Lotusland History

1882Ralph Kinton Stevens buys the property, which he names Tanglewood and uses the acreage for his family’s home and commercial nursery.
1887Ganna Walska, nee Hanna Puacz, is born in Brest-Litovsk, Poland.
1896Stevens dies. His struggling widow operates the property as a guest ranch, leases it to a school and eventually rents it out to winter visitors until selling it seventeen years later.
1907Hanna Puacz elopes with Russian Baron Arcadie d’Eingorn.
1913Stevens’ widow sells the property to neighbor George Owen Knapp.
1914Hanna adopts the stage name Madame Ganna Walska and studies singing in Paris with Polish tenor Jean de Reszke.
1915Madame Walska moves to New York to avoid World War I and learns that Baron d’Eingorn has died in battle.
1916New Yorkers E. Palmer and Marie Gavit purchase the property, naming it Cuesta Linda. Pasadena based architect Reginald Johnson completes the main house in 1920.

Ganna Walska is a singer at the Century, a French theater in New York. A throat ailment takes her to Dr. Joseph Fraenkel. They marry ten days later. He supports her ambitions for a musical career.
1918In February, Ganna Walska makes her New York concert debut at the Biltmore’s Morning Musicale, sharing the bill with famed tenor Enrico Caruso. Her debut in Cuba is not considered a success. In the hopes of securing future singing opportunities, she meets with Harold McCormick of International Harvester, who is a key supporter of the Chicago Opera Company.
1920Ganna Walska is devastated when Dr. Fraenkel dies of a stomach ailment. Three months later, aboard the Aquitania en route to Paris, she meets Alexander Smith Cochran, the sole heir of Smith Carpet Manufacturing. He proposes two days later and several times again until she accepts, and they marry on September 15. Harold McCormick, who had received a divorce from Edith Rockefeller and is in love with Ganna Walska, comes to Paris to ask her to leave Cochran. Though regretting her marriage, she refuses.

Continuing her lifelong interest in the meaning of life, Madame Walska examines Numerology, Rosicrucianism and Eastern religions, as well as yoga, astrology, and meditation.

Cochran’s jealously over her career, forces Ganna to cancel her long-anticipated performance with the Chicago Opera.
1922Ganna Walska’s divorce in May from Cochran is the subject of much speculation in the press. In August, her marriage to Harold McCormick brings additional scrutiny into her private life.

Madame Walska acquires a majority of shares of the Théatre des Champs Élysées. Leases of the three theatres will not expire until July 1928. She manages the theatre for more than ten years and owns it for nearly 50 years.
1923The first half of Ganna Walska’s 13-city U.S. concert tour is cancelled when McCormick undergoes an emergency appendectomy. She completes the tour with a performance at Carnegie Hall and returns to America for other concert tours in 1925, 1928, and 1934 (again playing Carnegie Hall).
1925The Gavits hire local architect George Washington Smith to construct a perimeter wall, pavilion, stable, swimming pool, bathhouse and several other outbuildings.
1927Ganna Walska goes into the perfume and cosmetic business, creating numerous fragrances and beauty products to help defray the costs of her theatre and its renowned orchestra.
1928Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover visits Cuesta Linda as part of a garden tour fundraiser.
1929Madame Walska wins her U.S. Customs case, establishing the right for American women to have a separate domicile from their husbands. She also purchases the Chateau de Galluis, a country estate outside of Versailles and Ganna begins cultivating the property with gardens, an orangerie, tiled fountains and fields of tulips. She has a shell chamber and interior grotto installed.
1930Ganna Walska receives the Polish Gold Cross of Merit from the Polish Premier and in 1934 she is awarded the French Legion of Honor for her contributions to French culture.
1931Harold McCormick, resigned that Ganna Walska will never live with him in Chicago, files for divorce. He and Ganna remain on friendly terms for the rest of his life.
1933 - 1936Ganna Walska divides her time between her residences in France and New York.
1937Madame Walska is introduced to Harry Grindell-Matthews, a physicist and inventor who shares her love of opera. Their engagement is announced in August. She is bothered by his egotism and jealousy.
1939Marie Gavit dies in 1937, having been preceded in death by her husband. The estate is sold to British diplomat Sir Humphrey Clarke in 1939.
1940Ganna Walska escapes France on the last commercial clipper plane, before the German occupation. She returns to New York and begins writing her memoirs. She takes yoga lessons and attends seminars with self-proclaimed “White Lama,” Theos Bernard.
1941Ganna Walska learns of Grindell-Matthews’ death at his home/laboratory in Wales. Bernard declares his love and proposes. Ganna travels to California for six weeks and is inspired to purchase a small self-sustaining ranch or farm. Bernard comes to California to look for a property to serve as a home and a spiritual retreat for Tibetan lamas.

