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Railroad Whales Were Richer Than You Could Ever Hope to Be

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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.

Mark Hopkins mansion: bigger than your house [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

The Central Pacific Railroad, the western portion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States, was constructed between 1863 and 1869. By crossing the burly Sierra Nevadas and connecting California to the rest of the country, it literally changed the face of the state from a wild frontier to an urbanized powerhouse. It was financed and built through "The Big Four": Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, who all used to live literally next door to each other at the top of Nob Hill (though all four mansions burned to the ground during the 1906 Earthquake and Fire). They all also owned ridiculous mansions and estates all over the Bay Area, making today's Tahoe vacation cabin look like chump change.

Leland Stanford: President of Central Pacific Railroad, Leland Stanford was the epitome of an American tycoon - industrialist, baron, governor, senator, and founder of a little school down in Palo Alto. Relocating to California from New York during the Gold Rush, he built a merchant empire, and eventually served as governor and senator of California. Leland's brother Josiah made his own mark, establishing commercial production of petroleum. The wealth of the Stanford family during the late nineteenth century is estimated at approximately $50M ($1.3B today).

Collis P. Huntington: Vice President of Central Pacific Railroad, Huntington established himself as a merchant in Sacramento with fellow whale Mark Hopkins during the Gold Rush. He had the reputation for being the most ruthless of the Big Four, and later went on to expand railroad links on the east coast. His investing chops were pretty sharp, and his worth in today's dollars is estimated at $33B. Collis' son Henry donated the entire family fortune to charitable causes predominantly in Southern California.

Mark Hopkins: Treasurer of Central Pacific Railroad, Hopkins operated a store in Sacramento with Huntington. He was known amongst the Big Four as the most frugal and thrifty, but it was his wife who convinced him to built an ornate mansion on Nob Hill. He died without any children, and most of the $20M estate (that's about $460M today) went to his wife's second husband (ouch).

Charles Crocker: Chief of construction of Central Pacific Railroad, Crocker was an iron forger in Indiana who also opened a store in California during the Gold Rush. He built his mansion on Nob Hill for a reported $1.5M (that's $34M today), and his whole estate has been valued at between $300-400 million at the time of his death in 1888 (that's $7-10B today). His son William H. Crocker went on to be president of Crocker National Bank, expanding the family fortune. His brother Edwin Crocker served as legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad and as a Justice of the California Supreme Court, and his family home in Sacramento became the Crocker Art Museum after his death.



· The Builders of the Central Pacific Railroad [CPRR]
· "The Story of the Central Pacific" [CPRR]

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Leland Mansion (Nob Hill)

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The Leland Stanford mansion at the corner of Powell and California Streets on Nob Hill was built 1878-1879, but burned to the ground in 1906. Today’s Stanford Court Hotel now stands at the site.

Leland Stanford Mansion (Sacramento)

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The 19,000 sq.ft. mansion was originally built in 1856 by Gold Rush merchant Sheldon Fogus, and later purchased and remodeled by Leland and Jane Stanford. In 1900 it was gifted to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, with an endowment of $75,000 in railroad bonds as a place for homeless children. It's now run by California State Parks.

Palo Alto Stock Farms (Palo Alto)

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The Stanford estate in Palo Alto was the family's "summer estate", with acres of farms and gardens full of statues. It later became the site of Stanford University - maybe you've heard of it?

Camron-Stanford House (Oakland)

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The Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt was home to Josiah Stanford from 1882 – 1905. In 1971 it underwent restoration and is now a house museum.

Leland Stanford Winery (Fremont)

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The Stanford brothers started the Stanford winery in the Santa Clara Valley, now Weibel Champagne Vineyards. By 1893, they produced 320,000 gallons of wine and were the first winery in California to make sparkling wine. It is now a California Historical Landmark.[Hand-tinted © Bennett Hall / Business Image Group; Source photo: history room of the Oakland Public Library;produced for exhibits located at the Washington Hospital in Fremont]

Leland Stanford's Great Vina Ranch (Tehama County)

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Leland Stanford's Vina Ranch in Tehema County had 35,000 acres in vines. The wine wasn't so great, so they started producing brandy instead. Stanford died in 1893 and the property was deeded to Stanford University, which sold it off piecemeal. The area is now home to the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian Monastery that produces wine.

Collis Huntington Mansion (Nob Hill)

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Collis Huntington’s mansion was originally built in 1872 for David Colton, the chief lawyer for the Central Pacific Railroad. Huntington bought it in 1892, but it burned in 1906 and is now the site of Huntington Park.

Mark Hopkins mansion (Nob Hill)

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Mark Hopkins' mansion on Nob Hill was constructed in 1878, but he died before it was completed. After his wife died, it was donated to the San Francisco Art Association to be used as a school and museum, until it burned in 1906. It's now the site of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Crocker mansion (Nob Hill)

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The Charles Crocker mansion was built in 1878. He purchased the entire block, but one existing property owner refused to sell. So Crocker had a 3-sided, 40'ft fence built all around the neighbor, blocking almost all natural light. He eventually sold, but the mansion was destroyed a few years later in 1906. It's now the site of the Crocker Garage.

Crocker Art Gallery (Sacramento)

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Judge Edwin B. Crocker had the mansion renovated and redesigned in an Italianate style in 1868. They built an elaborate gallery building adjacent to the mansion. Multiple additions have been built throughout the years.

Crocker First National Bank (Market Street)

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The Crocker National Bank building was built in the late 1890s by Willis Polk and survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It was demolished in the 1960s.

