Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
In January 1968,
Mary Kimberly Shirk offered her home as an incentive to raise the remaining $60,000
required to match a federal grant to purchase Prospect Park for the citizens of Redlands. The effort was a success and in 1969 the Kimberly-Shirk Association was
established to acquire and maintain the historic house. Kimberly Crest,
originally built for Cornelia A. Hill, had been the home of the Kimberly Family since
1905. Mrs. Shirk was the youngest of the Kimberly seven children and a widow when in
1920 she moved to Redlands to live with her parents. She considered herself the
caretaker of her mothers home.
The Association received title to the property in February of 1981, following Mrs.
Shirks death in 1979. Her gift came with a one million-dollar endowment.
Challenges for the Association have included overcoming the presumption that
additional funding is needed operate and maintain the home, issues such as insurance,
docent training, staffing and the use of the collections, and the historical designation
of the site. The uniqueness of Kimberly Crest lies in the fact that a majority of
the original furnishings remain. Cataloging and researching the furnishings has
resulted in many fascinating stories. Contained in the archives of Kimberly Crest is
a plethora of material documenting the collections and the history of the home accumulated
over twenty-one years.
Kimberly Crest is
well known and has earned an international reputation. Although there could be
disagreement as to the nature of Mrs. Shirks vision, we are blessed that she
understood the priceless nature of her gift.
Mary Kimberly Shirk: The Reality of Her Vision
Mary Kimberly Shirk, how much I wish I
had known her, to ask her so many questions. Where
did her grace come from, and her strength? And
J. Alfred Kimberly, the industrialist, the husband, father and grandfather who loved a
good joke. What inspired him? And Mrs. Kimberly, how many women at 73 would
start an organization for young girls? What
did she and her youngest daughter do that has kept the Kimberly Juniors going all this
time when other organizations no longer exist. I
may not have known them, but perhaps it doesnt matter. There are others who did.
The date was
January 30, 1968. Just days before the North
Koreans attacked the USS Pueblo. Pale in
comparison, held hostage was a corner of Redlands heritage - a privately owned,
privately developed park once open to the public. Lily
ponds, deer, granite stone walls with meticulously beaded grout, the Valleys
signature Washington Navel, the laid-back crowns of the deodar cedars, and the spooners or
summer shade houses with the palm frond roofs were all once a part of the environment
created by leather wholesaler T. Y. England. The
ponds, spooners and deer were gone, but the memories were still fresh, still worth saving
and preserving. Would this 39-acre park
become a victim of the 60s development that ravaged our country, or worse yet, a
mobile home park? Redlands had already
witnessed the loss of the Smiley familys Cañon Crest Park. Would enough money be raised to match the federal
grant obtained by those fighting to save Englands creation?
On page three of
the January 30,1968 edition of the Redlands Daily Facts the headline proclaimed, Kimberly Crest Gift Offered - Mrs. Shirk helps Prospect Park. [i] Mary Kimberly
Shirk was offering her home as an incentive to raise the remainder of the money, about
$60,000, required to match the federally funded HUD grant. Would this fanciful house
be the place relatives and visiting friends would be taken to, to see? What was so
special about this home among so many once spread along the hills south of Highland
Avenue? The Lyons, Burrages, Sterlings, Fishers, Bowers, Fishers, Hicks, Whites,
Albert and Alfred Smiley, and others had selected sites with the spectacular views where
elevation made the difference. The history of these homes and their families
legacies provide a fascinating, telling tale of the formation and spirit of
Cornelia Ann Hill
was another who settled in Redlands south of Highland. Grief, the favorable climate,
and Albert and Alfred Smiley may have influenced the Middletown, New York widow to escape
to Southern California. Consumption had claimed her husband and four of her six
daughters, all within ten years. In 1896 E. G. Judson sold Mrs. Hill 3 ½ acres in
the Bellview Track for $3,000. The Los Angeles architectural firm of Dennis and
Farwell was hired to design her home. Within six months, in 1897, father and son
contractors Daniel and Davis Donald had built the French chateau-inspired house with a
commanding view of the San Bernardino Valley.
horticulturist Franz P. Hosp laid out the grounds for Mrs. Hill. A German immigrant,
Hosp had worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and maintained a nursery in Riverside. His
greatest achievements in Redlands were Cañon Crest and Prospect Parks. The primary
feature at the petite chateau was a small orange grove north of the house. Hosp kept
the landscaping to a minimum. Just below the main steps was a fountain.
The family often gathered around it for photographs. The fountains statuary of
Venus Rising from the Sea captivated the Victorian spirit. The J. L.
Mott Company of New York began selling the statuary in 1873. They featured the
mythological daughter of Jupiter in the Mexican Pavilion of the 1893 Worlds Fair.
A fast forward to
1905. J. Alfred Kimberly and his wife, Helen, had been wintering in Redlands since
1899. Like others from the mid-west and east, they chose to escape the frigid winter
cold. Kimberly was a successful capitalist. At age 34 in 1872 Kimberly joined
Charles Benjamin Clark, Havilah Babcock, and Frank Shattuck in a venture that became one
of the great industrial successes of the 19th century. Mr. Kimberly would
remain president and one of the principal owners of Kimberly, Clark & Company until
his death in Redlands on January 21, 1928.
Mr. and Mrs.
Kimberly stayed in hotels, such as the Casa Loma, or rented housing in Redlands. The
winter of 1904 - 1905 they rented one of Mrs. Gertrude Bowers cottages
on Cedar Avenue. At the Cedar Avenue home the Kimberlys youngest daughter,
Mary Emma Kimberly, married Elbert Walker Shirk of Peru, Indiana on March 7, 1905.
