Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 8, 2011

Just like the old days

Ravenswood volunteers bring back times past and have a great time doing it

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The long driveway from Arroyo Road to Ravenswood Historic Site in Livermore takes visitors not just to a Victorian country estate -- it leads back to an earlier era.

The country home, built in 1885 as a summer home for Christopher A. Buckley of San Francisco, is referred to now as the Cottage. The large Main House next to it, with a wraparound veranda, was added in 1891 as a place to entertain, and this now is rented out for celebrations. The Tank House to the rear served as a kitchen with quarters upstairs for the cook.

Enthusiastic volunteers open the home two Sundays a month, wearing vintage clothing and conducting half-hour tours, and they are looking for others to join them.

"I kind of fell in love with Ravenswood many years ago," said volunteer Sandy Silva, a Pleasanton resident, who runs the gift shop located in the Tank House. "I introduced it to my son and he ended up getting married there 16 years ago. Then I got involved with the volunteer group there because it's such a neat historical spot, and I've been busy, busy, busy ever since."

She began as a docent, conducting tours.

"It's still my favorite thing to do -- school tours and that sort of thing," Silva said. "The gift shop is my second favorite thing. I go to the city when they have the gift show twice a year. I also find a lot of things locally and make a lot of things. I make hats, Christmas ornaments, little flower pot napkin holders."

The volunteers hold three big events at Ravenswood each year:

* Spring Tea (May 1): The formal high tea is served by volunteers in Victorian dress, and volunteers also bake the goodies. Reservations are required; call 443-0238; cost is $37.

* Ice Cream Social (Aug. 14): This free old-fashioned day has banjo music, hot dogs, lemonade and several ice cream flavors. Volunteers scoop the ice cream, play croquet dressed in white outfits, and more.

* Victorian Yuletide (Dec. 11): Volunteers decorate the Cottage and Main House for the Christmas celebration, which features St. Nicholas, musical entertainment, holiday food and children's crafts, all for free.

Christopher A. Buckley had great influence in San Francisco in the 1870s and 1880s, as he managed political careers for others, including U.S. Sen. George Hearst. His Alhambra Saloon on Bush Street was known as the "Buckley City Hall."

When he bought the 100 acres in Livermore in 1862, Buckley named it after a park in Long Island, planted grape vines and built a winery.

"He found this area and loved the weather -- he called it the best in the world," said Valarie Huff, who heads up the volunteers.

The Buckley family spent summers at Ravenswood from 1885-1920, and lived there fulltime for awhile after their San Francisco home was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Christopher Buckley Jr. attended Livermore High School during this period; a photo in the cottage shows him as captain of the football team in 1909.

Silva said for children's tours, she has them sit on the "magic carpet" in the parlor and tells them stories about the little boy who once lived there.

"They always want to know if the Cottage is haunted," she said.

She cranks up the old Criterion music box and points out that the Buckleys had no television or computers and that the big disk with holes to make the music is like a CD.

"I used to call it a record but I had to stop doing that because now they don't know what a record is," she explained with a laugh. "Every once in awhile seniors come in a group, and they get so excited when they get to stuff they remember from their childhood."

Silva said she recommends Ravenswood as a place to volunteer, with jobs as varied as leading tours, working in the gift shop, scooping ice cream or playing croquet.

"It's a neat opportunity, especially for people who appreciate history or old houses," she said. "Sometimes it's hard work when we do events but at the end of the day when people enjoy themselves, it makes it all worth it."

Valarie Huff was a docent at Filoli in Woodside when she lived on the peninsula and she also does walking tours in San Francisco. When she moved to Livermore a few years ago, her Realtor told her about Ravenswood.

"I made it over in the first few months and threw myself at them," she recalled.

Now she's encouraging others to become involved, too, because the site needs volunteers and because she knows how enjoyable it is. Call her at 292-4112.

"Ravenswood needs volunteers for tours, gift shop sales, merchandizing, Victorian decorating, baking, hostessing, food serving and croquet playing," Huff said. "Make new friends while helping preserve our local heritage."

Visiting Ravenswood

Ravenswood Historic Site, 2647 Arroyo Road in Livermore, is part of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District. It is open for free tours from noon-4 p.m. on the second and the fourth Sunday of each month, except Easter Sunday and Mother's Day. Group tours can be arranged Tuesdays-Fridays at $5 per person. Call 373-5708.

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