William H. Crocker mansion (Nob Hill)

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Charles Crocker's son William built his mansion next to his father's at the top of Nob Hill. When it was destroyed in 1906, he donated the 2.6-acre block for Grace Cathedral.

W. H. Crocker's "New Place" (Hillsborough)

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The country estate was built for William H. Crocker in 1910. The estate is now the Burlingame Country Club.

Jennie Crocker’s Tevis place (Burlingame)

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Charles Crocker's granddaughter purchased Tevis Place in 1910, adjacent to her father's New Place. It was later subdivided and now has a bunch of houses selling for $3M+.

C. Templeton Crocker Uplands estate (Hillsborough)

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Uplands was built by Charles Crocker's grandson C. Templeton Crocker, as a gift to his fiancée Helène Irwin, heiress to the C&H Sugar family fortune. It was designed by Willis Polk in 1912. It was converted to the Crystal Springs Uplands School in the 1950s.

C. Templeton Crocker’s art deco penthouse (Russian Hill)

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Charles Crocker's grandson C. Templeton Crocker built the luxury condo building at 950 Green Street in 1928. He lived in the penthouse, and had it decorated with Art Deco finishes by Jean-Michel Frank, Pierre Legrain, Jean Dunand and Madame Lipska. It was dismantled in 1959 and its contents placed in storage until the collection was purchased by New York collectors, later gifted to the Met Museum and sold at auction.

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Leland Mansion (Nob Hill)

The Leland Stanford mansion at the corner of Powell and California Streets on Nob Hill was built 1878-1879, but burned to the ground in 1906. Today’s Stanford Court Hotel now stands at the site.

Leland Stanford Mansion (Sacramento)

The 19,000 sq.ft. mansion was originally built in 1856 by Gold Rush merchant Sheldon Fogus, and later purchased and remodeled by Leland and Jane Stanford. In 1900 it was gifted to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, with an endowment of $75,000 in railroad bonds as a place for homeless children. It's now run by California State Parks.

Palo Alto Stock Farms (Palo Alto)

The Stanford estate in Palo Alto was the family's "summer estate", with acres of farms and gardens full of statues. It later became the site of Stanford University - maybe you've heard of it?

Camron-Stanford House (Oakland)

The Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt was home to Josiah Stanford from 1882 – 1905. In 1971 it underwent restoration and is now a house museum.

Leland Stanford Winery (Fremont)

The Stanford brothers started the Stanford winery in the Santa Clara Valley, now Weibel Champagne Vineyards. By 1893, they produced 320,000 gallons of wine and were the first winery in California to make sparkling wine. It is now a California Historical Landmark.[Hand-tinted © Bennett Hall / Business Image Group; Source photo: history room of the Oakland Public Library;produced for exhibits located at the Washington Hospital in Fremont]

Leland Stanford's Great Vina Ranch (Tehama County)

Leland Stanford's Vina Ranch in Tehema County had 35,000 acres in vines. The wine wasn't so great, so they started producing brandy instead. Stanford died in 1893 and the property was deeded to Stanford University, which sold it off piecemeal. The area is now home to the Abbey of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian Monastery that produces wine.

Collis Huntington Mansion (Nob Hill)

Collis Huntington’s mansion was originally built in 1872 for David Colton, the chief lawyer for the Central Pacific Railroad. Huntington bought it in 1892, but it burned in 1906 and is now the site of Huntington Park.

Mark Hopkins mansion (Nob Hill)

Mark Hopkins' mansion on Nob Hill was constructed in 1878, but he died before it was completed. After his wife died, it was donated to the San Francisco Art Association to be used as a school and museum, until it burned in 1906. It's now the site of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Crocker mansion (Nob Hill)

The Charles Crocker mansion was built in 1878. He purchased the entire block, but one existing property owner refused to sell. So Crocker had a 3-sided, 40'ft fence built all around the neighbor, blocking almost all natural light. He eventually sold, but the mansion was destroyed a few years later in 1906. It's now the site of the Crocker Garage.

Crocker Art Gallery (Sacramento)

Judge Edwin B. Crocker had the mansion renovated and redesigned in an Italianate style in 1868. They built an elaborate gallery building adjacent to the mansion. Multiple additions have been built throughout the years.

Crocker First National Bank (Market Street)

The Crocker National Bank building was built in the late 1890s by Willis Polk and survived the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It was demolished in the 1960s.

William H. Crocker mansion (Nob Hill)

Charles Crocker's son William built his mansion next to his father's at the top of Nob Hill. When it was destroyed in 1906, he donated the 2.6-acre block for Grace Cathedral.

W. H. Crocker's "New Place" (Hillsborough)

The country estate was built for William H. Crocker in 1910. The estate is now the Burlingame Country Club.

Jennie Crocker’s Tevis place (Burlingame)

Charles Crocker's granddaughter purchased Tevis Place in 1910, adjacent to her father's New Place. It was later subdivided and now has a bunch of houses selling for $3M+.

C. Templeton Crocker Uplands estate (Hillsborough)

Uplands was built by Charles Crocker's grandson C. Templeton Crocker, as a gift to his fiancée Helène Irwin, heiress to the C&H Sugar family fortune. It was designed by Willis Polk in 1912. It was converted to the Crystal Springs Uplands School in the 1950s.

C. Templeton Crocker’s art deco penthouse (Russian Hill)

Charles Crocker's grandson C. Templeton Crocker built the luxury condo building at 950 Green Street in 1928. He lived in the penthouse, and had it decorated with Art Deco finishes by Jean-Michel Frank, Pierre Legrain, Jean Dunand and Madame Lipska. It was dismantled in 1959 and its contents placed in storage until the collection was purchased by New York collectors, later gifted to the Met Museum and sold at auction.