The following December Mr. and Mrs. Kimberly purchased Cornelia Hills home for
The year of 1906
was a busy time at the home christened Kimberly Crest." A decorator was brought
in to create a new look for the house. The parlor was transformed into the
gold or pink room, complete with decorative plaster moldings, silk
damask pink draperies puddling at the floor and Louis the XV and XVI revival
furniture to match the French theme. Silk damask, this time a brilliant red, covered the
walls in the main hall and the second floor sitting room. The ceiling of the latter
was decorated with classical inspired egg and dart, Greek fret, and acanthus leaf
moldings. The main hall fireplace featured an exquisite iridescent glass mosaic of
water lilies. A silver and bronze glaze was applied to the walls in the
dining room and library. The work completed, the Redlands Citrograph
announced the following in January 1907,
Crest the beautiful home of J. C. [sic] Kimberly and family, is now entirely
refurnished, and Mrs. Kimberlys delightful at homes on the second and
fourth Fridays of each month will be resumed. [ii]
Mrs. Kimberly is
credited with the concept of an Italian garden. Perhaps she was familiar with Edith
Whartons book Italian Villas and Their Gardens published in 1904, complete
with Maxfield Parrish illustrations. The Kimberlys architect son-in-law G.
Edwin Bergstrom transformed Mrs. Kimberlys concept into a practical design.
Stairways, pergolas and cascading vines, ponds full of fantail fish and
cast-stone urns with agaves together with the Venus fountain formed the perfect Italian
garden. The project was completed in 1909. An article in the March 1915 issue
of Sunset Magazine proclaimed,
All the majesty
of perfect lines, all the luxury of tone and color that plant life is capable of
producing, all the skill of artist and artisan together with a magnificent vista of valley
and distant mountains are combined in Kimberly Crest, one of the most beautiful and
attractive home places in California. . . We are not too enthusiastic when we wonder if
the heaven of our fancy can furnish more lovely places than this; where the climate is
near perfection, the scenery magnificent and varied, the vegetation that of the tropics,
or of the temperate zones, as we desire. All these things we find surrounding many
grand homes in Redlands. [iii]
(Kimberly) Shirk was the youngest of the Kimberlys seven children (two sons and five
daughters). She was born on April 2, 1880 or 1881. [iv] Within months of graduating from Smith
College in 1904, she met her future husband. After their marriage they moved to
Indiana. Following Elberts tragic death from meningitis in 1919, Mrs. Shirk
moved to Redlands and Kimberly Crest to live with her parents. Elbert and Mary
had no children. She found others to prod, push and encourage. The values,
traditions and ideals promoted by Helen C. Kimberly continued to be developed by her
daughter. Nowhere was this more evident than with the Kimberly Juniors, the
organization for high school women founded by her mother in 1916. The ability to run
a meeting, Roberts Rules of Orders, understanding current events, and speaking in
public were essential training for these future club women. Nearly 86 years later
the Juniors continue to be a vibrant and flourishing organization. The Juniors, the
women students at Scripps College where Mrs. Shirk was a trustee and interim president
during WWII, her family, and others benefited from her efforts.
What did Mary
Kimberly Shirk know that January day in 1968? The Redlands Daily Facts quoted
her, I want the home maintained as a memorial to my mother. [v] Mrs. Shirk
considered herself the caretaker of the Kimberly home. She wrote the following to
her family at Thanksgiving in 1931, soon after her mothers death,
I have been
thinking about something for a long time and today I want to write to you about Kimberly
Crest. I do appreciate so sincerely how generous you and all the rest of the family
have been about it being left to me. . . I am writing a similar letter to each of
the family telling them that I accept it and am keeping it as a home for all of you and
your children. . . I want to keep Kimberly Crest for you and I want you to feel free to
come here anytime you want to. You may be ill or need a rest or just want to come to
Mothers Home and always, dear, feel you are most welcome. [vi]
Others would now
take her place.
The people were successful in raising the money for the matching grant. On
August 9, 1968 Prospect Park was dedicated and opened as a City of Redlands park.
Mrs. Shirk had provided the incentive and inspiration. The longest escrow in the
history of the Bank of America at that time had come to a close. Dr. Edmund
Dombrowski wrote in the Prospect Park Book, Mrs. Shirk has long been a
symbol of all that is grand and good in our community. . . she made such an unselfish
gesture at a time of crisis that many of us have had our perspectives permanently
changed. [vii] Amid the celebration that August day, a flight of C 141s from Norton Air Force Base
flew overhead on their way to South East Asia in support of another crisis. A year
later Dombrowski was elected the founding president of the Kimberly-Shirk Association.
John Surr drafted the Associations Articles of Incorporation. On May 9, 1969,
16 individuals signed the Articles, nearly all of whom had been active in the acquisition
of Prospect Park. Those signing the document were Waldo F. Burroughs, James Glaze,
Margaret W. Lynn, Lorelei H. Richards, Leon Hines Armantrout, Nyna Park, Julian H.
Blakeley, Edmund T. Dombrowski, Marie H. Miller, Frances E. Willis, Augusta Cranmer,
Mildred F. Gruber, Caleb C. Curtis, Jordan Engberg, Avice Sewall, Helen Gordon (Dudley),
John B. Surr, and Mary K. Shirk. [viii] Elected officers along with Dombrowski were
Secretary/Treasurer Jordan Engberg and Avice Sewall, Vice-president. The Articles
reflected a singular vision for community support. Four ex-officio positions were
created for the Mayor of Redlands and the presidents of the Redlands Chamber of Commerce,
the Redlands Horticulture and Improvement Society, and the Contemporary Club. Today
the president of the Kimberly-Shirk Association Docent Auxiliary also serves as an
This was not Mrs.
Shirks first experience transforming a house into a museum. An older sister,
Jessie Kimberly Paine, her husband Nathan, and Mary Shirk were the founders of The Paine
Art Center and Arboretum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Paines English Tudor
revival mansion opened in 1948. Mrs. Shirk would serve as president of The Paine
following Jessies death in 1973.
During the 13
years between Mrs. Shirks January 1968 announcement and the Associations
February 1981 acquisition of Kimberly Crest, there were opportunities for the public to
visit the home. On one sweltering day the queue was reportedly all the way down the garden
steps. Trustees were kept busy pouring lemonade for those waiting while Mrs. Shirk
sat at the porte cochere entrance personally welcoming the visitors. Alas, no
photographic record of this open house and other similar events has been discovered.
