We recently received these ‘home movies’ from Arthur ‘Arturo’ Richardson of the building of Hope Cottage for his mother, Hope, in the early 1950’s. They were shot by Hope’s husband, George Wheelwright, co-founder of Polaroid, who purchased the 800-acre Green Gulch property as a cattle ranch and moved there from Massachusetts with his new wife Hope and her 3 children in 1945.
The film is silent and moody and thoroughly enchanting, especially if you know a bit of the background story.
According to the New York Times obituary of George Wheelwright:
Although Mr. Wheelwright was now officially a rancher, at heart he was still a scientist. Before long, he was experimenting with breeding different types of Hereford cattle and planting exotic grasses from New Zealand to feed them. When his wife developed lung cancer, Mr. Wheelwright dived into research and experiments with laetrile and other controversial drugs in an unsuccessful attempt to cure her.
While George was searching for cures, Arthur built a cottage for Hope as a sanctuary, high above the ranch. It was, as he recently described, “a place to go and be quiet… She used to walk up there several times a week with her big Saint Bernard.” Hope died in 1967, about 10 years after the cottage was built.
But the story behind Hope Cottage remains, “a history as romantic as its setting,” as a recent article about the Cottage put it in the New York Times:
A faded photograph of Hope Wheelwright is still on display in her cottage. Below it are Emily Dickinson’s lines:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
The article continues:
Mr. Wheelwright planned to give all his land to the National Park Service, but the agency would have torn down all the farm buildings and Hope Cottage to return the land to its natural state. That was unthinkable. So in 1971 Mr. Wheelwright sold 155 of the acres, including Hope Cottage, … to the San Francisco Zen Center; the rest of the land went to the Park Service.
George Wheelwright loved the land — he sold the property to Zen Center with the stipulation that it be preserved and open to the public — and spent a good part of his career as an evangelist for polarized glass. When you watch his home movies of Hope Cottage being built, check out the views.
And also watch for shots of Hope perched on the windowsill, about halfway through. The man knew how to wield a camera and the love comes through.