CA Places: Mark Hopkins Hotel

Some people today might think the luxury hotel on the crest of San Francisco’s Nob Hill just has a pretty name, but the elegant Mark Hopkins Hotel is named for a real 19th century person, constructed on land he once owned. New York merchant Mark Hopkins migrated west as a would-be prospector during the California Gold Rush. He tried gold mining for about three weeks in 1849 before he established a soon-flourishing wholesale grocery in newly-chartered Sacramento City. He sold his grocery interests circa 1854, to partner with Collis Huntington in a hardware store on downtown J Street. The two became friends with politically like-minded fellow pioneer merchants Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford, a future California governor.  Together these men were known as the Big Four when they were the principal entrepreneurs building the Central Pacific Rail Road in the 1860s, a venture that made all of them extremely wealthy. When railroad headquarters relocated to San Francisco in the early 1870s, Hopkins gave in to his wife’s entreaties for a hilltop residence at California and Mason Streets, granting her full rein for the project. Mary Frances Hopkins constructed a fabulous, multi-turreted, 40 room Gothic-style mansion replete with a built-in pipe organ, a massive atrium, and oak paneling inlaid with ebony, completed just weeks after Mark’s death in 1878. The mansion, donated to the San Francisco Art Association for use as a school by Mary Frances’s second husband Edward Searles after her death in 1891, was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The landmark Mark Hopkins Hotel opened in 1926, boasting architectural details and furnishings as opulent as Mrs. Mark Hopkins had ever dreamed of for her private home.