Everybody knows that Eugene O’Neill is one of the most successful and most recognized playwright of the 20th century. If you’ve heard of plays such as The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, these are the most recognizable title in theatre history. Little do most people know that Eugene O’Neill spent a considered amount of time living in California with his third wife Carlotta. The home that the couple bought is located east of San Francisco at the San Ramon Valley in the city of Danville. It was called The Tao House. During my visit to Tao House upon arrival, I notice immediately why O’Neill and his wife chose to purchase this particular property. The house sits on the slope on a hill with immaculate views of the San Ramon Valley. The front entrance faces the rest of the hill. The pool area and the bedroom windows, overlooks the valley which during those days did not have a major highway. The O’Neill bought this property in 1937. During his time, the valley only had farms and fields primarily because the property was once 158-acres. Today a large portion of the property is a residential area and a small portion of Highway 680.
When the O’Neill bought the property, it included the house and land. With furnishings, the property cost a total of $100,000, a lot of money during those days. Once the O’Neill moved in, Carlotta started decorating the house with a combination of Chinese-inspired and French-style furnishings. O’Neill’s contribution to its decor was a massive book collection consisting of almost 1000 volumes. Carlotta, a very stylish woman herself managed to combine the east and west concept into the house. Eugene O’Neill’s bed itself is an impressively done Chinese-style bed. Carlotta and Eugene had separate bedrooms. Eugene’s bedroom has his original bed and Carlotta’s bedroom has her Louis Vuitton travel truck and some of her personal items on display in the dressing area of her bedroom. Continuing on from Eugene’s bedroom and you will find the master study. Here you will find two desks, replicas of the ships in which O’Neill had traveled when he worked as a merchant seaman and some of the writing implements he used in writing some of his greatest works. It is rumored that The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night was written in this very room. It was also known that the books O’Neill owned in his collection was scattered all over the house in various bookcases. Unfortunately, these books are no longer here. After O’Neill’s death, his books were donated to Yale University’s Beinecke Library along with some of his personal effects. Only a handful of the O’Neill’s items are on display at The Tao House today. Most of the rooms of the house are empty, except for the Master Study. The O’Neill’s sold the property in 1944 to a local family and started a nomadic life again living in hotels in various parts of the country. The best part of the property is the garden courtyard with nicely manicured hedges and shrubs. Today, the Tao House is owned and managed by the National Parks Services (NPS). They only hold about 13 acres of the original property which includes the house, the pool, the almond orchard and two barn houses. The rest of the property now belongs to the East Bay Regional Parks Services and preserved as it was. Eugene O’Neill died in Boston in 1953.
Getting to the Tao House is relatively easy and convenient. Though the house has an official street address, it is not something you can easily get to by car. The easiest way is to allow NPS to drive you there. There is a shuttle bus that picks up guests from the San Ramon Valley Museum in downtown Danville on a particular schedule. From here, the shuttle will take you to the Tao House but through a gated neighborhood leading to the house up on the hill. The shuttle goes through two gates before getting to the house. Once you get to the house, you have about two hours to explore the property. The same shuttle will take you back to the San Ramon Valley Museum. Admission is free however reservations are required if you want to visit during the week. Weekend visit does not require any reservations.
The San Francisco Bay Area seemed to serve as inspiration and maybe even refuge for some of the most talented people in American History. Legend has it that once Eugene O’Neill starts working at his master study at the Tao House that servants and guests are not allowed to enter the room and disturb him. When you find yourself in the master study, you will find a balcony on the other side of it with a view of the valley. I’d like to think that Eugene O’Neill would look out from this balcony for ideas for the dialogues of some of his best plays.