I Live in a Palace, Part 4

By Sister Barbara Engs, 1891-1979
Written in 1963.


Now that we are here, before entering upon a description of our new home, it is better to take a tour about the property, to see in perspective the background of the mansion proper.

One of the more elderly members of the group arrived at the Ralston front door dragging an elongated bundle containing her “lares and penates.” She paused on the threshold to decide her ultimate destination and saw another newcomer, poised in hesitation with a similar burden on the other side of an expanse of highly polished waxed floor. Quickening her step, she dragged her unwieldy bundle across the intervening space, only to crash into her own reflection in the plate glass mirror that Mr. Ralston had had placed just at the entrance of his fabulous ball room.

Yes, but where did we go?

Students posing on the grand staircase. They enjoyed use of the better rooms.

Clearly there would be no adequate space in which to house resident students and community as well despite the “Number of bedrooms, 82” stated in the bill of sale [sources indicate that there were over 80 rooms in the mansion, not 82 bedrooms]. Immediate plans for a students’ residence hall were begun and a normal transfer of our goods and chattels was made to what in Bonanza Days had been referred to as “the servants’ quarters.” Sure enough, there was the fourth floor. The dining room back of the kitchen, with the little semi-parlor where the butler kept a fire in his neat fireplace, was all ours, too, though the fireplace (not that we wanted it) had been closed in l906.

The top, the very top floor, boasted a solarium all its own, with an elliptical black leather seat surrounding a light well, for all the world like the deck seats on the old ferry boats crossing San Francisco Bay. Mr. Ralston knew all about boats. As a young man he had worked on a Mississippi river boat and more than one gadget in the mansion is copied from something he saw in his early days.

So we had a place to sleep and a place to eat; but most important of all, we a place to pray. The ballroom fitted with chapel benches and our altar from Old San Jose, became a temporary temple of the Lord. And lest anyone be ignorant of the definition of “temporary” when applied to the ways of Providence, its duration has been just thirty-eight years!

The front of the house, that is the drawing rooms, the sun parlors, dining hall and adjoining ante-rooms, and the Ralston “breakfast nook,” were preserved for company, students, and later for tourists. Mr. Ralston’s unique system of movable door and window panels has proved of deep interest to chance guests. One of these, dining in the so-called breakfast room with glass on three sides, declared that he could understand just how secluded goldfish must feel when enjoying the afternoon sun.

PART 5, I Live in a Palace