AKA: Huntington, Collis Potter, and Arabella Duval Yarrington Huntington, House, Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA; Huntington Mansion, Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings - houses

Designers: Bugbee, S.C., and Son, Architects (firm); Charles Lewis Bugbee (architect); Samuel Charles Bugbee (architect)

Dates: constructed 1872-1873, demolished 1906

2 stories

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California Street and Taylor Street
Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA 94108

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Northeast corner of California Street and Taylor Street


At a time of formal, textural and ornamental excess, the Colton House was notable for its simplicity of form and lack of decoration. Its form, ornamentation and fenestration derived from Italianate and Georgian precedents, and its relative simplicity can be seen in contrast with the more florid, Second Empire Crocker Mansion next door. In some ways, it was 30 years ahead of its time, presaging the Colonial Revival Style ascendant c. 1905. Despite its relative "plainness," it managed to cost in the range of $75,000, a huge sum for 1872.

Building History

David Douty Colton (1832-1878), chief legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad, was the second wealthy man to erect a house at the crest of San Francisco's steep Nob Hill in 1872-1873, after lawyer Richard Tobin (1832-1887), co-founder of the Hibernia Savings and Loan Society, in 1870. (Colton built on a parcel at the summit, while an earlier mining magnate, James Ben Ali Haggin [1822-1914], built a 20,000-square-foot residence down the hill in 1871.) Colton commissioned his abode even before the construction of the cable car line in 1873 that made the sheer grade passable.

By the early 1871, Colton had become President and General Manager of the Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company, an important supplier to the Central Pacific and other railroads. He was now very rich and wanted a house to reflect his success and station at the metaphorical and physical pinnacle of Nob Hill. To design his statement residence, he commissioned the architectural firm of S.C. Bugbee and Son, probably the most prestigious architects in the city. This firm had designed the Nob Hill house for lawyer/businessman Richard Tobin (1870), and would go on to design palatial residences for Leland and Jane Stanford (1876) and Charles and Mary Ann Crocker (1880). The Colton House had two floors and a basement. Its first floor contained an entry vestibule, entrance hall, principal hall, reception room, library, double parlor, billiard room, music room, dining room, butler's pantry and kitchen. As befitting a man of substance, his residence would have had a formal enfilade of entry rooms, culminating in a formal reception space. The house had its gender-specific spaces, parlors for the women and the billiard room and perhaps the library for men. The music room doubled also as a art gallery, a must for the newly wealthy. At the rear of the house stood a glazed conservatory, also a must-have room for tycoons of the era. The second floor possessed eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, two dressing rooms, and a breakfast room. Colton and his wife would not have long to enjoy their mansion.

In 1878, David Colton was thrown from a young horse he was riding, which also fell on him, causing significant internal injuries. He developed infections as a result from surgery and, in the age before antibiotics, passed away at age 46 on 10/09/1878. His premature death triggered a flurry of lawsuits involving Ellen M. Colton and various other litigants. One of the most significant was an 1883 civil suit brought by Ellen Colton against Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Collis P. Huntington, the "Big Four" owners of the Central Pacific Railroad, According to the Huntington Archives at Syracuse University, "Mrs. Colton believed that the Central Pacific Railroad Company had swindled her out of company securities owned by her late husband. The case, which lasted 2 years, resulted in 24 printed volumes of court testimony, as well as a quantity of material prepared by the defense lawyers and a quantity of David D. Colton's personal financial records." (See "Collis Potter Huntington Papers," Syracuse University Libraries, accessed 06/24/2015.) She left San Francisco after the sale of her house and died (c. 1907) in Washington, DC. Ironically, one of the most active litigants in 1880s against Mrs. Colton, Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900) bought the Colton Residence in 1892. He and his second wife, Arabella (1851-1924), paid $250,000 for the property, a staggering sum for the period.

Collis Huntington did not use the house much after he purchased it, as he spent most of his time in New York, NY, (he built an enormous mansion at 2 East 57th Street on the Upper East Side), at an Adirondack country house, Pine Knob, on Raquette Lake, NY (where he died on 08/13/1900), and in Washington, DC, (where he lobbied and bribed Congressmen).

