Spreckels Mansion

San Francisco, California (CA)

Spreckels Mansion: home to the great-grandmother of San Francisco.

Spreckels Mansion
- Wally Gobetz

Discovering Spreckels Mansion

Spreckels Mansion, city landmark No. 197, is a French Baroque Chateau-style structure located at 2080 Washington Street in San Francisco's Pacific Heights. This three storey mansion that at one time boasted 27 rooms, was created by architects George Adrian Applegarth and Kenneth A. MacDonald Jr.

Originally christened the “Sugar Palace” due to its association with the homeowners’ sugar empire, the mansion was pure luxury. Throughout the years, the mansion's fate has been subject to change. Initially, gutted by fire following an earthquake in 1906, there were decisions to preserve the building as a museum.

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San Francisco's Pacific Heights Neighbourhood - Dale Cruse

However, as this proved impractical, plans, which never came to light, were made for its demolition and transformation into apartment units. Today, while obscured by romance author Danielle Steel's imposing hedge, the Spreckels Mansion is a reminder of former more opulent and extravagant San Francisco.

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- Onasill - Bill Badzo -

Designing Spreckels Mansion

Spreckels Mansion had a grand exterior with soaring columns and intricate details that impress upon today’s society the regality of past architectural styles. From its sweeping staircases to its beautiful interiors, every inch of the mansion exudes refined charisma.

Through the double entrance doors, the grand hall is a central feature of the mansion. Spanning 28 ft in width and 48 ft in length, this hall has a stunning mosaic floor, Algerian marble wainscoting, and priceless French tapestries. Rising two floors to a height of 34 ft, the hall is lit softly by its art glass roofing.

The mansion's interior decoration, overseen by the Reid Brothers architects, features intricately moulded chandeliers by Frank Harpersberger's and Vladimir P. Bush's equally detailed ceiling decorations.

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- Penn State Libraries Pictures Collection

The History of Spreckels Mansion

The Spreckels Family

The Spreckels family’s legacy is a huge part of San Francisco's own history. Claus Spreckels arrived in the city in 1856. Originally dabbling in brewing, Claus swiftly transitioned to the sugar industry, eventually amassing his fortune in Hawaii through a legendary poker game where apparently he secured water rights from the King of Hawaii.

Claus had a highly entrepreneurial spirit, which allowed for the establishment of San Francisco's first sugar refinery in 1867. The California Sugar Refinery’s success funded more of the family’s businesses until they were firmly entrenched in the San Franciscan business world.

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- Dale Cruse

The Rise of Alma Spreckels

"The great-grandmother of San Francisco.”

Alma’s nickname.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, wife of Claus’ son Adolph Spreckels, originating from the Sunset district had a far more modest upbringing than her husband. Despite her humble origins, Alma's passion for art propelled her into the local limelight, becoming a celebrated model for artists and sculptors. Her marriage to Adolph, in 1908 was the beginning of her remarkable journey into San Francisco's high society.

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- Wally Gobetz

Building Spreckels Mansion

Adolph, in a grand gesture, purchased the property for the Spreckels Mansion as a Christmas gift for Alma – how the other half live, right?! To achieve panoramic views, Spreckels acquired adjacent lots overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Remarkably, eight Victorian-style houses situated on these lots were dismantled, relocated, and reconstructed at Alma’s insistence.

Completed in 1912, the mansion quickly became a symbol of opulence as Alma, with her keen eye for art, decorated the residence with beautiful antiques that would be greatly admired during the many lavish parties that they would host over the years.

Alma's love of art wasn’t just confined to Spreckels Mansion however. Her acquaintance with leading artists led to her acquisition of beautiful pieces such as 13 of Auguste Rodin’s bronze sculptures.

Spreckels Mansion
- Penn State Libraries Pictures Collection

Changing Ownership and Danielle Steel

Following Alma's passing in 1968, the mansion underwent various transformations, eventually being divided into four units to be sold off individually as apartments. That was until acclaimed romance novelist Danielle Steel purchased the mansion and began restoring the property to its former glory. Although certain additions were controversial, such as a humongous hedge to keep out prying eyes, and extensive parking accommodations.

In interviews Steel revealed that she wrote many of her popular novels from a modest office tucked away in her bedroom, drawing inspiration from the mansion's rich history and grandeur.

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- Don Barrett

But while Steel's time at the mansion was once of modesty and privacy, a departure from its lavish past, her presence added another chapter to its history and it remains a cherished landmark in San Francisco.

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- Dale Cruse

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our San Francisco Scavenger Hunts- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of San Francisco and beyond!

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- Penn State Libraries Pictures Collection