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 Francisco, shortly after he, with Mackey and O'Brien, amassed a tremendous fortune on the Comstock. Sitting in his block-square 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 specially 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 in 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 of home sites. Although 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 wheel marks 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.