Ganna Walska purchases the 37-acre Cuesta Linda, which she renames Tibetland and hires landscape architect Lockwood de Forest, Jr. to design an orchard, succulent garden and various gardens around the cottages.
1942Ganna Walska and Theos Bernard are married in a secret ceremony in Las Vegas; a prenuptial agreement protects her property in case of divorce.

At the request of Madame Walska, De Forest replaces the traditional landscaping in front of the main house with cacti before he departs to serve in the army.
1943Always Room at the Top, Madame Walska’s memoir is published.

Santa Barbara Superintendent of Parks Ralph Stevens, son of the original property owner begins working on garden projects at Lotusland.
1945Theos Bernard serves Madame Walska with divorce papers and removes many valuable furnishings and books from the house on the estate. He sues for separate maintenance, which is refused when he is caught committing perjury about his financial situation. Their divorce is final in 1946. Madame renames the estate Lotusland after the abundant flowers that remained in the original lotus pond.
1946 - 1948Stevens designed the iron entrance gates on Sycamore Canyon Road, the new swimming pool and shell-strewn beach, rooster grotto, plus the Theatre and Blue gardens.

1953The Cactus and Succulent Society tours Lotusland as part of their biennial convention.

Madame Walska almost single-handedly oversees the conversion of the old swimming pool into a water garden, completed in 1956.
1955The 25-foot diameter horticultural clock designed by Ralph Stevens is built and planted with succulents. Ralph Stevens retires. Madame Walska is considered “Head Gardener” and works with staff on various projects.
1957Topiary animals from the Osaki Plant Zoo in Los Angeles are planted around the horticultural clock.

Madame Ganna Walska establishes a foundation to protect her legacy and open the gardens to the public after her death.
1958Local artist Joseph Knowles, Sr., is hired to enhance the Gavit-era crescent-shaped pool in the Aloe Garden, adding abalone shells along the border and creating large clamshell and coral fountains.
1966Madame Walska begins her collection of bromeliads from Carlsbad Garden and from orchid grower, Fritz Kubisch. He completes the layout of the original Bromeliad Garden in 1968.
Early 70sStaff gardener Frank Fujii and stonemason Oswald Da Ross work with Madame Walska to create the Japanese Garden.
1972Madame Ganna Walska is named an Officer of the National Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in recognition of her artistic career and outstanding sponsorship of cultural and musical events through her theatre.

William Paylen completes the lush Fern Garden after four years of work; he expands it between 1986 and 1988.
1973-1975Charles Glass and Robert Foster renovate the Cactus and Succulent Gardens and enlarge and redesign the Aloe Garden.
1977Madame Walska auctions her extensive jewelry collection and reinvests the funds back into the garden.
1979The Cycad Garden, designed by Charles Glass, is completed, and features over two hundred species of plants.
1984Madame Walska dies on March 2 and leaves Lotusland to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation.
1984-1993In preparation for public tours, the Lotusland Foundation repairs paths, improves handicap access and performs deferred maintenance on the house and garden.
1993A docent program is established, and expanded staff are hired. A Conditional Use Permit to open the garden is granted by Santa Barbara County.

The Visitor Center is completed in time for the first scheduled tour on September 15, 1993. The adjacent Australian Garden is designed by Sydney Baumgartner.
1999A five-year plan is devised to remedy Cycad fungal infections and root rot. All infected soil is removed, and a new drainage system is installed. The garden space is expanded and completed in 2003.
2000The Topiary Garden is restored by Lori Ann David, who replicates the original figures.
2001-2003Merritt S. Dunlap’s extensive cactus collection, promised to Madame Walska in 1966, is gifted to Lotusland. Plants begin to arrive in stake-sided trucks and semis. Eric Nagelmann, a Santa Barbara native, donates landscape design and consultation services. Three hundred tons of basalt is used to create planting beds.
2009The Water stairs, Cypress Allee and foyer in the Main House, all created during the Gavit era, are renovated.

The loss of a large California live oak and the removal of a beetle-infested Monterey pine result in the need for renovation of the Lower Bromeliad Garden.

Ganna Walska Lotusland is reclassified by the IRS as a public charity.
2015The Palmetum Garden, designed by Eric Naglemann, is built around a restored path and bench in a long 514-foot axis that extends through the Cypress Allee south to the Wishing Well.
2016The Insectary Garden is renovated for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility, improved aesthetics and optimum effectiveness in attracting pollinators and beneficial insects into the garden.
2017The Japanese Garden renovation begins.
2018Ganna Walska Lotusland celebrates its 25th Anniversary of being open to the public with a special exhibition, Building a Botanical Nirvana: The Story of Lotusland.
2019The Japanese Garden reopens.
2021“Save the Cycads,” a remediation project is launched to protect and preserve Lotusland’s Cycad collection and eliminate Armillaria.