Building Notes

Colton's L-shaped, wood-frame mansion had Neo-Classical ornamentation and its exterior redwood cladding was painted to mimic marble.

The Daily Alta California newspaper, in its 09/02/1872 edition described "...the mansion in course of erection for General Colton." The writer took the reader of a tour of each room floor by floor. It wrote: "This site is also one of the finest in the city, the view it commends being truly magnificent. The building is two stories high with a splendid basement, the walls of which are of heavy brick two feet thick. The architecture of the first story is Roman composite, and that of the second Corinthian. All the windows have Corinthian columns and entablatures, and the balustrade of the roof is beatifully enriched. The main entrance consists of a handsome portico, thirty-one feet wide and twelve feet deep, with heavy pillars on either side, the capitals of which are richly carved n wood. The steps will be of marble, and on the side buttresses there are already two beatiful marble lions which were designed and carved in Italy. A music room twenty-four feet high, with composite entablature and open balustrade projects from the main building in line with Taylor street. This room, which likewise is intended for a picture galley, is one of the large private apartments in the city, its size being 33x63, and in its moulding, frescoing and general finish, will constitute perhaps the handsomest as well.

From the porch, a vestibule 7x13, with a dome ceiling, and having a large niche on either side heavily enriched, is entered, directly conducting to the entrance hall, 13 1/2x16, from which the principal hall, 13 1/2x48, is reached. Back of this there is an elegant staircase where the hall widens to twenty feet. The stairs are provided with Newel posts, exquisitely carved. On the right, the reception-room, which measures 16x20 comes first. With this the library, 22x36, which will be handsomely moulded and have elaborate fixtures, is connected. The dining hall, a magnificant room 20x42, looking out on Cushman street, comes next on the same side. On the left of the hall there is a double parlor, the size of which is respectively, 15 1/2x21 1/2 and 21x26. Next is the billiard room 20x38, which is also entered from the main hall, and at the back of this is the music room already mentioned. To better describe this magnificent room it may be stated that it has a dome panel ceiling and a central cupola, rising ten feet, in which are fitted about eighteen windows of ground and cut glass, forming a square with an enclosed space, intended for some exquisite frescoing. The cornices and panels are, moreover, elaborately rich. Indeed, it would seem as if the highest perfection of ornamentation were to beautify this part of the building.

On the second floor, the leading feature is the principal chamber, which is an immense bed-room, its size being 22x31. On the left of this are two large dressing rooms, with a bath-room between them. Five other bed-rooms are on the same side. Leading from the grand chamber one the west side is a lovely breakfast room, and two bed-rooms. There are beside four bath-rooms on this floor of large size and possessing every appliance.

Not only is every room in the building ornamented with fancy cornices and panelingsm but all the doors of the ground floor are made of polished mahogany, and shaped with elliptical heads, and some of them have full mirror facing. On the second floor, however, the doors are of pine. In the plaster work the mortar used is very little different from that described in connection with Mr. Haggin's mansion.

In the rear of the building, in line with the main entrance, is a fine carriage porch, 12 by 23, at the back of which is a conservatory with glass roofand handsome cornices. Passing to the right, and behind the dining-room, are the butler's pantry, kitchen, closets and back stairway, all provided with the latest improvements. The exterior altogether would be rather plain in appearance were it not for the Corinthian features. It will cost about $75,000, and is expected to be completed about November 1st. Messrs. S.C. Bugbee and sons are the architects." (See "General Colton's Mansion," Daily Alta California, vol. 24, no. 8194, 09/02/1872, p. 1.)


This mansion burned in the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 04/18-19/1906, Collis Huntington's second wife, Arabella Duval Yarrington Huntington (1852-1924), donated the land on which the Colton/Huntington House stood to the City of San Francisco in 1915. It became part of Huntington Park.

PCAD id: 16605