The Tao House- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site

Located outside of the town of Danville, California is the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. Visitors to the site must make a reservation for a tour, and then meet the National Park Service Ranger at The Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville and be shuttled to the site. 

The residence, known as the Tao House, was home to O’Neill and his third wife Carlotta from 1937 to 1944.  The couple had been living in a hotel in San Francisco, when they bought the property in the remote and peaceful San Ramon Valley. 

The couple was drawn to the property for many reasons. The climate in the San Ramon Valley was much drier and hospitable than San Francisco, which was often dominated by cold, fog and rain. The morning I visited, San Francisco was under a thick blanket of fog, not even visible from the Richmond- San Rafael Bridge on the way over, but a mere 30 miles later, the sun was shining and the temperature was at least 15 degrees warmer.

The house draws it’s name and influence from Carlotta’s love of Oriental artwork and decor. She was not alone in her love of the Far East- O’Neill has a keen interest in Eastern thought. Many have drawn similarities to Eastern philosophies and his plays. 

Our tour in the house began in the breakfast room, where our guide introduced us to O’Neill relatives through pictures and stories. It was easy to see how this room was a favorite of the playwright, with it’s sweeping panoramic views of Mount Diablo and the San Ramon Valley. 

The living room had been furnished based on pictures the National Park Service had received from the archives of Life Magazine. The photos had been for an article that O’Neill originally was not in favor of, and one that, in the end, was never published. 

The above piece of furniture was one of the most intriguing in the house. The ranger asked us if we could figure out what it was, and after no one could, he explained that it was O’Neill’s bed. The teak piece is one of the few originals in the house. It was acquired by The Eugene O’Neill Foundation a few year before the site officially became a National Historic Site. 

Probably the most fascinating room in the house was O’Neill’s Office, set off by itself in the far corner of the second floor of the house. This was done intentionally by Carlotta when she was helping to design the house to give her husband maximum protection against potential distractions while he was writing his plays. 
It was in this room that he composed some of his most famous plays, including The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten. 

The room was full of many books, but also keepsakes and mementos from his life, including a framed copy of his discharge certificate from the Merchant Marines and models of some of the vessels he sailed on during that very influential time of his life.

After a brief look at the kitchen, which was modified after the O’Neill’s moved out of the house in 1944, after he had lost the ability to write due to illnesses which reflected the hard-living he had done early in his life. In a small room next to the bookstore were replicas of O’Neill’s Nobel Prize for Literature. He remains the only American poet to ever receive the prestigious award. 

I was able to walk around to the front of the house and admire the view over the San Ramon Valley. Not exactly remote, like it was when Eugene and Carlotta first bought the property in the 1930s, the area is still less hectic that Oakland and San Francisco, which lie just over the hills to the west. 

Anyone who has seen his plays, or read extensively about Eugene O’Neill knows that he was a deeply flawed and troubled individual. The final sight I saw went a long way towards humanizing the man. Near the back of the property, behind the barn, lies the grave of his dog, Belmie. A sign board next to the gravesute includes the text of Belmie’s Last Will and Testament, as written by O’Neill. 

There is no question of his devotion to the dog- there were many pictures of him and Blemie together in the house, and in Carlotta’s bedroom there was even a small custom made dog bed for their surrogate child.

As with most of these tours I have taken during my quest to visit all of the Lower 48 state’s National Park Units, the tour was excellent. The ranger I had was extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to providing as much information as possible, and weaving the story of this most complicated American legend in throughout the two-hour long tour. 

For anyone staying in the Bay Area with their own transportation, the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site makes and interesting side trip. Reservations can be made for the tour by calling (925)838-0249. The National Park Service website for the park is here

2 Responses to “The Tao House- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site”

  1. eriksmithdotcom says:

    An Amazing view, no doubt one of the biggest reason they settled here.

  2. Sweet! I love that blue sofa — and what a view! 

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