San Francisco History

Stanford's Nob Hill Mansion

“Stanford’s Home.

“The Largest Private Residence in the State.

“One Hundred Workmen Preparing for the Foundation—A Magnificent Site—Full Description of the Architect’s Plans—A Palatial Interior.

“Leland Stanford is about to erect a large and handsome mansion on the east half of the vacant block bounded by California, Pine, Powell, and Mason streets. The plans are already prepared by the well-known architects, Messrs. Bugbee & Sons, and a hundred workmen have been for some time preparing the ground for the foundations. The site is one of the finest in the city, commanding a view northward past Alcatraz and the Two Brothers, eastward to the Coast Range, southward to San Jose and beyond, and southwestward to the Twin Peaks. From this point the whole city seems to be in a green basin at the feet of the observer. The depots and offices of the Central Pacific Railroad are in full view from the south windows. Mr. Stanford expects to have a residence that will be a comfortable home for himself and family for the remainder of his life, and a worthy place for the entertainment of such friends as he desires to have immediately about him.


“Will be imposing, and the interior commodious and elegant with all modern appliances considered essential to comfort. The ground will be terraced up on all sides, throwing the structure into greater relief. The basement is to be of brick, the two stories above it of wood, with handsome ornaments. The lot is 412 1/2 x 275 feet in size. The house will be about 125 feet square on the ground, and the largest private residence in the State. The main front on California street will be in the composite style of architecture and quiet elaborate, having flat windows and a porch 50 feet long by 14 feet broad, supported by sixteen Corinthian columns. The steps and buttresses of the porch are to be of marble. The house will have a hip roof, giving a high attic, surmounted by an iron cresting and ornamental chimneys. The roof will be covered with copper. The other three sides of the house will have the same general dimensions and appearance, but will be relieved by bow windows. The carriage porch will be on the Powell-street front. The rear front will be relieved by a balcony and conservatory.


“Will contain a supper room 30 x 70 feet, to be used as a refreshment room on great occasions; a play-room 20 x 30 feet, a breakfast room 28 x 16 feet, and a kitchen 18 x 29 feet, with butler’s pantry and other domestic rooms and offices. It will be seen from the dimensions that the rooms will have something of a grandeur of an old baronial hall. The interior of the house will be finished in hard woods, very elegantly, but without needless ornament.


“Will open into a hall twenty feet wide by one hundred feet in length, widening in the center of the building into a rotunda thirty feet in diameter, reaching to the roof. This rotunda will be one of the handsomest features of the interior, being ornamented with sixteen Corinthian columns, and surrounded in the second story by a handsome railing. At the right of this long hall are placed in order the parlor, 36 x 28 feet, the art-room, 55 x 30 feet (really a part of the parlor) and the dining-room, 52 x 28 feet. On the left or east side of the hall, beginning at the entrance, are the reception room, 28 x 36 feet, the library, 42 x 30 feet, and a billiard-room and sitting-room of somewhat less dimensions. This last suite will be the ordinary living rooms of the family, and will have a charming outlook across the bay. The rooms on the main floor are spacious, and can all including the dining-room, be drawn into one grand apartment when a large number of guests are present.


“On the second floor will be of grand proportions. There will be twenty-five sleeping apartments in the entire house. At the rear of the main hall is to be a conservatory, just back of the grand staircase. The grand staircase will be of hard California woods, with looking-glasses in the panels, and statuary on the newal-posts. The rotunda will also be handsomely adorned with statuary and pictures. The servants’ stairway is to be separate running from basement to attic. The house will have an elevator; elaborate heating apparatus; and all minor necessaries in keeping with the details given. it certainly bids fair to be all that Mr. Stanford desires, a really elegant and thoroughly comfortable California home. The west half of the block will be occupied by Mark Hopkins, who will soon erect on it a fine residence—the plans of which are not yet drawn.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle. 7 February 1875. 1. 

“An Art Treasure

“The Decorations of the Stanford Mansion.

“To the art features of the Stanford mansion, which are unique in every way, does the magnificent establishment owe its chief excellence as an aesthetic work. With one fundamental idea in the scheme of ornamental, the work throughout cannot be found to be equalled throughout the United States; and in completeness, variety and high taste but few palaces of Europe excell it.

“The treasures of art seem to have been lavished almost indiscriminately upon the whole. Mr. G. G. Gariboldi, the artist, was given a carte blanche, and the work—the whole of it from his designs, and much of it by his own handle—ranks him as the first of painters and decorators. To speak in detail of the paintings and ornamentation we begin at the entrance of the mansion, which is up a noble flight of stone stairs, flanked on each side at the first rise by tall, square pillars, surmounted by gas-lamps of elegant patterns. From the stairs we enter the vestibule, which is executed in mosaic, with a centre figure representing “Fidelity,” typified by a stalwart hound seated quietly at vigilant rest, and as if guarding the entrance to the house. The entrance hall is decorated with frescoes, worked in light and shade, in the Greco-Italian style. The ceilings are in white and gold blended with blue, of which the centre piece contains a large picture representing “Abundance” and the scripture “Welcome to Visitors” with the Latin legend Pax Vebis (peace be with you.) From this we come directly beneath the noble rotunda, which may be appropriately considered the crown and glory of the whole work. The circle around the mezzo rotunda is frescoed in the Greco-Italian style, with seven figured subjects representing the seven days of the week. The floor beneath the rotunda is decorated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac in Mosaic antique. In this hall there is one other ceiling decorated in the same manner, but with figures in the Etruscan style, and representing incidents of Etruscan home life. The marbleized walls of the lower hall are finished in a peculiar and indestructible marble cement, a patented process of Mr. G. G. Gariboldi, and for which he holds letters patent. The artistically carved woodwork of the windows and doors of the chambers fronting in both stories, on the light wall, are the work of Pottiers and Stymers.

“To briefly sketch the general idea of the ornamentation, we will say that the general style of the ceiling and rotunda of the upper hall is that of the Neo-Pompean method—which is a mixture of the Modern and Antique. The ceiling of the grand dome is divided into eight large panels. Each panel has a picture, four of which, fourteen by ten, are figured with noble allegorical groups of female figures representing the four quarters of the globe. The other four panels are finished with emblematic figures personifying “Fine Arts,” “Mechanics,” “Agriculture” and “Literature.” The motive of this decoration of the rotunda was doubtless to present the documentary and historic character of Italian art. Each of the main chambers, sitting-rooms, chambers, parlors, etc.—-ten in number—besides the supper-room, are all beautifully frescoed, and in every one the style is varied, but always preserving a unison of colors so as to be in harmony with the other furnishings of the apartments. The drawing and coloring of the human figures are very beautiful and unmarred by the least fault of taste. The elaboration in the purely decorative figures, which are profuse in number and endless in variety, shows more than anything else how almost infinite the labor must have been and how complete the knowledge of forms possessed by the designing artist. Over five months of labor were expended on the work by Mr. Gariboldi, who was aided by sixteen assistants. Though the dwelling of a private gentleman, the Stanford mansion is as purely a high work of art as a great historical picture, and as such it is an honor and a glory to our city to have it in its midst.”

Source: Daily Alta California. 7 April 1876. 1. 


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