. He designs a horticultural clock, which isn’t built until 1955.
1953The Cactus and Succulent Society tours Lotusland as part of their biennial convention.

Madame Walska almost single-handedly oversees the conversion of the old swimming pool into a water garden, completed in 1956.
1955The 25-foot horticultural clock is built—and planted with succulents.

Ralph Stevens retires; Madame Walska is “Head Gardener” and works with staff on various projects.
1957Topiary animals from the Osaki Plant Zoo in Los Angeles are planted around the horticultural clock.
1958Madame Walska and local artist Joseph Knowles, Sr., enhance the crescent-shaped pool in the aloe garden, adding abalone shells along the border and giant clamshell fountains.
1966Madame Walska began her collection of bromeliads from Carlsbad garden and from orchid grower, Fritz Kubish. He completes the layout of the original bromeliad garden 1968.
Late 1960sStaff gardener Frank Fujii and stonemason Oswald Da Ros work with Madame Walska to create Japanese garden.
1972William Paylen completes a lush fern garden after four years of work; he expands it between 1986 and 1988.
1973-1975Charles Glass and Robert Foster renovate cactus and succulent gardens and enlarge and redesign aloe garden.
1977Madame Walska auctions her jewelry collection in order to pay for the cycad garden.
1979 The cycad garden, designed by Charles Glass, is completed and features over two hundred species.
1982A broken hip leaves Madame Walska bedridden.
1984Madame Walska dies on March 2 and leaves Lotusland to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation.
1984-1993 In preparation for public tours, the Lotusland Foundation repairs paths, improves handicap access and performs deferred maintenance.
1992Docent program established, expanded staff hired. Conditional Use Permit to open the garden is granted by Santa Barbara County.
1993 Visitor Center completed in time for first scheduled tour on September 15, 1993. Adjacent Australian garden is designed by Sydney Baumgartner in the style of Madame Walska.
1999 Five-year plan begun to remedy cycad fungal infections and root rot. All infected soil is removed and new drainage system installed. Garden space expanded. Completed in 2003.
2000 Topiary garden is restored by Lori Ann David, who replicates the original figures.
2001-2003Merritt S. Dunlap’s extensive cactus collection, promised to Madame Walska in 1966, is gifted to Lotusland. Plants begin to arrive in stake-sided truck and semis. Eric Nagelmann, a Santa Barbara native, donates landscape design and consultation services. Three hundred tons of basalt used to create planting beds.
2009Water Stairs. Cypress Allée, and the foyer in the main house, all created during the Gavit era, are renovated.
The loss of a large California live oak and the removal of a beetle-infested Monterey pine result in the need for renovation of the Lower Bromeliad garden.
Ganna Walska Lotusland reclassified by the IRS as a public charity.