San Francisco History

Flood Fortune

Flood Fortune Begun in Hectic Bonanza Days of San Francisco

The great fortune left by James L. Flood when he died February 15, 1926, and now the object of one of the most sensational estate court actions in California, was started in a stirringly robust period of this State's history.

James C. Flood, father of James L. Flood, came to San Francisco a few years after the discovery of gold in California, and piled up millions as one of the famed "Bonanza Kings." His associates were James G. Fair, John W. Mackay and William S. O'Brien, and their mining operations in the Comstock lode, in Nevada, are recounted to this day as the outstanding example of what may be done with a rich ore body and a genius for stock manipulation.


Flood and O'Brien were partners in a saloon on Washington street when they joined interests with Fair and Mackay, who were miners. None of the four had impressed themselves on others than their immediate circle of friends and acquaintances until some time in the seventies they joined forces in operating the Consolidated Virginia and the California claims in the Comstock.

Mackay and Fair had the mining knowledge and Flood and O'Brien raised the money. The purchase price of the claims, later to become fabulously a source of wealth, was about $100,000.

The original stock issue was 10,700 shares, selling for between $4 and $5 a share. A little while after this organization, what became famous as "the big bonanza" was struck and the price of the stock went skyward. Flood is accredited by tradition with having directed the subsequent proceedings so far as stock market operations were concerned.


San Francisco and the entire mining world were hurtled into a fever of excitement by proof of early reports of richness of the mining claims. The first stock issue was converted into two issues of 108,000 shares each, and by the middle of 1875 the speculative value of the two mines were close to $1,000,000,000. Shares went as high as $710.

It was said that in the first six months of 1875 the output of the miens averaged $1,500,000 monthly.

Seats on the San Francisco Stock and Exchange Board jumped to $25,000 each as a result of the excitment. Varied interests sought to obtain stock control of the rich properties and there came the inevitable crash in which many went to financial doom.

The "Bonanza Kings" profited, however, and late in 1875 Flood and O'Brien sought to become leaders in finance. After producing $133,471,000, Consolidated Virginia and California could not be operated profitably, but in the language of the street, the owners had "caught them coming and going."


The advent of Flood and O'Brien, operating independently of Fair and Mackay, into the financial field met fierce resistance from William Sharon and William C. Ralston of the Bank of California. As a result of a Titanic battle the Bank of California failed and Flood and O'Brien started the Bank of Nevada.

From that time on finance more than mining engaged Flood's time, and much of his wealth went into real estate.

James L. Flood was born in 1857, and therefore old enough to have taken a keen interest in the activities of his father. The son, however, developed more interest in real estate than in the more exciting ways of seeking wealth.


Included in the estate he left are the Flood building at Market and Powell streets, a country home at Menlo Park and many other parcels of property. He was interested in banking as a director and spent much money in charity.

Flood's first wife was Rose Fritz, to whom he had been married several years when the babe, now Mrs. Constance May Gavin, was taken into the home in 1893. Mrs. Rose Flood died in January, 1898, and in February of the next year Flood married her sister, Maude, now his widow. Of the second marriage two children are living, Mrs. Emma Stebbins, wife of Theodore Stebbins, and James flood. The daughter was born in 1900 and the son in 1908.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 25 July 1931. 4.


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