AKA: Crocker Mansion, Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Bugbee, S.C., and Son, Architects (firm); Curlett and Cuthbertson, Architects (firm); Maxwell Greene Bugbee (architect); Samuel Charles Bugbee (architect); William F. Curlett (architect); Walter Jones Cuthbertson (architect)

Dates: constructed 1878-1880, demolished 1906

3 stories

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1100 California Street
Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA 94108

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Overview

Beginning in the 1870s, San Francisco's super-rich railroad tycoons had begun to congregate at the top of Nob Hill, drawn by the crest's remarkable views. First, Leland and Jane Stanford moved to 905 California Street, followed by Mark and Mary Hopkins. The third of the Central Pacific's "Big Four" to arrive were Charles and Mary Crocker. Their Second Empire mansion gained wide attention for its scale and extravagance, but was also well known also for the "spite fence" that jutted skyward from one corner of the property. In 1874, Crocker made his first land acquisition on Nob Hill, a lot west of Central Pacific partners' houses, between Jones and Taylor Streets. Seeking to expand his estate, Crocker gradually sought to control all the land bounded by California, Taylor, Sacramento and Jones Streets. He ran into an impediment, however, in the forms of a tenacious neighbor, a German immigrant undertaker named Nicholas Yung (d. 1880) and his wife, Rosina (d. 1902).

The Yungs enjoyed the panoramic views available from their residence and refused to sell to the millionaire for his offer of $5,000. (Yung was holding out for $7,000.) Used to getting what he wanted for the price he wanted, Crocker became infuriated. As his mansion was nearing completion, Crocker improved his cash offer to the Yungs to $6,000, but they again refused. In order to force the Yungs' acquiesence, Crocker threatened to built a 40-foot wall on three sides around the Yung House, drastically cutting light, views and air to the building. Following the threat, Yung upped his demand to $12,000, and Crocker spent $3,000 to have the wall erected. Shortly thereafter, the fence did force the Yungs to move their residence to a lot on Broderick Street, but they remained steadfast in resisting Crocker's intimidation.

For approximately 25 years the spite fence remained in place. Strong winds at the top of the hill took their toll on the fence's structure, and forced Crocker to reduce its height from 40 to 25 feet. It remained in place until early 1904, when, after Rosina's death, the four daughters of Nicholas and Rosina Yung sold the parcel to the Crockers. Ironically, the Crockers could enjoy the whole block for only two years before the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire destroyed every residence on Nob Hill.

Building History

The mammoth house for Charles Crocker (1822-1888) and his wife, Mary Ann Deming Crocker (1827-1889), had Second Empire and Neo-classical motifs. Standing three stories tall, it stood above the mansions erected by two other of the Central Pacific Railroad's "Big Four," Leland Stanford (1824-1893) and Mark Hopkins, Jr., (1813–1878). Crocker also built a smaller residence on the hilltop property for his son, William H. Crocker (1861–1937).

Following the quake and conflagration, William Crocker donated the parcel on which his father's house stood to the Episcopal Church in 1907; here, the Episcopalians built Grace Cathedral between 1927-1964. Remnants of the Crocker Estate's gates still stand on cathedral grounds.

Building Notes

The front facade of the redwood-framed Crocker House featured a 76-foot tower with mansard roof and wrought-iron widow's walk. From this vantage point, at the pinnacle of Nob Hill, Crocker could survey potential purchases and peer down on the lower classes. Although his wife was known for charitable works, Charles Crocker was not partial to public charity.

Demolition

The Crocker Houses were obliterated by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906.

PCAD id: 16588