Spreckels Mansion – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Spreckels Mansion

27-room home built with the fortune of a sugar magnate. 


This French Baroque chateau was designed for Adolph and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels by George A. Applegarth, a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. In order to attain the desired views for this mansion, Spreckels had to purchase several pricey adjacent lots overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Alma insisted on saving eight of the existing Victorian-style houses across these lots, so all of them were disassembled, moved, and rebuilt elsewhere.

Adolph Spreckels was the son of Claus Spreckels, a sugar tycoon and entrepreneur. The Spreckels family business empire was vast, stretching from sugar cane plantations in Hawaii to a sugar refinery outside of Salinas, CA, and also included stakes in railroads, and even a resort south of San Francisco.

Alma came from a background with far less privilege than her husband. She was the daughter of poor Danish immigrants and spent time with local artists because of her love of beauty and her taste for the fine arts. She made a fine enough living during her early years as a model, most famously for the figure topping the Dewey Monument in Union Square. Legend has it that Adolph saw the completed statue and demanded to meet the woman it was modeled after. They married when he was 50 and she 24.

Unbeknownst to Alma, Adolph had tertiary stage syphilis when they met and married. She only became aware of his condition after he admitted it following the birth of their first child. Luckily, the disease spread neither to Alma nor her and Adolph’s three children. The disease, however, left him reeling some days with a sensitivity to outside stimuli. To help take the edge off the intensity of these spells, Alma convinced the city to redo the street adjacent to the house. Cars afterward were forced to drive more slowly, reducing the traffic noise for Adolph to endure. Alma inherited Adolph’s fortune after he passed in 1924, leaving her with the equivalent of $100 million in today’s money and making her the wealthiest woman in the western United States. She used this fortune to further her love of the fine arts, purchasing works by contemporary artists like Rodin and the Impressionists.

The mansion became four residential units following Alma’s death. It was reunited into a single residence after getting purchased by Danielle Steel, romance author extraordinaire. Steel’s addition of a gigantic privacy hedge round the property, as well as the rumor that she’s amassed in excess of 25 parking permits for guests to park about the neighborhood, has allegedly left a chilly relationship between the neighborhood and the mansion’s latest occupant.

The magnificent white exterior of the house is made of limestone, an unfortunate material for the foggy hills of San Francisco. It is continually crumbling due to the weather.

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