OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

April 25, 2002

Mary Kimberly Shirk
The Reality of Her Vision

ShirkMary.jpg (724967 bytes)

by Steve Spiller

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 mother’s home.   

            The Association received title to the property in February of 1981, following Mrs. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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 doesn’t 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 Valley’s 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 60’s development that ravaged our country, or worse yet, a mobile home park?  Redlands had already witnessed the loss of the Smiley family’s Cañon Crest Park.  Would enough money be raised to match the federal grant obtained by those fighting to save England’s 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 Redlands.   

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.

Riverside 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 fountain’s 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 World’s 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 Bower’s “cottages” on Cedar Avenue.  At the Cedar Avenue home the Kimberly’s 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 Hill’s home for $29,000.            

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,

“’Kimberly Crest’ the beautiful home of J. C. [sic] Kimberly and family, is now entirely refurnished, and Mrs. Kimberly’s 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 Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens published in 1904, complete with Maxfield Parrish illustrations.  The Kimberly’s architect son-in-law G. Edwin Bergstrom transformed Mrs. Kimberly’s 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]

Mary Emma (Kimberly) Shirk was the youngest of the Kimberly’s 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 Elbert’s 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, Robert’s 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 mother’s 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 ‘Mother’s 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 141’s 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.

Redlands attorney John Surr drafted the Association’s 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 ex-officio member.

This was not Mrs. Shirk’s 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 Paine’s English Tudor revival mansion opened in 1948.  Mrs. Shirk would serve as president of The Paine following Jessie’s death in 1973.

During the 13 years between Mrs. Shirk’s January 1968 announcement and the Association’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Association’s bank account balance was approximately $90,000, which was barely enough money to cover two years operation of the house.

With the information gathered by Blakeley, Moore and others, the executors of Mrs. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Dombrowski’s 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 toll.” [x]

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. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Corporation’s 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.

Several thousand dollars of Mrs. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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.

Following Mrs. Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Association’s 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 Pasadena’s 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 Kimberly Crest. 

The Articles, 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 the beginning. 

In 1981 the Association was forced to confront the recently released movie titled, “Hell Night.”   Mrs. Shirk’s 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 movie’s 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 filming requests.

Deferred 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 dowager’s 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 railing’s 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 Burgeson’s 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. Shirk’s 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 cookies.

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 City’s 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.

A contract landscaping service was employed by Mrs. Shirk’s 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.

Within the 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 Francisco’s 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 1980’s I presented a report to the Association’s 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.  Frank’s opinion was formed, in part, when in 1979 the State Office of Historic Preservation’s 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 hold. 

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 Women’s 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 1996.

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. Shirk’s 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 lived,” [xv] 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 Association’s 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.

An invaluable 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 Shirk’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Kimberly’s 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 price.”  

One object, 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 Serr’s 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 Shirk’s 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

The Kimberly 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 Association’s Executive committee. 

Beyond educating, the docents are involved in some way in nearly every aspect of the historic site’s 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 1980’s 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 site’s 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 Crest’s 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 home’s 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. Hill’s 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 family’s 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 Reservation’s museum.  The photo of the man with the mule was the director’s 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. Hill’s 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.  Dale’s 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 mother’s 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. Kimberly’s 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. Kimberly’s father’s 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 Evan’s 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.

Another treasure 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.  Jessie’s husband, Nathan Paine, was unable to attend the celebration.  A suit of clothes was stuffed, a face created and topped with a hat.  Nathan Paine’s 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 grandchildren’s stockings.

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 1940’s; 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. Shirk’s), . . ., is perhaps best symbolized by the gigantic, brightly lighted outdoor Christmas tree which she shares with all of Redlands each Yuletide.” [xvii]  The tradition of lighting the tree continues as a symbol of Mrs. Shirk’s love and commitment to the community.

Recognition of Kimberly Crest grew over the years.  National attention on the popular A & E program, “America’s 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 BookMichelin and a variety of other guides including A Field Guide to America’s Historic Neighborhoods & Museum Houses: The Western States offer information on the house to specialized audiences.  The National Geographic Guide to America’s Great Houses highlights Kimberly Crest as one of five of the foremost historic homes in California.  Technology has added the Internet, including  The HGTV network’s “Christmas Castles” and the cover story of Victorian Homes Magazine’s 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.

The opportunity 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 clothing.

Family visits were not limited to the Kimberly’s.  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 Cornelia’s 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 Lincoln’s 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 Lincoln’s birthplace.  It remains an icon of U. S. Presidential history.  Other sites are known for their architecture.  Pasadena’s 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.

Where does 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 husband’s 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 day’s 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 Shirk’s vision?  Was it the Blue Heron’s or perhaps the 4th grader’s, 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. Shirk’s 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 1968: 3.

[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 Master’s Field Report on the decorative arts of Kimberly Crest.  Reynolds-Lysak’s conclusions do not infer that Tiffany’s 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. Shirk’s 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 Who’s 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 is needed. 

[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, Redlands, California.

[vii]  Erwin S. Hein, ed.,  The Prospect Park Book, (Redlands, California: The

Prospect Park Fund of Redlands, California, 1968) 11-12.

[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, Article I.

[xii]  “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.

 Biography of Steve Spiller

Steve recently concluded a 20-year association with Kimberly Crest.  Hired in 1981 as house sitter, he lived at Kimberly Crest for nearly three years.  In 1982 he was named Resident Manager as the first professional hired by the Kimberly-Shirk Association.  The position evolved into Curator and then, Executive Director. 

ü      A native of California, Steve was raised in San Bernardino and Redlands. 

ü      He was in the last class to attend Redlands Junior High for all three years and graduated from Redlands High School. 

ü      Graduated from Castleton State College in Vermont, majoring in history with a minor in geography. 

ü      First paid museum job - Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York.   Guide and drummer costumed as a Revolutionary War soldier.

ü      Received a M. A. from the University of California Riverside in Historic Resources Management. 

ü      Served as an intern at the San Bernardino County Museum under the direction of the late Dr. Gerald Smith.

ü      Wrote a history of the San Manuel Indian Reservation and researched Redlands photographer Elias F. Everitt.

ü      For 12 years Steve was a drummer in the Gordon Grays and later, the R. P. Blandford and Son’s Pipe Band.  He was also a member of the Redlands 4th of July Band.

ü      Served on the Board and Executive committee of the California Preservation Foundation.

ü      Steve’s wife, Juli, graduated from RHS and the U of R with a degree in Communicative Disorders – Speech pathologist at Loma Linda Medical Center specializing in stroke and brain injuries.

ü      Steve and Juli met through mutual friend and former Kimberly-Shirk Association Trustee, Jean Mills.

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