The picturesque mountain property that is today known as the Ralston White Retreat in Mill Valley, California, was originally presented as a wedding gift from Ralston White to his bride, Ruth Boericke, in 1910. Designed by the celebrated San Francisco architect Willis Polk, the grand house was erected between 1911 and 1915, when Polk was also the supervising architect of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Construction materials had to be transported by the Mount Tamalpais railroad to then-remote wilderness site, which afforded panoramic views of the mountain and the San Francisco Bay Area. White developed the grounds to include a heart-shaped lawn, orchards, trails through the woods, meadows, and a natural creek-fed swimming pool. He named their home the “Garden of Allah,” after a novel popular at the time.
After Ralston White’s death, his widow wished the Garden of Allah to be dedicated to charitable endeavors as a memorial to her husband. To that end, Ruth White deeded the property in 1951 in trust initially to the California Academy of Sciences, which later transferred the Retreat in 1957 to the United Church of Christ, as trustee. For nearly a half-century since, the Church maintained the property, and the Retreat served its mission by hosting retreats, conferences and other events for educational, charitable and spiritual groups.
Over the decades, many – including teachers, academic faculty, church groups, local leaders and research physicians from around the world – have enjoyed visits to this distinctive Marin County property and its spectacular natural setting. It is a peaceful place that helps to reinvigorate individuals and strengthen the bonds of humanity by providing a retreat where people share and exchange ideas, find spiritual solace and reaffirm a sense of community.
In order to better provide for the long-term future of the Retreat, the United Church of Christ after an extensive search process selected the newly-formed Ralston White Retreat Foundation as a successor trustee for the property in 2005.