A few years
before Mrs. Shirks death there were discussions concerning how much it cost to
operate the home. Julian Blakeley met with Mrs. Shirk on several occasions. He
learned the annual costs were approximately $45,000. Meanwhile, Frank Moore
journeyed to Washington, D.C. to meet with staff from the National Trust for Historic
Preservation. They cautioned him not to take the home without an endowment.
The Associations bank account balance was approximately $90,000, which was barely
enough money to cover two years operation of the house.
information gathered by Blakeley, Moore and others, the executors of Mrs. Shirks
estate (nephews Caleb Curtis, George Bergstrom, II, and Kimberly Stuart) were approached
seeking an endowment. Apparently the executors felt the time was not right.
Asking someone for money, especially Mrs. Shirk who had already given so much and for so
many, could be a difficult task for most people. Finally in 1978, a year before Mrs.
Shirks death, a gift of one million dollars or one-fifth of her estate (which ever
was the lesser amount) was added to her will. Now the Kimberly-Shirk Association
would have the funds to help operate and maintain the 80-year-old estate. Mrs.
Shirk, Frank, Julian, Mrs. Shirks family, and the other board members had now
assured and ensured the future of the organization. Few historic sites are fortunate
enough to open their doors with an endowment of one million dollars. Dr. Edmund
Dombrowskis promise in 1968 would hold true, This arrangement would mean that
private funds rather than City tax monies [sic] would be used to maintain the
property. [ix] In 1978 there was a change in leadership when Dr. Dombrowski resigned as
president. At a trustee meeting in the Kimberly Crest dining room, Mrs. Shirk turned
to Julian Blakeley, insisting I want you. Julian would serve as
president until 1997.
Mrs. Shirk passed
away peacefully at Kimberly Crest early in the morning of October 15, 1979, ten years
following the founding of the Association. The editorial in the Facts that day read, in part, Although Redlands is officially governed by a City Council,
the citizens know in their hearts that it has actually been a monarchy for years.
This is because we have had a matron queen, as much beloved by her people as Queen
Elizabeth to her subjects. . . Today, at age 99, she is dead. Let the bells
Mrs. Shirk left a
legacy not soon forgotten. On her bedside table was a framed photograph of her
handsome, charismatic and athletic husband whom she had outlived by 60 years.
A formidable task
faced by the Association, and in some ways still a problem, was Mrs. Shirks wealth,
perceived or actual. Long time board members were heard saying, How does
one raise money for the home of the richest woman in town? The average
person would consider one million a tremendous amount of money. Why should
additional funding be needed? Other roadblocks to increased funding included the
assumption that Kimberly Crest is owned by the City of Redlands. Mrs. Shirks
gift was to the people of Redlands, not the municipal entity. One might
deduce that the Kimberly-Clark Corporation is a strong supporter. After all,
Kimberly Crest was the home of one of the Corporations founders and its first
president. The names of the two are easily confused. Even their initials,
KC, are identical. Although the Association has received funding from
Kimberly-Clark through an employee matching-gift program, there has been no direct funding
from the Corporation.
dollars of Mrs. Shirks gift was initially invested in Treasury Notes earning over
14% annually. The balance was invested with a money manager, insisted upon by KSA
trustee and Mrs. Shirks nephew, Caleb Curtis. As the Treasury Notes came due,
the funds were transferred into the investment portfolio. Dependency on the
endowment interest dropped significantly from 1981 to 2001 due to other funding
sources. Tour donations, rental of the grounds for weddings, receptions and still
photography, annual membership in the Kimberly-Shirk Association, fund raising events, the
Kimberly-Shirk Docent Auxiliary, grants, and the museum store provide the balance.
Shirks death, KSA Trustee Ben Rabe successfully campaigned to increase the size of
the board to a maximum of 35 to bring in new, younger blood, while at the same
time retaining those who were instrumental in the effort to save Prospect Park and
Kimberly Crest. The Bylaws were amended. Larry Burgess, Harold Walker, Betti
Sherman, Patti Belote, Joyce Crawford, J.E. Holmes III, and others joined Blakeley, Moore,
Sewall, Rabe, Engberg, Jean Cranmer, Marie Miller, Frances Willis, and Mrs. Shirks
nephew Caleb and his sister, Helen Gordon Dudley.
What was not done
was to explore with Mrs. Shirk her desires for the operation of her home. The path
followed by the organization could have been different if these conversations had
transpired. The Associations Articles of Incorporation clearly state,
The purposes for which this Association is formed are to acquire and maintain as a
museum a mansion of Victorian style, known as Kimberly Crest. [xi]
Additional advice was sought. One rainy evening in March 1981 members of the board
sat around the dining room table in a meeting with Randall L. Makinson, founding director
of Pasadenas Gamble House. Frank Moore would recall that Makinson recommended
the board move slowly. But, there was an eagerness of the Association
and the pubic to open the doors. They had been waiting patiently for 13 years.
Action was expected. In February 1981, following the signature of Superior Court
Judge Rex Cranmer, the Kimberly-Shirk Association received title to the property and on
March 4, 1981, KSA trustee and vice-president Marie Miller welcomed the first guests to
board minutes, the January 1968 Redlands Daily Facts article, city planning
requirements such as Conditional Use Permits, the many personalities, and an assortment of
other factors contributed to the chosen paths.
