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Mining Millionaires Collected Mega Mansions

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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.

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James C. Flood Mansion (Nob Hill)

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he James C. Flood mansion, built in 1886, was the only Nob Hill manse to survive the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It barely stood, thanks to its brownstone construction, and was rehabbed by Willis Polk for the Pacific Union Club. They still occupy the building, but don’t even think about trying to get inside. It’s closed-door, only open to today’s whales.

Flood's Linden Towers (Atherton)

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Built in 1878 got James C. Flood, the estate was known as the “wedding cake” or the “white castle.” Sited on 600-acres, it had 40 rooms filled with fancy decorations and art. His daughter, Jennie Flood, eventually gave the estate to the University of California, but they couldn’t really afford to take care of it, and sold it back to James L. Flood. He always left the gates open so the public could visit and enjoy the estate. The house was torn down in 1934, and the estate subdivided in 1938, part for a county park and the rest for (now very expensive) home sites. The gates still remain.

James L. Flood mansion (Pacific Heights)

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After his father’s house was damaged in the 1906 Earthquake, James L. Flood built his own mansion designed by architects Bliss & Faville 1912. After he died, his wife Maud Flood gave the home to the Religious of the Sacred Heart, and it is now part of the Broadway campus of Schools of the Sacred Heart.

Flood Building (Market Street)

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James L. Flood had the building designed by Albert Pissis (of Hibernia Bank fame) in 1904. When it was completed, it was the largest building in San Francisco. Only the bottom two floors were damaged in the 1906 Earthquake, and the Flood family still owns the building.

Flood Estate (Woodside)

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Built in 1941 for James C. Flood’s grandson, the 92-acre Colonial Revival estate has a Thomas Church-designed garden (among loads of other perks). Flood's great-grandchildren still own it, but are selling the estate for a cool $85M.

Jennie Flood mansion/Hamlin School (Pacific Heights)

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James L. Flood had the mansion built in 1900, before moving down the street to his mansion at 2222 Broadway. He gave the house to his sister Jennie, who later gifted it to the University of California. In 1927, it became the Sarah Dix Hamlin School for girls, and had remained so ever since.

O'Brien/Sharon House (Union Square)

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William Sharon mansion

, himself a wealthy banker from of the Bank of California, on the 500 block of Sutter Street. It’s now the site of commercial and office buildings.

Mackay Mansion (Nevada)

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Built in 1860 as the office of the Gould and Curry Mining Company, the house was first occupied by George Hearst (of those Hearsts) before Mackay took it over. It’s currently a house museum open for tours, and is supposed to be haunted by a little girl dressed in all-white (Johnny Depp saw her while staying there during the filming of "Dead Man").

O'Brien/Payne House (Pacific Heights)

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O’Brien’s niece Pauline inherited much of his money, and used it to build a house in 1881 designed by architect William F. Curlett. It was advanced for its day, with hot and cold running water, central heating, and bathrooms integrated into the house (luxury!). It's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fairmont Hotel (Nob Hill)

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The Fairmont was designed by the Reid Brothers in 1906, and though it survived the earthquake, Julia Morgan was hired to repair the badly damaged interior. And you know the rest.

Alvinza Hayward Building (Downtown)

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Also known as the Kohl Building, it was designed by George Percy and Willis Polk in the shape of a giant H. Built in 1901, it was one of the first fireproof buildings and survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

Hayward Park (San Mateo)

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Hayward owned a massive estate in San Mateo with a lake, race track, and deer park. Built in 1880, it later became the Peninsula Hotel, only to burn to the ground in 1920. The estate was subdivided around 1907 into bungalow and Craftsman style houses.

William Bowers Bourn House (Nob Hill)

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Home to William Sr., the house was designed by Willis Polk. The site is now apartment buildings.

Bourn Mansion (Pacific Heights)

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William II’s house was also designed by Willis Polk. The seriously neglected and spooky house was home to eccentric Arden Van Upp for many years. It was purchased in 2010 for $2,790,000.

Filoli (Woodside)

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Willis Polk also designed the 715 acre estate along Crystal Springs Lake in 1915. The name Filoli comes from the first two letters of Fight, Love, Live from Bourn’s personal credo: “To fight for a just cause; to love your fellow man; to live a good life”. The Bourn family still owns the family’s five-acre burial plot on the estate. Filoli and its furnishings were sold to the Roth family in 1937, who expanded the gardens. In 1975 Mrs. Roth gifted the house and garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with an endowment to support the maintenance of the property.

Greystone Winery (St. Helena)

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William II started one of the largest stone wineries in the world at the time. The massive stone building is now home to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Empire Cottage at the Empire Mine (Grass Valley)

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Also designed by Willis Polk, the Bourn’s cottage at the Empire Mine was built in the Tudor style with Arts and Crafts interiors in 1897. It’s now part of the Empire Mine State Historic Park, which contains many of the original mine buildings and the entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded shafts and tunnels.

Asilo (Pebble Beach)

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Built in 1924 and designed in the Spanish colonial revival style by George Washington Smith on 17-Mile Drive for Bourn’s daughter Maud Vincent. It’s still standing, but has had a boatload of additions built on.

