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Montalvo is one of the oldest artist residencies in the country. It is poised to become one of the most significant in the world.

This one hour documentary follows the evolution of Villa MontalvoVideo Clip - Montalvo Intro.from the elegant country mansion of San Francisco millionaire, James DuVal Phelan, to the unique Arts Center it is today.

Taping began in 1998, when 5 teams of innovative architects and artists met for the first time to share their designs for Montalvo’s new Artist Residency complex. They exchanged thoughts about the ideal environment for the support and stimulation of the creative spirit. Their visions came to fruition with the completion, in October 2004, of “The Orchard of Artists” - but the story starts much earlier.

Montalvo’s founding father had a vision, first of a personal paradise, and then of an artistic legacy to the people of California. His spirit has infused every development in Montalvo’s evolution. Interweaving interviews with family members, historians, and a wealth of photos, documents and footage, “Evolution” begins with the Phelan family historyVideo Clip - Phelan Family History. James DuVal Phelan was both charismatic and controversial. His father was a gold rush pioneer who built an empire in banking and real estate. Following a call to public service, his son was twice elected Mayor of San Francisco and played an important role in rebuilding the city after the 1906 earthquakeVideo Clip - 1906 Earthquake. In 1915, James DuVal Phelan became the first popularly elected Senator for the state of California. He was also a lover of beauty, and a patron of the arts.

Phelan built Montalvo in 1912 as a retreat from the cold and fog of the city. For the next 18 years he escaped to the sunny South BayVideo Clip - History of Saratogato relax, entertain friends, and indulge in the arts. Those he admired, those who enriched his life, were encouraged to stay at the Villa, to walk the wooded hillsides, to enjoy good food and good company. Phelan knew that artists need this time and space. His love and respect for the process of artistic creation is his greatest legacy.

In 1930, upon his death, Phelan left Montalvo to the people of California for the cultivation of the arts. The development of the estate from private home to multi-purpose art center has an organic flow, driven by social and cultural changes. Early efforts by the San Francisco Art Institute, the community spirit and volunteerismVideo Clip - Volunteer committeesof mid-century and the current infusion of professionalismVideo Clip - Evolving professionalismand modern fundingVideo Clip - New sources of fundinghave fueled Montalvo’s evolution from local community center to one balancing entertainment with the vision of a global art communityVideo Clip - The future.

Producers Valerie Archer and John Wainwright are privileged to have access to Montalvo’s extensive archives and the enthusiastic participation of administrators, audience, and artists. This is an inspiring story of the triumph of the creative spirit in a commercially driven world.

The video clips on this page require the Windows Media 9 player.
Selected Clips
Selected clips from “Villa Montalvo: The Evolution of an Arts Center”

“Evolution” intro (1:26)

Phelan family history (5:02)

1906 earthquake (1:30)

History of Saratoga (1:30)


Volunteer committees (1:16)

Evolving professionalism (1:27)

New sources of funding (4:08)

The future (3:41)


These clips were edited for a presentation at the Saratoga Foothill Club in February 2001. Montalvo continues to evolve. The new Artist Residency Program has just gotten underway. The Literary Arts Program has added events with authors and the Visual Arts program has moved outside the walls of the small gallery to include installations on the grounds. The Performing Arts programming is still eclectic, from popular to cutting-edge, reflecting the administrators' continuing efforts to reach a wider audience for the arts.

New footage includes interviews with the current Artist Residency and Visual Arts Program irectors, and a followup interview with the Executive Director, Elizbeth Challener. There is concert footage from several representative performances including the Juilliard Quartet, Tony Bennett and David Benoit.

To complete the documentary, the producers plan to interview artists inaugurating the new Residency Program, and tape the cottages finished and furnished. We would also like to reconnect with the artist and architect teams to find out how the reality matches their initial designs. Funding is needed to clear photographic and music rights, to complete the script, and record narration. Program completion is slated for 2005.




Valerie Archer graduated from Yale University with a major in American Studies. She has produced programs on music, fashion and travel that have aired on PBS and CNN. She co-founded Lyric Media with the goal of creating elegant, quality, historical documentaries for distribution through television, museums and schools.

John Wainwright, originally from Sydney, Australia, majored in computer science at the University of New South Wales and has worked internationally as a software designer and consultant. The 3-D technology and animation software he developed is being used by companies such as Autodesk, Disney, and Dreamworks.



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