Converting a home
to one open to the public brings with it many challenges, some of which may not be
anticipated. Even before the Association took ownership, couples were calling asking
to be married at Kimberly Crest. Insurance, to sit or not sit on furniture, fresh
flowers or no flowers, emergency procedures, a Conditional Use Permit, parking, smoking
(yes, smoking was allowed in the kitchen in those early years), heels or no heels,
photography, and filming were some of the issues. Traffic flow was also a
concern. Objects were moved to accommodate those touring the home, although some of
it was because of taste rather than practicality. Only the first floor was open in
In 1981 the
Association was forced to confront the recently released movie titled, Hell
Night. Mrs. Shirks executors and the University of Redlands had
permitted filming at the two locations. Fortunately the interiors were shot
elsewhere. No one expected the history of Kimberly Crest to be replaced by the
movies plot, a movie full of clichés. Critics have said, The bad part
about it starring Linda Blair and not being The Exorcist is that we also know
what the budget is like. . . just check out those periodic ghosted reflections from the
candles and the flashlight in the camera. [xii] In one scene the boom mike is
clearly visible at the top of the frame. A demented son, five bloody murders, the
head of one blond sorority coed discovered on a rumpled bed (a poor imitation of the
Godfather), and hidden tunnels replaced the love of family, philanthropy and
education. No wonder midnight visitors were a common occurrence. They
came to see Garth Manor. Careful scrutiny would follow subsequent
maintenance required attention. Termite inspections and the fumigation of the
carriage house, gutter and downspout repair, locating the irrigation sprinkler valves,
upgrading or replacing the existing alarm system, upgrading the three furnaces, and the
removal of the vines covering the house and garden structures were dealt with.
Removal of the vines caused considerable debate. Many in the community had fond
memories of the wisteria in full bloom, the long iridescent violet blossoms draped over
the house in the manner of jewels adorning a dowagers bosom. It was not just
wisteria encircling the house; it was rose and the invasive cats claw and creeping fig.
The house stood stripped of the jewels, bare for the world to see; faint shadows the only
reminder. The removal of the vines caused an unexpected situation. Those
working in the house were forced to depend on fans for the first time during the stifling
heat of August and September of 1981. A structural engineer inspected a
deflection in the second floor and a contractor was hired to paint the exterior trim in
the Kimberly Crest mustard yellow. Association Secretary/Treasurer,
Jordan Engberg, even climbed to the roof with a hose to see if water would flow through
the gutters and downspouts. The trustees had their assignments. The work was
not all immediately completed. In 1984 a new electrical system was installed with
increased power capacity and safety. No longer were there multiple wires between the
house and carriage house, and multiple fuse boxes. The historical interpretation was
altered as a result. Perhaps one day new, non-functioning wires can be strung to
represent the original appearance. In 1996 a seismic retrofit of the house was
completed, over $70,000 spent few will ever see. A new roof was installed and the
trim painted again in 1998.
The upkeep of any
house can be a challenge. Kimberly Crest has been fortunate to attract individuals
and businesses prepared to tackle most any job. One such person was Russ
Dornbush. Russ had done a little of everything during his lifetime, from
transcribing music as a WPA project to owning his own hobby store in Grand Rapids,
Michigan. He began taking on little projects at the house. He had been looking at
the decorative wooden railing surrounding the house. This once beautiful ornament
was peeling and cracked. Although the railings condition did not impact
the structural integrity of the house, people kept asking, When are you going to fix
the railings? One day Russ offered to restore just one section. His
offer became a two-year project. In the end, the entire railing on all three floors
had been completely restored. There have been others who have lent their talents and
expertise on behalf of the home. Mr. E.C. Burgeson of Burgesons Heating
and Air Conditioning, TBM Electric, Norman Ray, Don Tune, and Ed Losee are just few of
those the house came to depend on. Don and Ed even got on the roof to restore the
cast iron cresting, no easy feat.
The transition from private home to public facility required staffing. Those working
for Mrs. Shirk at her death were to continue at Kimberly Crest once the Association became
owner. When I was hired as a house sitter in July of 1981 I took the opportunity to
understand the daily life at Kimberly Crest from those who knew it best. The day I
moved in Anne Canright, Mrs. Shirks cook, and Trustee Ben Rabe greeted me. The
aroma of ginger, dark molasses, and cinnamon filled the air. Anne was baking.
That Monday afternoon I had my first of the signature thin, crisp ginger
A letter to
Julian from Larry Burgess in 1981 had made the Association aware of my availability and
qualifications. I had a graduate degree in Historic Resource Management from
University of California Riverside. The transition continued when I approached the
board in 1982 to work part-time for the Association directing the cataloguing of the
collection. I was still employed as the house sitter and working part-time for the
City of Bellflower compiling information for a book celebrating the Citys 25th anniversary of incorporation. The Association proposed that I come to work for
them full time as Resident Manager. The offer was accepted. I continued to
live at Kimberly Crest until May of 1984.
It was essential
that the Association have someone to maintain the newly created office. A secretary
would be hired. Anne Canright would stay on, but housekeeper David Hooks and Helen
Vestal were let go. This was a very difficult decision for the board. They
honored Helen and David with a reception at the house in January 1983. Barbara Abele
was hired as the first secretary, followed by Julia Dunn and in September of 1984 Celeste
Knapp began an extraordinary tenure. Nearly 18 years later Celeste continues to work
in her capacity as Executive Secretary handling tasks well beyond her job description with
superb organizational skills.
landscaping service was employed by Mrs. Shirks executors to care for the
grounds. Long-time gardener Joe Munoz had been let go by the family in what may have
been a misunderstanding. The contract firm removed the vines and cut back much of
the plant material in order to make it manageable for once-a-week service. They
worked for the Association until 1983 when we hired a full-time gardener. Grounds as
important as Kimberly Crest deserved at least one full time person overseeing their
care. Appropriately named, the first gardener hired was Tom Root. Five people
have served in the position, with the longest being Howard Holmes (nine years). Hired in September 1998 was Terry Hernstrom, a mid-westerner with a strong landscaping
background and a passion for horticulture.
historic-house-community there are achievements that provide recognition and serve to
validate the significance of a property. The federal government established the
National Register of Historic Places under the National Historic Preservation Act of
1966. The Register was described as, a national program to coordinate and
support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and
archeological resources. [xiii] Today there are approximately 74,000
diverse sites, including the Zanja, San Franciscos Cable Cars, bridges, the Smiley
Park Historic District, business buildings, and Kimberly Crest listed on the National
Register. One would assume that achieving National Register status would have been
an immediate priority. In the early 1980s I presented a report to the
Associations Executive committee recommending we apply. Approximately the same
time there was a meeting with Frank Moore, Julian Blakeley, City of Redlands Preservation
Officer Darrell Cozen, and myself. Frank was not in favor of the National
Register. He felt that someone; some government agency, was going to tell the Board
how to preserve Kimberly Crest. Franks opinion was formed, in part, when in
1979 the State Office of Historic Preservations evaluation of two houses delayed
improvements to Barton Road. [xiv] As much as others and I tried, Frank would not
change his stance. Application to the National Register was on an indefinite
In 1995, with the
financial assistance of the Kimberly-Shirk Docent Auxiliary, architectural historian Dr.
