Historic Structures

Spreckels Mansion, San Francisco California

Date added: April 14, 2016 Categories: California House Mansion

The large and handsome Francophilic mansion, built by Adolph B. Spreckels ca. 1912-1913 on a dramatic view point in San Francisco's exclusive Pacific Heights area, has long occupied a prominent visual and social role in the city. It is one of the few truly grand residences in a town which has always prided itself on social elegance, but has signally failed to match the destroyed wooden palaces of the 19th century with more substantial mansions in the 20th century. Placed at the corner of an unusually large city lot (virtually half a block of choice realestate), it looms above its neighbors in chaste classicizing French Baroque beauty - symbolic of the cultural and social prominence of its chatelaine, Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. The building is of reinforced concrete faced with white stone; the architect was George Applegarth - practitioner of meticulous period design. (His California Palace of the Legion of Honor, presented by Mr. and Mrs. Spreckels to the City of San Francisco, is a slightly later example of his skill in the French mode.) The Spreckels mansion interior, although considerably altered from the original one-family plan, still suggests the magniloquent promise of its exterior; fine examples of period furnishings occur in both Mrs. Spreckels' fine floor - the "main" first floor of the mansion now converted to an apartment for her - and in that of her daughter, Dorothy (Mrs. Charles Munn), above on the top floor.

The first published account of the Spreckels Mansion appeared in the San Francisco Call for Sunday, May 2k, 1913- A brief description of the residence "(estimated cost: $1,000,000) and the name of the architect, George Applegarth, accompany a drawing of the building with an elaborately formal Baroque garden cascading down the hillside site behind the house. (These garden effects were never realized.)

Adolph Bernard Spreckels was one4 of thirteen children, son of Claus and Anna Mangel Spreckels. He educated in San Francisco and Hanover Germany. From his father, Claus, he inherited part of a large family fortune, accumulated primarily in the processing and refining of sugar, with vast attendant enterprizes in Hawaii, California and other parts of the United States. Later, A. B. Spreckels increased that inheritance through his own financial skill. His father's stone chateau,in the manner of Richard Morris Hunt's palatial residences in New York and Newport,had been badly damaged in the fire of 1906 when it lapped over Van Ness Avenue and engulfed a few properties on the west side of that thoroughfare. Adolph's brother, Rudolph, had the Newsoms build (ca. 1900) a less ambitious but large house at the northwest corner of Gough and Pacific (1900 Pacific, which still stands today as a rooming house). Another brother, John D., had a choice corner residence at the northeast corner of Pacific and Laguna (now destroyed); and his son, John D. Jr., had two residences across the street to the south (2099 Pacific and 2083 Pacific, both still standing with revised uses). In other words, the Spreckels family already occupied a number of expensive locations in Pacific Heights.

Adolph married Alma de Bretteville on May 11, 1908. Their residences after 1908 ranged from Sausalito in 1908-1909 to 1913 Franklin Street, San Francisco in 1910-1911, and then to 2100 Vallejo Street in 1912- 1913. The first official record of the move to 2080 Washington Street is in the Crocker-Langley City Directory for 1914. However, the San Francisco Water Department records indicate that service was connected for ten baths, eleven water closets and a fountain (interior), in 1912. Thus, it must have taken another year or more to finish the interior properly, and make possible the move recorded in the 1914 Directory.

Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Spreckels - Adolph Jr., Alma (Mrs. Spreckels-Coleman), and Dorthy (Mrs. Charles Munu). A. B. Spreckels, Sr., had sided with his brother John D., along with father Claus, against Rudolph and Claus A. in a dispute over a 40,000 acre Hawaiian sugar plantation about 1898-99. A family reconciliation officially took place in 1905, prior to Adolph's marriage to Alma de Bretteville; but Adolph's allegiance was essentially with J. D. Spreckels and Brothers, as well as with Spreckels Sugar, Oceanic Steamship, etc. A. B. Spreckels, Sr. died in 1924.

Mrs. Spreckels married again, briefly, but retained the Spreckels name. In the 1970s-80s, with various changes in society and her own family, Mrs. Spreckels revised this large residence from a one-family dwelling into a group of apartments - suppressing the old principal entrance on Washington Street. Dorothy returned to spend a part of each year with her mother; she and her socially prominent husband, Charles B. Munn of Palm Beach, Florida, occupied the top floor of the house as a private apartment. Mrs Spreckels occupied the "main" floor below, and there are other apartments on the ground floor, Many of the fine decorative objects from the mansion have found their way to the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; but many remain to remind one of Mrs. Spreckels and her daughter Dorothy's enthusiasm for French art, notably that of the l8th century.

Spreckels Mansion, San Francisco California

Spreckels Mansion, San Francisco California