James C. Flood Mansion (Nob Hill)

he James C. Flood mansion, built in 1886, was the only Nob Hill manse to survive the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It barely stood, thanks to its brownstone construction, and was rehabbed by Willis Polk for the Pacific Union Club. They still occupy the building, but don’t even think about trying to get inside. It’s closed-door, only open to today’s whales.

Flood's Linden Towers (Atherton)

Built in 1878 got James C. Flood, the estate was known as the “wedding cake” or the “white castle.” Sited on 600-acres, it had 40 rooms filled with fancy decorations and art. His daughter, Jennie Flood, eventually gave the estate to the University of California, but they couldn’t really afford to take care of it, and sold it back to James L. Flood. He always left the gates open so the public could visit and enjoy the estate. The house was torn down in 1934, and the estate subdivided in 1938, part for a county park and the rest for (now very expensive) home sites. The gates still remain.

James L. Flood mansion (Pacific Heights)

After his father’s house was damaged in the 1906 Earthquake, James L. Flood built his own mansion designed by architects Bliss & Faville 1912. After he died, his wife Maud Flood gave the home to the Religious of the Sacred Heart, and it is now part of the Broadway campus of Schools of the Sacred Heart.

Flood Building (Market Street)

James L. Flood had the building designed by Albert Pissis (of Hibernia Bank fame) in 1904. When it was completed, it was the largest building in San Francisco. Only the bottom two floors were damaged in the 1906 Earthquake, and the Flood family still owns the building.

Flood Estate (Woodside)

Built in 1941 for James C. Flood’s grandson, the 92-acre Colonial Revival estate has a Thomas Church-designed garden (among loads of other perks). Flood's great-grandchildren still own it, but are selling the estate for a cool $85M.

Jennie Flood mansion/Hamlin School (Pacific Heights)

James L. Flood had the mansion built in 1900, before moving down the street to his mansion at 2222 Broadway. He gave the house to his sister Jennie, who later gifted it to the University of California. In 1927, it became the Sarah Dix Hamlin School for girls, and had remained so ever since.

O'Brien/Sharon House (Union Square)

William Sharon mansion

, himself a wealthy banker from of the Bank of California, on the 500 block of Sutter Street. It’s now the site of commercial and office buildings.

Mackay Mansion (Nevada)

Built in 1860 as the office of the Gould and Curry Mining Company, the house was first occupied by George Hearst (of those Hearsts) before Mackay took it over. It’s currently a house museum open for tours, and is supposed to be haunted by a little girl dressed in all-white (Johnny Depp saw her while staying there during the filming of "Dead Man").

O'Brien/Payne House (Pacific Heights)

O’Brien’s niece Pauline inherited much of his money, and used it to build a house in 1881 designed by architect William F. Curlett. It was advanced for its day, with hot and cold running water, central heating, and bathrooms integrated into the house (luxury!). It's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fairmont Hotel (Nob Hill)

The Fairmont was designed by the Reid Brothers in 1906, and though it survived the earthquake, Julia Morgan was hired to repair the badly damaged interior. And you know the rest.

Alvinza Hayward Building (Downtown)

Also known as the Kohl Building, it was designed by George Percy and Willis Polk in the shape of a giant H. Built in 1901, it was one of the first fireproof buildings and survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

Hayward Park (San Mateo)

Hayward owned a massive estate in San Mateo with a lake, race track, and deer park. Built in 1880, it later became the Peninsula Hotel, only to burn to the ground in 1920. The estate was subdivided around 1907 into bungalow and Craftsman style houses.

William Bowers Bourn House (Nob Hill)

Home to William Sr., the house was designed by Willis Polk. The site is now apartment buildings.

Bourn Mansion (Pacific Heights)

William II’s house was also designed by Willis Polk. The seriously neglected and spooky house was home to eccentric Arden Van Upp for many years. It was purchased in 2010 for $2,790,000.

Filoli (Woodside)

Willis Polk also designed the 715 acre estate along Crystal Springs Lake in 1915. The name Filoli comes from the first two letters of Fight, Love, Live from Bourn’s personal credo: “To fight for a just cause; to love your fellow man; to live a good life”. The Bourn family still owns the family’s five-acre burial plot on the estate. Filoli and its furnishings were sold to the Roth family in 1937, who expanded the gardens. In 1975 Mrs. Roth gifted the house and garden to the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with an endowment to support the maintenance of the property.

Greystone Winery (St. Helena)

William II started one of the largest stone wineries in the world at the time. The massive stone building is now home to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Empire Cottage at the Empire Mine (Grass Valley)

Also designed by Willis Polk, the Bourn’s cottage at the Empire Mine was built in the Tudor style with Arts and Crafts interiors in 1897. It’s now part of the Empire Mine State Historic Park, which contains many of the original mine buildings and the entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded shafts and tunnels.

Asilo (Pebble Beach)

Built in 1924 and designed in the Spanish colonial revival style by George Washington Smith on 17-Mile Drive for Bourn’s daughter Maud Vincent. It’s still standing, but has had a boatload of additions built on.