Lauren Bricker was hired to prepare the National Register application. Was Kimberly
Crest of local, regional, state or national significance, and could the determination be
justified? The case was made for statewide significance. The determining
factors were architecture (house and gardens) and the role of Mrs. Kimberly and Mrs. Shirk
in education and the General Federation of Womens Clubs. While Lauren focused
on the National Register application, I worked on the State application. In both
cases, support was successfully sought from local, state and national organizations and
individuals. Together with the National Register application, the application for
State Historical Landmark was submitted. In December 1995, Kimberly Crest became
California State Historic Landmark #1019 and named to the National Register in March of
The uniqueness of
Kimberly Crest lies in the fact that a majority of the original furnishings remain.
There are dozens of historic sites where this is extremely rare. Monogrammed towels,
French porcelain, oil paintings, cookbooks, Christmas cards, a two-headed fox fur, and
even an enema bag are part of the collection! The home reflects Mrs. Shirks
lifestyle, a lifestyle we may not personally favor. Objects and their arrangement tell a
story far beyond the maker. It is the acquisition rather than the cost that provides
the value, a priceless human value. Kimberly Crest is not a sterile environment
within a structure where the objects have no relationship one to another or to the life of
the people. I want to keep the house as it is an example of the way people
noted Mrs. Shirk in the January 1968 Facts article. What the public sees is a
fairly simple home as compared to the Newport, Rhode Island mansions. There are no
ceiling frescos, marble floors or bathroom fixtures of gold. Rather, one finds a
hand made batik given to Mrs. Shirk pinned to the damask wall covering and a simply framed
Christmas card among fine oil paintings.
One of the
Associations first priorities was to inventory and appraise the furnishings.
Maxine Kreps, who owned an antiques store on the Outer Highway, was hired to evaluate the
rugs, furniture, and fine and decorative art works. Cataloging would begin
later once a set of procedures was in place, including using the accepted
nomenclature. Several docents eagerly stepped forward to help with the project.
resource that aided the cataloguing and provided essential provenance, something all
curators hope for, was a series of photographs discovered in a closet, dating circa 1912 -
1916. They were of Elbert and Mary Shirks Peru, Indiana home. Clear,
detailed photos of the interior revealed several objects obviously part of the Kimberly
Crest collection. The empire style mahogany table with carved feather legs in the
center of the main hall occupied the main hall in the Peru home. Joining the table
were the dogwood Tiffany floor lamp, Mr. Shirks music stand, the game table now next
to the grandfather clock, and the painting of beech trees by Indiana artist John Elwood
Bundy. Mrs. Shirk shipped these objects and others to Redlands upon her moving to
Redlands in 1920. They were incorporated into the furnishings of
Kimberly Crest which were a combination of objects brought from the Kimberlys
Wisconsin home, purchased specifically for Kimberly Crest, or acquired later.
There are many
fascinating stories relative to the objects. The painting by Jesse Arms Botke at the
main hall landing is an excellent example. Mrs. Shirk saw a picture of the painting
in a 1939 issue of the LA Times. She telephoned the gallery in Fillmore where
the painting was being sold. The husband and wife gallery owners delivered the
painting to Kimberly Crest and had lunch with Mrs. Shirk. The wife would write an
autobiography, in which she recalled, The day the story and picture were
printed, we received a call from Redlands Is the Botke peacock painting,
shown in the Times story, still available? Yes? Well, save it. I
want it. Such unquestioning willingness to pay a big price for a good painting
was far from the universal attitude. . . [xvi] A letter of inquiry to the author
confirmed she was referring to Mrs. Shirk. What we did not learn was the big
probably more than any in the entire collection, rates great importance. Sitting on
top of the small curio cabinet in one corner of the parlor is a gold colored ceramic
pitcher approximately 10 inches in height. Easily overlooked, this pitcher and
others identical to it were sold at Serrs Stationary Store on East State
Street. Was there any significance to this pitcher? Not until a docent recognized
it, for she had been given an identical one. The story unfolded. An unknown
group of Redlands citizens chose to present these pitchers in a quiet, unassuming way to
individuals who had made a difference. There was no formal organization. Unannounced
and without fanfare, they would come to a home with the pitcher a symbol of the
outpouring of goodness. In a way their act hinted of minister turned author Lloyd C.
Douglas approach to life in his memorable work, The Magnificent Obsession.
What does the pitcher tell us about the people who lived at Kimberly Crest? Could we
know as much about their lives with this one solitary object as we do with a whole house
full of treasures? Perhaps not. There is the incentive to delve further into
the life of Kimberly Crest. This importance extends far beyond the immediate family,
to a community not restricted by political or ancestral boundaries.
Sadly, no one sat
down with Mrs. Shirk to determine what was to be saved of the articles that her family did
not want. It was not clear if the remainder of the objects were for the Association.
Thrown out were file boxes filled with correspondence and Elbert Shirks WWI Navy
uniform along with the pelt of a favorite dog and other presumably insignificant
material. This was an incredible loss, a loss of understanding, and a loss of some
of the personality of the home and its residents.
