In 1924, the Sisters of Mercy acquired a ten year old English Tudor mansion on a 40 acre site in the Burlingame Hills known as “The Oaks”. The seller was Marion Louderback Lord, mistress of the late Freddie Kohl. If you’re coming to Highway 92 Succulents nursery from the peninsula, you might want to drive by on your way to Half Moon Bay.
Freddie, at the time of his suicide, was stalked by his former French maid Adele Verges, who’d shot him through the chest three years earlier. The bullet barely missed his heart.
When the sisters moved into the convent they complained of unexplained sounds, moving objects and a mysterious powder. The frightened nuns were convinced that Freddie’s spirit was still with them. Services were held to cleanse the mansion of the ghost, to no avail. As strange as all this sounds, it’s true.
The former Kohl grand residence is now the home of Mercy High School. The nuns opened the all-girls Mercy High in 1931, and ghost stories remain favorites of the students.
Charles Frederick “Freddie” Kohl, for his wealth and status, lived – by most accounts – an unhappy life. He was born in 1863, the son of a wealthy self-made millionaire, William C. Kohl. William was an ambitious ship’s captain and co-founder of the Alaska Commercial Company. Freddie inherited neither his father’s Pennsylvania Dutch work ethic nor his ambition.
According to information from the National Register of Historic Places, Frederick was sent east to Swarthmore College, but never graduated. “He elected instead, to delve into the benefits of his father’s fortune.” But when William Kohl died in November of 1893, Freddie had no choice but to manage the family business. He took the helm in 1896 and then married. His wife died less than four years later. The couple was childless.
Kohl married a second time in 1904, and he and Bessie lived in his parents mansion until his mother’s death, when the couple made plans for a new and elegant Tudor home. The mansion was completed in time for Christmas, 1914. “The Oaks” became a favored destination for San Francisco socialites and the site of many galas, until 1916.
The good years ended when Mrs. Kohl abruptly separated from Freddie and moved to New York, never to return. During WWI she went to France to sing for the troops and married two more times, surviving two French noblemen. When she passed in 1949- in Monte Carlo – she was buried with the title of Countess.
Freddie didn’t fare so well. One can speculate about how much stress the unstable Adele Verges, put on his marriage and his life. Verges had come to the Kohl family via Freddie’s mother. In 1901, the Kohls had spent part of the winter at Riverside and took rooms at one of the finest hotels. Mother Kohl, brought Adele to tend to her needs. But before long, the maid began to exhibit a violent streak, and generally made a nuisance of herself. She nearly choked the chauffeur at one point and slugged a desk clerk at another. She was called “unstable”. Freddie and the hotel owner had her arrested.
Adele was enraged. She sued for false arrest and unjustified dismissal and would not accept a generous settlement offer from Kohl; then she lost her case in court. When Freddie and his lawyers emerged from the courthouse elevator after the trial, Adele shot Freddie in the chest. She was immediately apprehended. Freddie survived and publicly forgave Adele for the act, but it did nothing to quiet her.
Adele was committed to a mental hospital in France and escaped less than a year later, carving up a guard in the process. She fled the European continent and Freddie began to receive threatening letters as she made her way across Canada. When an envelope postmarked Vancouver B.C. arrived at his home, he asked for help from the authorities. Adele was arrested and committed to a Canadian mental institution.
Kohl began a relationship with the stunning socialite Marion Louderback Lord, but Adele’s threats were never far from mind. It is said he lost his appetite for society, and tended to become reclusive. In November 1921, a decade after his near fatal encounter with Verges, Kohl was convinced she would strike again. Ill and depressed, he tried vacationing at Del Monte Lodge at Pebble Beach. On the day of his suicide he ordered breakfast and ate alone. Two hours later he shot himself in the head. He left no note.
Mrs. Lord received $250,000 in cash and most of his assets including “The Oaks”. Not interested in managing an estate, she sold the property to the Sisters of Mercy for $250,000.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, “The Oaks” is a wood framed mansion, wrapped with eight inches of red brick in a Flemish bond pattern. The three story structure has a full basement. A gabled roofline, with intersecting gables at the two ells, is composed of gray and rose colored slate.
Kohl Mansion is open to the public for events and concerts, and can be rented for weddings and other private parties.