Friday, August 6, 2010

The Spreckels mansion

What did we do before the internet? And more importantly -what did I do before blogging! I had so many emails and comments on yesterdays post and it's been quite the history lesson on the Spreckels Mansion in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. I thought I should sum it all up in a post so we're all on the same page on this beautiful mansion.
Built by Alma Spreckler (grande dame of San Francisco) and her husband Adolph Spreckels (his name comes second on purpose if you get my drift) from 1912-1913, the 55 room beaux-arts limestone mansion was designed by George Adrian Applegarth. Applegarth had graduated from the renowned Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and after returning home to the Bay Area, he designed many of the cities most famous properties. Applegarth was, for a time, partner with another graduate of the Ecole, Kenneth MacDonald, in the firm McDonald and Applegarth. They were young architects directly after the devastating 1906 earthquake which definitely helped their careers along! The partners split in 1912 during the construction of the Spreckels Mansion. Applegarth went on to a very long and prosperous career in the Bay Area, most famously the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park for the Spreckels (which I briefly mention in an older post HERE). Alma lived in the house until her death in 1968. At one point she had the original front door, seen above, moved to the side where it currently is beneath a porte cochere. After her death, the house was divided into 4 full floor apartments until being sold by the family to Danielle Steele, who returned it to a single family residence.
The house has been somewhat controversal since the day it was built, mainly through its' association with the gregarious and eccentric Alma Spreckels. Alma allowed the house to be used as the setting of a nightclub in the 1957 Frank Sinatra movie 'Pal Joey' (my grandma's favorite movie!). She also hosted garage sales on the property to raise money for numerous charities. However, the controversies don't stop after Alma; they continue under the current owner, the author Danielle Steele. Apparently Steele is chastized for not taking better care of the exterior of the house (despite numerous remodels of the interior over the years) and shrouding the house in TALL bushes, hiding it from Lafayette Park across the street. She likes her privacy I guess! However in the days of the Spreckels, the house was painfully lacking in landscaping, allowing the public to enjoy the beautiful home. Also, despite having an indoor garage and large outdoor parking court, Steele apparently is hogging parking permits for 24 street spots in a very congested area. Tsk, tsk Danielle!
Thanks to everyone who helped fill me in on this magnificent estate. If anyone knows of any interior photos, please send them my way!


Mel said...

I can't say that the faded glory look bothers me, but then I was raised on good old Southern Gothic - all kudzu and decaying farmhouses.

Regina Joi said...

You are a TRUE detective...Alma is pictured in her famous living room by the fireplace in Slim Aarons famous book of Society photographs...the one with CZ on the cover.

I do agree that those Cypress trees are not for the devotee of Beauty and Architecture, but in todays 'World of How Much Is MY Picture Worth on TMZ', you cannot blame her for the need of privacy, a woman who most HOPE for an invitation thru the Front Door and at the same time REVILED for her Wealth...similar to Alma's story.

Speaking of Alma...there is a book on her - BIG ALMA if I recall. I would have to look thru my library again.

What matters here is that the home, which is a MONUMENT to Style and a Singular Woman is still occupied by one, and it is still standing...lovingly cared for and attended too by its Mistress. A home like this possesses the Soul, until its demise, and of course, the World is heavy with those who are waiting for the door to open for their Souls to dwell within...especially San Francisco with all those 5th generation heirs hoping for a lovely nest to perch in.

Anonymous said...

So lovely and romantic. Funny how Danielle wrote a book called "The House" about a woman renovating a San Francisco mansion much like hers. Maybe she's going for a Grey Gardens look?

La Petite Gallery said...

What a gorgeous building. It would make a beautiful Museum. You really did alot of work on this post.

I had no idea sellig books could buy that.

Thank you


The Down East Dilettante said...

Stefan, here is a link to a Slim Aarons photograph of Alma Spreckels at home in the drawing room:

I have, within the year, seen other interior views, but cannot off the top of my head think where. I'll email you when it comes to me

Scott said...

There is a book called "Gabriel Moulin's San Francisco Peninsula: Town and Country" which has numerous interior photos of this house from its glory days. Moulin's book of amazing photos also shows Filoli and other estates all from the time of their original owners, with original furnishings and gardens, usually with the owners themselves posing in many of the pictures. Check it out. His documentation of the estate architecture of Northern California is without equal for the West Coast for that time period.

My favorite is of a Spreckles childrens birthday party in the this home you have featured showing all the butlers, maids, nannys and chefs standing behind the children eating cake. Being that they made they fortune in sugar, you can imagine the children were in heaven, and probably also wired on a sugar high.

Anonymous said...

Was this house used in the Sharon Stone / Michael Douglas movie, Basic Instinct? It looks similar to Catherine Tramells San Francisco Mansion. I looked it up on the web, but the house listed as used for the mansion looks nothing like the one in the movie, I think it's a match!!

Dave Mc said...

Good book on Alma Spreckels: Big Alma. This book also has some great images of the mansions interiors.

Fun Fact: She was the model for the statue in the middle of Union Square. A wild gal back in the day...

Anonymous said...

When I was young, just before Alma died, I was in this house a couple of times...My grandmother was Alma's personal secretary....Wish I would have had a camera!