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Linden Towers: James C. Flood Estate

  • Linden

    Tales of the San Francisco Peninsula by Theron G. Cady

    A series of articles first published in 'Peninsula Life Magazine'

    Published by C-T Publishers, San Carlos, CA, 1948 Linden Towers
           
    Along the bay side of Middlefield Road in Menlo Park is a red-brick fence which keeps pace with moving traffic for almost a mile.  Near the southern end of this long fence is a massive iron gateway which once led to beautiful Linden Towers, the elegant "White Castle" of the late James Clair Flood. 
       
    Linden Towers, a grand, three-story conglomeration of the woodworker's art, which stood so proudly behind the impressive wall of brick, has vanished like so many of the great homes of other bonanza kings.  Torn down shortly after the public auction of its rich contents in 1934, nothing remains of the scrollwork-festooned extravaganza of towers, gables, cupolas, and porticos except the iron gateways, the lodge, and the brick wall along the entire frontage. 
       

    The Menlo Park mansion of James C. Flood, which looked more like a house on a wedding cake than something to live in, and regarded by close neighbors as a "beautiful atrocity," was built in 1878.  The 600-acre tract on which the glamorous dwelling stood was once known as the Carroll property, a beautiful piece of level ground thickly dotted with oak trees and tall growing shrubs.  In the center of this lovely park James Flood built his home, a home that was designed to be finer than any other of that period. 
       

    With construction started, James Flood waited impatiently for three long years while the white spirals and scrollwork of Linden Towers slowly took form.  He fretted while gardeners showed him drawings and promised to transform some twenty-two acres into lush green bushes from far-off lands.  He nodded when they pointed at their plans and told him bronze fountains here and gleaming marble steps and balustrades there would add a distinctive touch.  Into this "dream house" James Flood poured much of his estimated wealth of $18,000,000 before it was finished and he was satisfied. 
       

    Plans for the building of Linden Towers were laid by James C. Flood, a one-time saloonkeeper of San Francsico, shortly after he, with Mackey and O'Brien, amassed a tremendous fortune on the Comstock.  Sitting in his block-sqare brownstone mansion on Nob Hill, surrounded by its glittering $30,000 brass rail, the bonanza king dreamed of the day when he could occupy his elaborate country home and live among the elite of Menlo Park. 
       

    It required three years to build and completely furnish Linden Towers, but when it was finished there was nothing lacking;  it was the grandest and most elaborate country home of the period.  Expert artisans, with huge sums of money at their disposal, purchased the most expensive materials and finest furnishings obtainable.  Rare and beautiful woods were selected throughout the world and brought to Linden Towers.  Art treasures from the Orient and Europe found their way to White Castle.  Italian masters were summoned to paint the exquisite murals, and England was called upon to weave unusual carpets with heavy nap to cover the many floors.  Crystal chandeliers, worth a small fortune, were especially designed and built for the Menlo Park mansion.  Copper and bronze work was in evidence everywhere, proclaiming Linden Towers the most lavish of all dwellings and the showplace of the Peninsula. 
       

    Two generations of the Flood family were reared in the forty or more rooms of the great mansion on Middlefield Road.  They entertained lavishly, and a house party was no party at all if forty of more guests were not in attendance.  Every whim and fancy of their guests was anticipated and provided for before their arrival.  A large game room with a gayly painted transom and glass mosaics of men playing cards, billiards, and chess, offered their guests many forms of relaxation.  The cues to the massive and beautifully carved billiard table were themselves works of art.  They were perfectly balanced and inlaid with intricate designs of mother of pearl. 
       

    The smoking room, where guests retired to enjoy a pipe or cigar, also claimed its share of decorations.  There were large murals on the wall, stained glass transoms and panels which, along with the expecially designed tapestry and chairs, carried appropriate motifs of tobacco leaves and graceful pipes.  The long hallways and great staircases, the drawing rooms and the dining room were a colorful medley or rich hangings, statues, and heavy carved furniture. 
       

    A queen could command no finer bed-chambers than those of Linden Towers.  Each bedroom had its own color scheme, which was carefully followed in the selection of drapes, linens, and the upholstery of overstuffed furniture.  Plumbing fixtures were of sterling silver, and the ornate soap dishes were richly embossed with the initials J.F. 
 
