If you thought the Silicon Valley folks were rolling in dough, those guys have nothing on the original Bay Area whales. From railroads to mining to merchants, the historic money makers of yore dominated the west, and had the luxurious spreads to prove it.
James C. Flood's "wedding cake" house at Linden Towers in Atherton [Photo: Calisphere]
The Comstock Lode was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States, up near Virginia City, Nevada in 1859. The Bonanza Kings were four Irishmen who organized the Consolidated Virginia Silver Mine, and in 1873 discovered the "big bonanza" ore which netted them more than $150M in silver and gold - that's $3B today. It made them some of the richest men in America, and they liked their real estate large and in charge.
James Clair Flood: Flood started off as a saloonkeeper in San Francisco with partner William O'Brian, eventually selling the business to get into the stock trade. As the financial mind behind the empire, his investments make his worth in today's dollar around $31B. Flood's son, James Leary Flood, followed suit as a real estate speculator. The Flood family continues to live and do business in the Bay Area.
William S. O'Brien: William O'Brien was known as a bit of a bohemian with simple tastes, who preferred playing cards at the saloon over business. He died soon after amassing his fortune, with the bulk of it going to his niece Pauline Payne, who built a house in Pacific Heights with the money.
John William Mackay: After striking it rich with the mining company, Mackay founded and invested in communication cable and telegraph companies. He mostly lived in Virginia City, Nevada, though his wife found it boring and had him buy her a large mansion in Paris. Mackay kept a house at 825 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, but it was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
James Graham Fair: After his successful mining career, Fair starting buying land throughout California, tripling his money in real estate investments with a worth in today's dollar of $45B. He wasn't the nicest guy and became estranged from his family, spending the last years of his life living alone in a San Francisco hotel, though his will left his vast fortune to his three children. Fair's daughters, Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt (yes, those Vanderbilts), built and named the Fairmont Hotel after him.
Alvinza Hayward: Though not officially a Bonanza King, Alvinza Hayward originally made his money as one of the few successful gold miners in the Eureka mine. He became mega-rich, investing in timber, coal, railroads, San Francisco real estate, and banking, and was one of the original investors in the San Francisco City Gas Company (predecessor to PG&E). Grandiose and eccentric, Hayward was called California's "first millionaire."
William Bowers Bourn II: Son of gold mining entrepreneur William Bowers Bourn, William II took over the Empire Mine when his father died, improving operations and using the mega-bucks for other mining interests and large-scale real estate holdings. He was also a major player in the predecessor to PG&E and the Spring Valley Water Co.Read More