Aug 30, 2018
Dan McGovern
Eugene O'Neill Foundation/ Tao House

out the Foundation

The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House, was established in 1974 for the purposes of acquiring O’Neill’s former residence in Danville, California and establishing it as a historic monument. Since then the foundation has devoted itself to developing the site into a center that promotes the vision and legacy of American’s first great playwright, Eugene O’Neill, through numerous educational, artistic, and research programs.

History of Tao House

Compiled by Beverly Lane

When Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill lived in Danville, it was the epitome of rural California living. As O’Neill wrote in several letters “It is absolute country…without a taint of suburbia…yet only three-quarters of an hour motor ride from Frisco.” Eugene O’Neill needed a place to write which offered a quiet environment, good weather and access to doctors. While in Seattle he had received the Nobel Prize for Literature in November, 1936, and had been so lionized (and besieged by reporters) that he and Carlotta fled to the San Francisco Bay Area. Carlotta Monterey O’Neill had grown up in Oakland. They decided to move to Northern California and, after looking around the Bay Area, they settled in the bucolic San Ramon Valley.

Construction of Tao House


The O’Neills purchased 158 acres of the former Bryant Ranch in Danville, using the Nobel Prize award of $40,000. The land, house and furnishings cost around $100,000. A long driveway, fencing and a gate helped provide them with total privacy in the context of serene, natural surroundings. As a reflection of his interest in Oriental philosophy and her focus on style, they named the place “Tao House” which means in Chinese (as interpreted by the O’Neills) “the right way of life.”

the house was built using a combination of Chinese and California ranch motifs. It had heavy basalt brick walls, a roof of black colored tiles and doors which opened out to several porches and patios. Inside, the dark blue ceilings and colored mirrors provided the chic look Carlotta wanted. One small room housed a player piano, Rosie, whose music was sometimes heard in the valley below.

Their driver, bodyguard and “man of all work,” Herbert Freeman, picked up the mail, dry cleaning and groceries from town. He also retrieved the wandering Blemie on occasion from Danville. Neither O’Neill drove, so they relied on Freeman to take them to doctor appointments, Cal football games and visits to Oakland and San Francisco. A full staff at Tao House included Freeman, a cook, a gardener and three other servants.

From his study O’Neill could look west to the courtyard, barn and the oak-studded hills. Eastward walnut and fruit orchards stretched across the valley to the Mount Diablo foothills. The water of the Carquinez Strait could be seen to the north. On September 14, 1937 he wrote to Barrett H. Clark:

“We have a beautiful site in the hills of the San Ramon Valley with one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. This is the final home and harbor for me. I love California. Moreover, the climate is one I know I can work and keep healthy in. Coastal Georgia was no place for me.”