          
    James Flood, the proud owner of Linden Towers, enjoyed the splendor of his great estate for only a few years.  He died in 1889 at Heidelberg, Germany, while on a world tour.  The Flood mansion and the hundreds of acres surrounding it were left to his daughter, Miss Jennie Flood, who, after a time, found the place too large for her needs and gave it to the University of California.  The University soon found itself the owner of a "white elephant" and sought to dispose of the property.  James L. Flood, son of James Flood, Sr., for sentimental reasons, purchased the old family home for a sum in the neighborhood of $300,000.  He added to the original holdings by buying out toward the bay, and later purchased all of what was known as the Adams tract.  It was during this time that the old mine cable fence which ran along the entire frontage was replaced by the red-brick wall. 
       

    The gateway to Linden Towers was always open during the son's lifetime so that those less fortunate than he might walk or ride through the beautiful estate and enjoy the wonders of nature and the amazing things which the hand of man had wrought.  After his death in 1926 the estate was distributed, and a few years later Constance May Gavin, claiming to be a daughter of the late James L. Flood, sued the estate and won her right to a daughter's share. 
       

    The gateways still remain open, but instead of leading to the great "White Castle" they now open onto a maze of roadways lined with beautiful and modern homes of the present day.  The Flood estate, long regarded as the showplace of Menlo Park, recently has been subdivided and sold, part of it for a county park, the rest for home sites.  Althought the beauty of the vast estate has been preserved, its green lawns and ornate statues and fountains have made way for homes of a more modern design. 
       

    The great white house that stood so magnificently behind the trees on Middlefield Road was torn down following the public auction of its contents in 1934.  Heavy moving vans rumbled slowly up the driveways, obliterating the wheelmarks left by the carriages of the Floods, the Stanfords, the Athertons, and other old Peninsula families who called at Linden Towers.  Under the auctioneer's hammer went the famous dining-room table that had seated forty guests, and the carved high-back chairs, so heavy they required a strong man to move them.  With them went the beautifully carved sideboard that stretched twenty feet along the wall and reached fifteen feet toward the ceiling. 
       

    All of the portable treasures of Linden Towers soon became scattered up and down the Peninsula.  Not only the furniture, but the marble fireplaces and the rosewood panels, as well, fell into the hands of the highest bidder.  To the property room of the movies went the crystal chandeliers and other priceless pieces of furniture.  In a Hunter's Point cafe, surrounded by dancing couples, stands a carved mantel-piece that once graced the great Flood home in Menlo Park. 
       

    Piece by piece the paintings, statues, odd bits of Victorian bric-a-brac, and the heavy furniture of the Middlefield Road mansion gradually vanished.  Then came the wrecking crews with crowbars and hammers, and Linden Towers was torn asunder.  The great white house costing something like $25,000 just to paint is gone.  The twenty-two acres of green lawns that required the combined efforts of six gardeners to keep in trim still remains, but the greater part of this wooded estate has been carved into smaller plots and landscaped to meet the rapid growth of the Peninsula.
     
    © 1948 Theron G. Cady. All rights reserved.
    Posted on www.sfgenealogy.com with permission of his granddaughter, Andrea Van Norman.

James Flood's Fortune

  • James  James Clair Flood (1826 – 1888) was born on Staten Island, N.Y. to Irish immigrant parents. He had an eighth grade education, and was then apprenticed to a New York carriage maker. In 1849 he sailed for San Francisco and the Gold Rush. After some success in the mines, he returned east to marry Mary Emma Leary of Wexford County, Ireland. They were back in San Francisco by 1854, and in 1857 he opened a saloon with partner William S. O'Brien. [ed addition]



    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.

    PARTNERS IN A SALOON

    In 1852, young James Clair Flood, a wheelwright by trade, opened a livery stable and wagon-repair place in San Francisco. Soon, he became close friends with a nearby merchant, William Shoney O'Brien, who owned a marine supplies store. Business in the depression-ridden 1850s was so bad that neither shop did well, so the two men decided to form a partnership and go into a business that depended less on the vagaries of the economy: a saloon.

    The Auction Lunch opened in 1857 at the corner of Pacific and Stockton Streets. James' wife, Mary Emma, served a fine stew and other Irish comfort foods at the bar and grill, and the place became a Barbary Coast favorite.

    Flood and O'Brien prospered. Flood served drinks and chatted with everyone who entered the Auction Lunch, learning their business styles and prospects. O'Brien, stood outdoors in a top hat and morning coat congenially talking to passersby and inviting them into the establishment. Throughout the day, Flood and O'Brien asked patrons about their business dealings, receiving advice on how to survive in the volatile economy.
    (Source: Under the Oaks by Pamela Gullard and Nancy Lund)

    Flood and O'Brien were partners in a saloon on Washington street when they joined interests with James G. Fair and John W. 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.

    STOCK GAMBLING FEVER

    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."

    BRINGS BANK FAILURE

    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.

    INTERESTED IN BANKS

    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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