Lilian De Havilland, owner from 1924 to 1959
The construction of the 1924 Tudor Revival style house was completed for Lilian De Havilland in 1924, and Lilian and her two daughters Olivia and Joan moved into the house that same year. Lilian (formerly Lilian Ruse) was born in 1886 in the Borough of Reading in Berkshire, England. She was educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and became a stage actress. Lilian also sang with the Master of the King’s Music, Sir Walter Parratt, and toured England with the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. She was first married to Walter Augustus De Havilland. Walter was born in Lewisham, South London in 1872. After he graduated from Cambridge University, he married Lilian and they moved to Japan where he studied patent law. Walter and Lilian had two daughters, Olivia (1916) and Joan (1918), who were both born in Japan. In 1919, Lilian and Walter separated and Lilian left Japan with both daughters. On their route to England, aboard the SS Siberia Maru they made a stop in San Francisco because Olivia had tonsillitis, and soon after Joan developed pneumonia. Instead of returning to England, as planned, Lillian decided to remain with her daughters in California. They first lived in San Francisco, but soon moved to Saratoga about 1921, as the weather was better suited for Joan who was prone to illnesses during her adolescents. When Lilian and her daughters first moved to Saratoga, they lived at Lundblad’s Lodge on Oak Street, and later rented a small house nearby while their house was being built in La Paloma. In 1924, Lilian, Olivia, and Joan moved into the 1924 house in Saratoga. Joan was later quoted as saying "No longer nomads, we would have a permanent home". In 1925, Walter and Lilian were officially divorced and that same year Lilian married George Milan Fontaine in a ceremony in Santa Barbara. George was the general manager and co-owner of a department store in San Jose. Walter later returned to Japan and in 1927 married Yuki Matsu-Kura, his and Lilian’s former housekeeper. From the start of her residency in Saratoga, Lilian became very active in local theatre, often directing local plays or teaching theatre, including encouraging her daughters at a young age to participate in local plays. Lilian was also one of the founding members of Villa Montalvo (extant), a well-known community theatre company and venue in Saratoga, for which "Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre" is named for her. Later she taught drama at San Jose State University and at Stanford University. She also appeared in at least seven films between the years 1945 and 1953, most notably "The Lost Weekend." She is also known for being the mother of Olivia de Havilland and Joan (De Havilland) Fontaine33, who both became acclaimed actresses in Hollywood.
Olivia was almost 8 years old when she moved to the 1924 house on La Paloma. As a young girl in Saratoga she took ballet lessons and piano lessons. Olivia began Saratoga Grammar School in 1922. She enjoyed reading, writing poetry, and drawing, and was awarded the 2nd place in a county spelling bee. Olivia attended Los Gatos High School, as there was no high school at the time in Saratoga, where she excelled in oratory and field hockey and also participated in school plays and the school drama club, eventually becoming the club’s secretary. With plans of becoming a schoolteacher of English and speech, she also attended Notre Dame Convent in Belmont. She made her amateur theatre debut in Saratoga in 1933, at the age of about 16, as Alice in Alice in Wonderland, a production of the Saratoga Community Players and organized by Lilian Fontaine. She appeared in several school plays, including The Merchant of Venice and Hansel and Gretel. Olivia graduated from high school in 1934 and was offered a scholarship to Mills College in Oakland; however, she followed her passion and with a bit of luck at the local and regional theatre she stared in a Hollywood production by the age of 18. A few years later, as Olivia was having great success in Hollywood. Joan followed in her sisters’ footsteps, although Joan took her step-fathers last name to distinguish her from her now famous sister. Both Joan and Olivia were very successful actresses, each winning academy awards. Over the years, Olivia and Joan returned to Saratoga to visit family, friends, and their house at 20350 La Paloma Avenue.
In 1956, George Fontaine died, and in 1959 Lilian sold the house to Warren and Sheila Heid. Lilian died in 1975 and Olivia and Joan scattered her ashes in the woods near Villa Montalvo. Joan passed away in Carmel in 2013. Olivia is 103 years old and living in Paris, France.
Sisters Olivia De Havilland (L) and Joan Fontaine (R) at a party in Saratoga, California, circa 1934 (Photo courtesy of Getty Images).