Video Production

Villa Montalvo - The Evolution of an Art Center

Historical Documentary

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 90 minute documentary follows the evolution of Villa Montalvo 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 discuss their designs for Montalvo's new Artist Residency complex. They shared their thoughts about the ideal environment for the support and stimulation of the creative spirit, and their visions have been realized. The Sally and Don Lucas Artists Programs at Montalvo Artist Residency officially opened in October, 2004 - 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 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 a three-term Mayor of San Francisco and played an important role in rebuilding the city after the 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 Bay to 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 volunteerism of mid-century and the current infusion of professionalism and modern funding have fueled Montalvo’s evolution from local community center to one balancing entertainment with the vision of a global art community.

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.

Selected Clips from the Documentary



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