Words by Dylan Lanier
If walls could talk, Burlingame’s Kohl Mansion would chat your ear right off! Completed in 1914, the 40-acre estate—also known as The Oaks—was the country home of Frederick Kohl, heir to the lucrative Alaska Commercial Company, and his second wife, Bessie. Accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, the couple threw extravagant Peninsula high-society parties, but Kohl struggled with depression and family scandal. They separated after two years in the house, and Kohl moved into San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel. Caretakers maintained the property after he took up with a new mistress, Marion Louderback Lord. Tragically, Kohl took his own life in 1921, leaving the estate to Mrs. Lord. During this period in limbo, the mansion served as the set for Little Lord Fauntleroy, a silent film starring the iconic Mary Pickford. In 1924, the Sisters of Mercy bought the mansion and turned it into their convent. Seven years later, the sisters opened Mercy High School with 36 students. By the 1950s, the expanding enrollment called for a new wing with additional classrooms and a cafeteria. The property made yet another Hollywood appearance in Flubber, a sci-fi comedy remake in which Robin Williams plays a brilliant but befuddled inventor who chases green sentient goo around the premises. Today, the property remains both a private all-girls high school and a popular event venue for weddings and other celebrations. Music at Kohl Mansion also uses the Great Hall, providing chamber music to appreciative listeners since 1984. Guests seem undeterred by rumors of a spooky spectral presence haunting the mansion since Kohl’s untimely death. While his presence from beyond the grave may be disputed, everyone agrees that if he has returned in spectral form, he’s probably just enjoying the party!