The Athertons


Atherton Mansion
1990 California
Charles and George Moore, builders 1881
Front Addition: attributed to A. Page Brown, architect 1891


Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library, AAA-5684

Wealthy matriach Dominga Atherton raised seven children on a large estate in San Mateo county near the town now carries their name. After the death of her husband, Faxton, she decided to spend more time in the city.  She built a rather plain, two story home, that is now the back section of the house.  The tower and the other oddly-shaped structures at the front, along with heavy decorative trim that rings the entire structure,  were added by the next owner Edgar Mills (brother of Darius who owned the Mills Building downtown) sometime around 1890. Edgar hired New York architect A. Page Brown, who was recommended by Mary Crocker.  Brown later designed  San Francisco’s Ferry Building.    

Photo Credit: San Francisco Public Library AAA-5420

Who Haunts this House?

 Some claim that 1990 California St. is haunted by Dominga Atherton’s son  George.  George was always trying to escape the control of domineering women.  He knew his Catholic mother would never approve of his plan to marry a much older, twice-divorced woman , so he secretly eloped with his girlfriend's 17-year-old daughter instead.  His wife, Gertrude Franklin Atherton, constantly embarrassed him  by writing a series of short stories and novels with storylines designed to create gossip, and by shamelessly flirting with other men.
In 1887, after ruining several business opportunities, George was sailing to Chile, his mother's native country, when he became ill and suddenly died.  His cousin was traveling with him, and it's said he cut out George’s heart and vowed to carry  it with him to Chile. The rest of George’s body was stuffed in a barrel of brandy and shipped back to San Francisco.  Gertrude and Dominga learned of his death only after the barrel arrived.  . 
Others say this house is haunted by Carrie Rousseau, who moved into the mansion with her Charles husband around 1910, and lived there for over 60 years.  Charles was an architect who divided the house into apartments in the 1930s.  After Charles died, Carrie shared her apartment with more than 50 cats, until her death at age 91, in 1974.  The house is still apartments today.  
Photo credit:  San Francisco Public Library AAA-5421  

Gertrude Franklin Atherton

Novelist
1858 - 1948

 Gertrude Atherton was a colorful, controversial figure and one of the most prolific and popular writers of her time. 
Trapped in a miserable marriage at a young age,  Gertrude began to secretly write romantic stories  based on gossip overhead from her in-laws and their wealthy friends.   Gertrude published the stories in popular magazine under an assumed name, using  first "Asmodeus" a mythical Prince of Lust, and then Frank Lin, because of her distant relation to Ben Franklin.  Unable to resist the call of fame, she quickly  revealed herself as the true writer.
After her husband’s death in 1887, she fled to New York and then to Paris where she was encouraged by Ambrose Bierce and later Gertrude Stein.  She published over 50 books, many sensational and controversial.  She claimed to write 1,000 words every day, a practice she continued  until her death in 1948 at 90 years of age. A  plaque commenerating the 125th anniversary of her birth can be found along a path on the Washington St side of Lafayette Park.
Photo credit:  San Francisco Public Library AAA- 5399  
  

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