Key to most
museums are those who share with the public their knowledge of the institution, the
history, the art, and the people. In most museums these are the docents. They
are the volunteer educators. Although the first four touring guests were welcomed in
March of 1981, it was not until the fall of that year that the first docent training was
held. Frank Moore, Ben Rabe, Irene Hinckley Kupfer, Larry Burgess, and others were
on hand to provide the information known at that time. Some of these docents were
recruited from the Contemporary Club. Packed into the main hall of Kimberly Crest,
they listened to and learned a variety of information
Crest docents are an exceptional group of talented and dedicated individuals numbering
over 100. Many have 15 20 year tenure with the historic site. At least
one active docent was a member of the first class in 1981. Several former Kimberly
Juniors serve as docents. In 1990 the docents created the Kimberly-Shirk Docent
Auxiliary under the umbrella of the Kimberly-Shirk Association. Although not a
separate non-profit organization, they have their own board. The docent president is
an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees and the Associations Executive
the docents are involved in some way in nearly every aspect of the historic sites
operation. Flower arranging, staffing the museum store, cataloguing, collections
care, and clerical assistance are just some of what they do. A significant amount of
restoration work completed in the interior spaces was funded by the docents, including a
large percentage of the parlor restoration. The duplication of the drapery fabric
was $22,000. The docents have held their own successful fundraising events.
Since the early 1980s they have sponsored a round robin bridge tournament. The
winning teams vie for the top two positions at their playoff at Kimberly Crest, which
includes lunch in the historic sites dining room.
In order to tell
the story of Kimberly Crest, we have to know the story. In the beginning it was
essentially the life of Mrs. Shirk, a woman of means, sustained by the universal
recognition of Kleenex ® and the Kimberly-Clark Corporation. The means had been
well earned because of the foundation established by Kimberly, Clark, Babcock and
Shattuck. Kleenex ®, Kotex® and other products whose names have become part
of our daily lexicon, funded the lifestyle reflected in Kimberly Crest.
The story is more
complex. With her gift, Mrs. Shirk allowed us, the community, to be a family
member. We share in the passions, traditions and tragedies. The California
gold rush, actress Carole Lombard, the Pentagon and Redlands Clock Auditorium,
Amelia Earhart, 1933 Nazi Germany, Clarence Darrow, Sophia Smith, Kleenex ® and the
Neenah paper company, wooden ice boxes, Cole Porter, the development of flight, the Hupa
Indians, and ginger cookies, cashews and Redlands Triangle Chocolate Shop all relate
in some manner to Kimberly Crests rich, historical tapestry of which we are a part.
Contained in the
archives of Kimberly Crest is a plethora of material. Accumulated over twenty-one
years, the file cabinets and acid free boxes contain more than a representation of a
wealthy widow living in a castle on a hill overlooking Redlands. Flea markets and
antique stores, used book dealers, vacation detours, and gifts from the Hill and Kimberly
families are a few of the avenues that have been used to acquire the materials.
Docents, trustees, and others have sought out information on trips, taking the time to
visit museums in other cities, in other states, in other countries. Often it was
like Candid Camera, when you least expect it,. . . A
phone call, a visitor to the house, a couple of words in a book, did you know? The
pieces of this jigsaw puzzle were taking form. Research has taken us from Belgium to
Florence, Italy, from London, England to Granada, Spain and to Washington, D. C.,
Louisville, Kentucky, Port Townsend, Washington, San Diego, California, Portland, Oregon,
Proctor, Vermont, Beaumont, Texas, and to the states of Massachusetts, Florida, Wisconsin,
and Indiana. Through the Internet, who knows where an inquiry may have landed?
Frank Moore was
fascinated with Cornelia Ann Hill. He tracked down descendants of Mrs. Hill thanks
to a member of Redlands J.S. Edwards family. In the their possession was
a photo album with several exterior and interior photos of Kimberly Crest. It
appeared to be high Victorian. Mrs. Hill added Native American objects,
including baskets, a papoose, and shawls to complement her homes decor. At
least one of the baskets used to decorate the main hall has been identified as Hupa, a
tribe from northern California. A portion of the Native American collection was
donated to the Southwest Museum. Was Mrs. Hills interest simply in the native
arts or was there something more to it? Her home of Middletown, New York is not far
from New Paltz and the Smiley familys Mohonk Mountain House. Their resort was
the site of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian concerned for
their welfare and well being. Could Mrs. Hill have attended one of these
conferences? The mystery became more intriguing with the gift of another scrapbook
from the Hill family. Small in size, it contains articles clipped from magazines and
original photographs of Native Americans. Carol Rector, the former curator of
anthropology at the San Bernardino County Museum, was contacted. She determined the
photographs were taken on the Hupa Reservation in northern California. The scrapbook
dated circa 1904 - 1905. One photo showed a man with a mule and a raft used as a
ferry across the Trinity River. Carol sent a copy of the pictures to the director of
the Hupa Reservations museum. The photo of the man with the mule was the
directors grandfather. We learned the photo brought tears to his eyes as he
saw his grandfather with two legs for the first time in his life. The grandfather
lost a leg in a shooting accident. Examination of the photographs revealed they had
been taken at different times of the year, indicating an extended period of time spent on
the reservation. Was Mrs. Hill the photographer? During Mrs. Hills
eight-year ownership of Kimberly Crest there were times when she rented her home. Among the renters were sisters Olive and Caroline Stokes.
One day Dale
Bauer was at the kitchen door with a book edited by one of his former Occidental College
professors, Glenn Dumke. Dales book is now part of the Kimberly Crest research
library. Published by the Huntington Library and titled Mexican Gold Trail
- The Journal of a Forty-Niner, it was written by George Evans, a great uncle of Mary
Shirk on her mothers side. Dr. Dumke noted in his acknowledgments that Mrs.
