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James Clair Flood’s Great White Elephant
August 18, 2014, 05:00 AM

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
James Flood’s Linden Towers " the Great White Elephant.

James Clair Flood (1826-1889) was an extremely clever man. He grew up in New York as a carriage builder after attending school to the eighth-grade.

After going to California in 1849, he worked the gold fields and met with some success. He then returned to New York state and married Mary Leary, an Irish woman who immigrated to the United States. Returning to San Francisco, Flood and a partner, William S. O’Brien, opened a saloon near the Mining Exchange. The Mining Exchange handled stock from the silver mines in Nevada. Flood was a good listener and, when the brokers came in for a drink, he listened to them. From this, he was able to learn enough to invest in silver stocks when they were on their way up in value. In 1860, Flood and O’Brien formed a partnership with Irishman James Graham Fair, a mine superintendent, and John William Mackay, a mining engineer. These men became known as the “Bonanza Kings” and made fortunes from this chaos that existed. In the 1870s, they joined forces with the Consolidated Virginia and the California claims in the Comstock Load. In 1873, they gained control of the stock in the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company. The company discovered the greatest silver bonanza in history. In the first six months of 1875, the mine’s output was said to be $1.5 million monthly.

Flood was the most unpopular of the partners because they thought he was manipulating the stocks. Flood and O’Brien began acting independently of Fair and Mackay and formed the Bank of Nevada after William Sharon and William Ralston and their Bank of California failed while trying to keep the Bank of Nevada afloat. After Flood’s mining experience in silver, real estate became his main concern in San Francisco.

While living in San Francisco, Flood built a mansion at 1000 California St. on Nob Hill. It was the first brownstone west of the Mississippi. The brownstone was shipped from a quarry in Portland, Connecticut around Cape Horn and built at the corner of California Street and Mason Avenue with architects Willis Polk and Augustus Laver. It was the only building beside the Fairmont Hotel that survived the 1906 fire. It was eventually bought by and became the Pacific Union Club.

But what do you do when you have more money that you dreamed of and you still yearn to impress people enough so that they remember you when you’re gone? As was the habit of many other wealthy men who achieved his status, he decided to build a monument for everyone to gaze in amazement. He purchased a farm on Middlefield Road and bought more land to equal 600 acres surrounding his mansion. He hired architects and builders and began a magnificent three-story building. He found towers excited him so he built a number of towers on this carpenter’s Gothic masterpiece. This made the mansion about three stories high when added up and he named it “Linden Towers.” He had delicately carved fancy work all over and then he painted the mansion white. It glistened in the sun but it was impressive enough to have visitors call it a magnificent white birthday cake.

Stables were finished in rare polished woods, silver harnesses for the horses which he had plenty of along with fine carriages that impressed everybody. Flood died in 1889 and he left his “white elephant” to his daughter. She in turn made it a gift to the University of California. The university decided to resell it to her brother. He kept it until his death in 1926. Due to its high taxes and upkeep, the furniture was auctioned off and the land sold. The mansion was demolished and the land to become a residential section of Menlo Park.   

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal. 



Tags: flood, california, mansion, silver, mining, after,

Other stories from today:

San Francisco police puzzling over park vandalism
Lawyers: FBI removed lead agent in corruption case
James Clair Flood’s Great White Elephant

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