I didn’t grow up in the city of Belmont. I’ve just used it as my closet for the past nine years. You know, roll out of bed, dust myself off, toss on some clothes and coast to work on HWY 280. Travel mug sloshing the coffee that was to get my day in the cubicle started off right – if there is a right way to start a day in a cubicle. So with this daily routine and weekends of slumber, chores, and quick excursions elsewhere, I missed out on most of what Belmont has to offer.
I always knew I lived in a pretty area. I couldn’t miss the rolling hills, brown in summer and green in winter. The scent of forest trees wafting at me as I make my way into Safeway, with reusable grocery bags stuffed under my arm. Ample wildlife meander near my apartment building, deer, skunk and raccoon. These are the obvious characteristics of the city, the ones you don’t have to search for.
Now that my cubicle has been packed up and sent to another state without me, I’m venturing out into my community to explore its treasures. I live off of a street called “Ralston” and gather that this is a big local name. There’s a mansion, Ralston Hall, located at Notre Dame De Namur University, that my husband and I tried to find once but we went around the wrong portion of the school. Fellow history buffs told me that they were married at the Hall, so it has to exist.
This time, I used Google Maps to confirm Ralston Hall’s location, then drove down Ralston Avenue and arrived within minutes at the mansion. The fact that I live only a few minutes away from the estate of William Ralston, the man who had much to do with the shaping of San Francisco during the Gold Rush, makes me appreciate my surroundings even more. Desire to know the history of where I am pushes me to discover and enjoy what remains of the past.
My visit was on a clear crisp January day between rain storms. Water runoff filled the creek that runs through the property, creating a soothing water feature. Parking was easy because it was the university’s winter break. Children were at recess, playing games and running around at the neighboring grammar school.
I took my time walking around the front of Ralston Hall. The building is closed to the public because it will be undergoing seismic retrofit. I’m the type of museum visitor who wants to see every room of a historic home. I want to jump the velvet rope cording off the staircase and check out the upper-level bedrooms. Yes all forty-eight of them. So, I’m sad that I can’t go into the mansion at all.
On my trip around the grounds I peer, to the best of my abilities, into any window with curtains pulled back. I glimpse two fireplaces, wood flooring and a mirror hanging on the wall. That’s as good as it gets for interior snooping.
I pass by what appears to be an original brick wall with white painted wood posts at top, sheltering a memorial grotto nestled next to the carriage house. It’s a peaceful retreat to the left side of the mansion. On the right side of the mansion there’s another relaxing area. It is wooded with a variety of trees, several benches for rumination, and a hedged walkway. I spy a family of deer in repose next to the hedge. They closely monitor my movements for signs of danger.
The most ornate object I find around the mansion is a decorative urn that is taller than I am. The faces of Greek Gods and an angry dragon protrude from around the urn. Purple flowers overflow from the top. I’m disturbed to find that there is a map of the university posted right next to the artifact. It’s difficult to take a picture of the urn without getting the map in the shot as well.
The university is everywhere around the mansion. I can’t help but wish there was a time buffer around Ralston Hall. I want to see it in all of its glory inside and out. Maybe in a few years the Hall will re-open and I will be able to explore the grand ballroom and opera boxes for myself. Until then I am content that the mansion is standing and there’s hope for its future survival.