Shirk had given permission to publish the journal. At about the same time, KSA
trustee and docent Dorothy Arthur and I had the privilege of interviewing Marianne Tenney
Bergman, a granddaughter of one of Mrs. Kimberlys sisters. She had lived in
Redlands as a child in the house tucked behind the groves on Terrancina just north of the
Morey House. Marianne was one of those family members steeped in the history of her
family. She produced a genealogy of the Cheney family (Mrs. Kimberlys
fathers family). She also delved into George Evans and his journey to the gold
fields, and corresponded with at least one person who had attempted to follow Evans
trail from Port Lavaca, Texas to San Antonio, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Tucson, Agua
Caliente, Mission San Miguel, Livermore, and eventually to Stockton, California. In
her collection were photographs of a couple of locations where Evans is believed to have
stopped on his way to the California gold fields.
is a book titled On a Christmas Day in the Morning. Even with a torn cover
and loose pages it is historically significant. Author Grace Richmond describes a
Christmas in which three adult children return to their parents home late one Christmas
Eve. The parents were already in bed when the children arrived without spouses and
children. Two stockings were hung from the mantel. In the morning the parents
were surprised to discover five stockings. Mrs. Kimberly presented this book to her
children in 1911. Inspired or perhaps, persuaded, the following year the Kimberly
children gave their parents a two-week notice that they would be in Redlands for
Christmas. Twenty-nine celebrated the holiday of 1912 at Kimberly Crest.
Family members joined together on the front porch for pictures. An Oriental carpet
was spread out over the steps. Mr. and Mrs. Kimberly were seated in the middle
surrounded by their family. It was not a simple matter to get everyone in the
portrait. More had to be done than normal to make the picture complete.
Jessies husband, Nathan Paine, was unable to attend the celebration. A suit of
clothes was stuffed, a face created and topped with a hat. Nathan Paines
effigy is clearly evident in the back right of the photo.
How did we find
out about this Christmas reunion? Frank Moore was given the book by a couple who had
discovered it at a book sale. Tucked into the book was a yellowed, acid-laden
clipping from the Redlands Daily Facts with a complete account of the
celebration. The reporter described the decorations, the schedule of the day and
even some of the gifts (gold engraved watches). One tradition carried out that day
continues with members of the family 90 years later. The Christmas tree was left
hidden until after the noon day meal. It was only then that the children, anxious to
see their gifts, would be allowed to see the tree. Not mentioned in the article was
the common practice for the children to hang their stockings on the end of their
beds. Mr. Kimberly was known to have put a $5 gold piece in his grandchildrens
When we think of
Christmas, our thoughts often turn to the evergreen, which we see in wreaths, on mantels,
and in the trees we decorate. At Kimberly Crest it was also an evergreen, although a
somewhat different type, a Magnolia grandiflora towering over eighty feet in height.
Mrs. Shirk began having the Southern Magnolia decorated with lights in the late
1940s; perhaps inspired by a national enthusiasm for living Christmas
trees. Long time gardener, Joe Munoz, would spend weeks trimming the tree and
decorating it using a climbing harness. One year as a surprise, Joe fashioned a star
out of wood on which he attached Christmas lights. The star crowned the top of the
tree. Although the electrical connection was somewhat risky (wires strung from tree
to tree and eventually into a second floor window on the west side of the house and
plugged into an outlet - outlets), the beauty was enjoyed by the entire community. In the dedication by Dr. Edmund Drombrowski in the Prospect Park Book, he wrote, Her altruism (Mrs. Shirks), . . ., is perhaps best symbolized by the gigantic,
brightly lighted outdoor Christmas tree which she shares with all of Redlands each
The tradition of lighting the tree continues as a symbol of Mrs. Shirks
love and commitment to the community.
Kimberly Crest grew over the years. National attention on the popular A & E
program, Americas Castles introduced the site to a much larger
audience. Once the hours open had been expanded from two to four days a week and a
portion of the second floor opened for tours, the Southern California Automobile Club
agreed to include Kimberly Crest in AAA California Tour Book. Michelin
and a variety of other guides including A Field Guide to Americas Historic
Neighborhoods & Museum Houses: The Western States offer information on the house
to specialized audiences. The National Geographic Guide to Americas Great
Houses highlights Kimberly Crest as one of five of the foremost historic homes in
California. Technology has added the Internet, including
www.kimberlycrest.org. The HGTV networks Christmas Castles and the
cover story of Victorian Homes Magazines February 2001 issue are examples of
Kimberly Crest reaching an expansive audience.
Perhaps no year
was as busy at Kimberly Crest as the year 1997 when we celebrated the centennial.
Taking liberty from the yearlong City of Redlands Centennial Celebration, the Kimberly
Crest celebration formally began in December of 1996 with members of the Hill family
lighting the Christmas tree and concluded with the Kimberly family in the same role the
following year. Achievements were recognized including the dedication of the State
Historic Landmark plaque funded by the Redlands Area Historical Society. A
successful appraisal day, under the auspices of San Francisco auction house Butterfield
and Butterfied, provided funding and recognition for the home. Other events included
A Mother - Daughter Tea and Historic Fashion Show and a Victorian Faire, both, which
heightened the awareness and recognition of the historic site. The celebration
granted a time to Friend Raise and increase the visibility of Kimberly Crest
thanks to tremendous media support.
to meet people who were in some way connected to Kimberly Crest was a privilege.
More than 150 members of the Kimberly family made their way to the home during the last 21
years, many for the first time. It was as if Kimberly Crest were Mecca. The
family pilgrims journeyed to the sacred shrine. Each has had a story to tell. The 4th and 5th generations were mesmerized by the ponds as were
their grandparents and great-grandparents. If they had had an opportunity, perhaps,
they too, would have rolled down the terraces, only to be scolded for grass-stained
were not limited to the Kimberlys. The daughter and a son of former head
gardener John Middleton traveled from South Africa to see the home. There were the
descendants of Cornelia Hill. It was a great surprise to discover Mrs. Hill had
descendants living in San Bernardino. We learned Cornelias granddaughter,
Olive who had lived at Kimberly Crest with her grandmother and attended Kimberly
Elementary School, married Luther Gage, well known for his promotion of ranunculus in
Southern California. Staff, students whose education was paid by Mrs. Shirk, church
friends, former Kimberly Juniors, and others have made their journey home.
I would be remiss
not to mention the efforts of John Alfred Kimberly, Jr. In 1950 he funded a Kimberly
family genealogy. A second genealogy was complied and written by family members
Thomas Sutter and William A. Brehm, Jr. following a successful Kimberly reunion in Neenah,
Wisconsin in 1986.
