It may have been the rails of the Pacific Street cable car which spurred the opening of Pacific Heights west of Van Ness in late 1800’s, or simply the on going westward expansion to accommodate San Francisco’s continuing growth after the Gold Rush. Since then, our neighborhood has been distinguished by a colorful and often famous cast of characters. We have also seen an intriguing architectural evolution as the elegance of corner Victorian mansions and homes yielded to the tasteful apartments and coops of the early 1900’s and finally the high rise residences of today.
This note comments on a few of those colorful and famous characters as well as portrays them and the homes, in which they lived and played. It is meant to accompany the images of http://email@example.com/slideshow?.dir=/c53d&.src=ph. These images are mostly grouped by families and provide a view of old homes, people, new homes and panoramas over past century in area bounded by Pacific, Gough, Laguna and Sacramento. Related image groupings of Lafayette Park are at http://firstname.lastname@example.org/slideshow?.dir=/3db6&.src=ph and of Broadway Pacific are at http://email@example.com/slideshow?.dir=/1798&.src=ph. Similar material for Van Ness - Franklin and other neighborhoods may be assembled later.
Sigmund Stern was nephew of Levi Strauss and built this mansion about 1900 with terraced gardens down to Broadway. Sigmund lived with his wife Rosalie Meyer until he died in 1928, after heading Levi Strauss in 1920’s. Rosalie was daughter of LA investment banker Eugene Meyer and brother of his son Eugene who bought Washington Post. Sigmund’s brother Abe built a similar mansion next door to the East after marrying one of Rosalie’s sisters.
Rosalie gave Stern Grove to San Francisco in honor of Sigmund. Their only child Elise grew up here as well as met and married Walter Haas , who Sigmund had hired to work at Levi’s in 1919. After Rosalie died, the mansion was taken down in mid 1960’s and replaced with modern apartments all the way down to Broadway.
Roosevelt lived in this home when it was on NW corner of Gough and Pacific, before he became President. It was owned by Spreckels and later moved to center of block to allow construction of Rudolph Spreckels mansion.
This was home of Herbert Hoover, sometime after his graduation in the first Stanford class and before he became active in Belgium relief in World War I.
NW Corner Pacific and Gough: Rudolph Spreckels Home 12-16
After Roosevelt residence was moved, one of five Spreckels mansions built in our neighborhood rose as a grand white frame home. Rudolph was active in prosecution of Reuf and Schmitz after corruption was unveiled after 1906 earthquake. The home lasted until late 1950’s and was a residence club, before being taken down and replaced with Mormon Church.
NE Corner Pacific and Laguna: John Spreckels Mansion 17- 21
John was oldest Spreckels son and active in sugar family sugar empire as well as San Diego real estate. His glamorous and numerous wives included Syida and Kay Williams, who later married Clark Gable. It was custom of affluent families to give children a home as a wedding gift. The five Spreckels children all were given homes in our block or the next. In addition to John’s home two others were on our block on mid block lots where high rise apartments rise facing Pacific and Broadway.
The only remaining Spreckels home in our block became the California Historical Society library in the 1950’s, before being turned back to a private residence in early 1990’s.
2080 Washington: Spreckels Mansion 23-24
On the site of a previous grand home, the Spreckels Mansion was built by second son Adolph after Clay and Van Ness family home was dynamited and lost in 1906. Father Claus had built sugar fortune by allegedly acquiring the Island of Lanai for $1 in poker game with King of Hawaii.
Adolph and Alma’s rather splashy and occasionally bizarre life in their sugar palace is well described in California Rich. After Alma’s death, the mansion was divided into four units until Danielle Steele purchased the property and restored it to a single family residence.
2121 Washington: James Phelan 21-27
The home of San Francisco reform mayor in the 1890’s was built in 1914 for James Phelan and his sister, neither of whom ever married. After organizing 1907 graft prosecutions with Rudolph Spreckels, he was California’s first directly elected Senator. He continued to live with his sister and a staff of servants in home until his death in 1930 and her’s in 1933. The home would have been on site of earlier Dunphy mansion, noted for its towering prominence, as well as back yard deer park.
As a boy Irwin was on his way with his British Naval officer father from Australia to California for Gold Rush, when they washed up on Oahu after a storm. Growing up in Hawaii, he worked for and then founded a bank, was in King’s cabinet and gained control of Hilo sugar plantations. In 1899 he had his mansion built, and it looked like a sugar cube.
Grand entertainment included wedding of daughter Helene to Templeton Crocker of SP. They went on to build Uplands in Hillsborough, which became Crystal Springs School. Long after Irwin’s death in 1917, the mansion was sold to SF Country Medical Society and then became location of the country’s first blood bank in 1941. It was abandoned and burned in 1956 after the Irwin Memorial Blood Bank relocated to Masonic. Louis Epp had bought the property and after the fire, replaced it with the current high rise on the northwest corner of park. Lion statues at entrance are all that’s left.
After growing up in Nob Hill mansion of his famous father Charles Crocker, of the Central Pacific Big Four, William built his own mansion where Grace Cathedral now stands. He was only child and founded Crocker Bank in 1868, the same year he married Ellen Sperry. They had only one daughter, who married a Frenchman. And with that union, the famous Crocker San Francisco family name died, as they had no children.
After 1906 William built new home opposite northwest corner of Lafayette Park, across from Irwin mansion. It was the northern anchor of splendor and elegance Lafayette Park’s West Side.
The Whittier mansion was for many years from the 1950’s the headquarters for the California Historical Society, before being returned to a private residence in 1993. It was built in 1896 by William Franklin Whittier, whose family fortune came from Fuller O’Brien paints, and who went on to cofound PG&E. He would live there with his family until his death in 1917. In the 1938, Whittier’s heirs sold it to Germany for use as their consulate during Nazi era. After World War II, it was a philosophical institute before the California Historical Society assumed control in 1956.
The two block stretch of Laguna along Lafayette Park was in early 1900’s was home to much of San Francisco wealth. As Crocker anchored the northwest corner of the park with the Irwins after 1906, Henry Miller was the southwest anchor at the corner of Sacramento, next to the Queen home. Miller built California’s largest fortune ever, through acquisition of about 14 million acres of land for his cattle operations, headquartered around Gilroy. Most of lands were in San Jaoquin Valley, and it was Miller’s bringing water to them that built value.
Until 1906, Miller’s San Francisco home was on Rincon Hill at the downtown exit of what is now Bay Bridge. He built the new mansion and lived there until his death as the sun also set of San Francisco’s Panama Pacific exposition, of which he and other Lafayette neighbors finaced and promoted. The only photos of the west side of Lafayette mansions are as surreal shadows behind the refuge camp tents of the 1906 earthquake and fire. As with the ante bellum South, it may have also been a life of grace and elegance which also over time was ‘Gone with the Wind’.
Personal Footnote: 42-END
It is only now that I realize how Lafayette neighborhood is the continuity to my 40 years in San Francisco. For it was in 1965, when I first moved to San Francisco, that I lived at the Lodge residence club.
On Octavia and Bush, it was built by James Fair for Miss Mary Lake’s School for Young Girls in 1899. It is now the Queen Anne Hotel. While there I was three blocks south of park, just as on Octavia street again since 1983, we are exactly three blocks north.
In the intervening years, my two Russian Hill homes looked west and down on the Alhambra theater. And it was the Alhambra’s predecessor that was moved to and remains at 2210 Clay on Lafayette’s west side, looking down on my first and our current Octavia homes in same way we looked down from Russian Hill at it’s old Alhambra Theater Polk Street home.
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