DANVILLE — Less than an hour from the 209 is where the home of Eugene O’Neill — America’s only Nobel Prize winning playwright — chose to live at the pinnacle of his career.
It is here on a 158-acre ranch in the San Ramon Valley near Danville that O’Neill and his wife Carlotta bought in 1937 a year after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is here that O’Neill penned his most famous works — “The Iceman Cometh”, “A Moon for the Misbegotten”, and “Long Day’s Journey into Night”. The couple lived in the San Ramon Valley through 1944.
The home today is owned by the National Park Service. It is also a national historical site.
O’Neill’s study in his beloved Tao House is where he wrote many of his last works.
O’Neill and his wife, actress Carlotta Monterey, showed their interest in Asian art, decor, and thought in preparing the home. The ceilings were dark blue to mimic the sky with dark wood floors representing the earth, as well as Noh masks, Chinese guardian statues, and Chinese lacquerware furnishings throughout the interior. Outside, Carlotta installed a garden in a zigzag pattern which Chinese tradition indicated would keep away evil spirits. They also planted several trees, including pine, almond, and redwood. The O’Neills moved to Boston after World War II.
The house was saved from demolition in the early 1970s. Several women formed the Eugene O’Neill Foundation in order to raise money to buy Tao House, which had been named a National Landmark in 1971. They did so through several fundraising projects, including benefit performances of Eugene O’Neill’s play Hughie — which was also written during his tenure in the San Ramon Valley — featuring Jason Robards. Through their efforts, Tao House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971, a National Historic Site in 1976, and passed into the management of the National Park Service in 1980.
The Foundation maintains an archive of Eugene O’Neill-related material at Tao House (including photographs, playbills, manuscripts, posters, and O’Neill’s original phonograph record collection) and sponsors events such as productions of O’Neill plays, staged in the adjacent barn.
The National Park Service does not publish the address of the property, but it is widely known that it is located near Kuss Road in Danville. A locked gate prevents unauthorized vehicles from reaching the site. The site occupies 13 acres accessible via car only by private road, so advance reservations are required to visit.
In addition to Tao House, there are a number of other features on the site that are preserved from Eugene O’Neill’s home. Directly adjacent to the home is the courtyard area, with planted gardens and historic pathways. Outside the courtyard there are historic walking paths, one of which leads to the swimming pool that O’Neill used for his afternoon swims. Historic black walnut and almond orchards are on site also. Across from the house is the 19th century barn, which is the only structure remaining from the original owners. This barn has been rehabilitated now and serves as a performance venue where, in collaboration with the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, plays are presented at different times of the year. Information about performances can be found on their website at www.eugeneoneill.org. At the far end of the site is a grave marker for Blemie, the O’Neill families’ beloved Dalmatian, for whom he wrote a very touching last will and testament.
Besides the various structures and features of the site, the location above the San Ramon Valley provides a glimpse into the sense of seclusion and serenity that Eugene O’Neill was looking for.
Trails from Las Tramp’s Regional Wilderness also lead to the site. Reservations are also recommended for those arriving for a tour via horseback or on foot.