There are an
estimated 6,000 historic sites and house museums in the United States open to the
public. Take a look at Lincolns log cabin at Stinking Spring Farm,
Kentucky. The original birthplace is gone. Housed in the granite and marble,
mausoleum-like structure at Stinking Spring is a simple 16 by 18-foot log structure
representative of Lincolns birthplace. It remains an icon of U. S.
Presidential history. Other sites are known for their architecture.
Pasadenas Gamble House is in the Arts and Crafts style of brothers Greene and
Greene. The fact that it was the home of one of the great 19th and early
20th century capitalists is secondary. There are sites that represent a
specific time in history. One need only turn to our neighbor Riverside to see the
Riverside Heritage House, an excellent example of life in 1891.
Kimberly Crest fit in or does it? It may not rate the reputation of the monuments to
George Washington or Samuel Clemens nor is it the finest example of the chateau style in
America, which is reserved for the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North
Carolina. We have come to learn that Kimberly Crest is tremendously important
on the scale of historic homes in the United States. Once not well known, the home
has gained an international reputation. I think all of us, though, have taken it for
granted at times. What helps is the reaction of those who come to visit from outside
of Redlands, even outside of California. They are often the most enthusiastic.
Studies dealing with Heritage Tourism have shown that those visiting historic sites are
often better educated and have a greater disposal income. They see beyond what
others may not.
It may not be the
history or the architecture that has inspired a visit to Kimberly Crest. A couple
from Oregon was vacationing in the area when the husband suffered a massive stroke.
He was hospitalized at the Loma Linda Medical Center with little hope of surviving.
The wife found she needed a break from her bedside vigil. The Kimberly Crest gardens
offered her solace. Equipped with rubber gloves and determination, she spent her
time weeding the flowerbeds. Kimberly Crest remained a positive memory as she
returned to her Oregon home following her husbands death. Later, a letter
arrived from Oregon with a membership application and a check.
Others have sat
in the gardens or on the porch admiring the beauty and serenity. The gardens appear
infinite were it not for the San Bernardino Mountains inhibiting their movement.
There are few intrusions to interfere or destroy the historical setting and
integrity. Imagine sitting on the porch in the late afternoon with the sun
highlighting the north façade. Deep shadows carpet the space. Light streams
through the camphors, magnolia, and flowering plum. We wonder at the towering
Mexican Fan Palms. Have they stopped their assent? As the sun sets the hooked
string of lights becomes visible in Cajon Pass marking the route down Interstate 15.
A walk in the garden reveals areas where the temperature suddenly drops with a chill
breeze. The Koi are heard breaking the surface of the pond as they reach for
insects. It is time to go inside. Dinner will be light, of soup and crackers
served in the second floor sitting room. Amongst the family photographs, the
days finished correspondence and the Tiffany lamp above our heads; our attention
turns to the television to watch one of our favorite game shows or a Dodger baseball
game. Tomorrow in the early morning, our nemesis, the Blue Heron, will perch himself
on the cresting crowning our home, surveying his kingdom and, his next meal.
What was Mary
Kimberly Shirks vision? Was it the Blue Herons or perhaps the 4th graders, the latter captivated by the idea of an elevator in a private home?
We may not know. Although there could be disagreement as to the nature of Mrs.
Shirks vision, we are blessed that she understood the priceless nature of her gift.
[i] Kimberly Crest gift offered: Mrs. Shirk helps Prospect Park, Redlands Daily Facts 30 January
[ii] Redlands Citrograph 5 January 1907: 7.2.
There is a long-standing tradition that Tiffany
Studios decorated the house for Mrs. Kimberly (1906-1907).
There is no written or physical evidence to collaborate the story. University of California Riverside graduate
student, Sue Reynolds-Lysak, spent months researching this mystery as part of her
Masters Field Report on the decorative arts of Kimberly Crest. Reynolds-Lysaks conclusions do not infer
that Tiffanys had not part in the decorating, only that more research is necessary
to substantiate the claim.
[iii] Clara Hunt Swallowed, A Garden of Allah in
California, Sunset Magazine March 1915: 544-545.
[iv] There is conflicting evidence as to the year Mary
Emma Kimberly (Shirk) was born. No birth
certificate has been found. Her death
certificate lists her age as 99 when she died (reference to the 1880 date). Her father, J. Alfred Kimberly, referenced Mrs.
Shirks birthday in one of his diary-like daybooks (circa 1922- 1927). This reference corresponds to a birth date of
April 2, 1881. In the Kimberly Crest
collection is a copy of Whos Who in America, in which Mrs. Shirk is listed. The listing had her wedding date incorrect. She corrected it, but did not change the birth
date shown with the year 1881. More research
[v] Facts, 30 January 1968: 3.
[vi] Mary (Bob) Kimberly Shirk, letter to unknown
Kimberly family member, November 1931, copy, Archives, Kimberly Crest House & Gardens,
[vii] Erwin S. Hein, ed.,
The Prospect Park Book, (Redlands, California: The
Prospect Park Fund of Redlands, California,
[viii] Articles of Incorporation
Kimberly-Shirk Association, 9 May 1969, 4.
[ix] Facts, 30 January 1968: 3.
[x] Mrs. Shirk, Redlands Queen, is
dead. Editorial, Redlands Daily
Facts, 15 October 1979: 14.
[xi] Articles of Incorporation, 9 May 1969,
Classic Horror Reviews, online,
Internet, 25 April 2002.
[xiii] Welcome to the National Register, online National
Park Service, Internet,
10 April 2002.
[xiv] Is it historic? editorial, Redlands Daily Facts 16 October 1979: 14.
[xv] Facts, 30 January 1968: 3.
[xvi] Mildred Hinckley, The Artists Barn: A Twenty-Five Year Pioneering Adventure in Art. (Ventura, California: Ventura County Historical Society, 1985) 95.
[xvii] Hein 11.
of Steve Spiller