Nob Hill

Nob Hill  was originally called Fern Hill, and is so steep that horse-drawn wagons could barely make it to the top.  As late as 1870, there were only two modest houses on it – one belonging to a doctor, the other to an undertaker.

It was difficult to get people or supplies up Nob Hill until 1873, when inventor Andrew Hallidie built a cable car line up Clay Street, the first in the world.  That same year, General David Colton, a lawyer and vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, built the first mansion on the hill, on what is now Huntington Park.

Cable car on California St. , circa 1880
The California Street cable car, opened in 1883, was the city's  the third cable line.  Today, it's the oldest of the three lines still in operation. 

By 1880, three of the Big Four -- Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins -- had built enormous mansions here, an incredible display of unimaginable wealth acquired by building railroads.  People started calling it Nob Hill,  “nob” being a slang term for a person with extravagant wealth.

Only two structures remained standing after the fire in 1906, both made of stone:  the sandstone mansion of Silver King James Flood, and the grey granite shell of the newly-built Fairmont Hotel. The Crocker family donated the property where their house once stood to their church, Grace Cathedral. The Huntingtons, who had taken over the Colton mansion, provided space for a park. Luxury hotels and apartment houses were built on the remaining properties.

Tents on the ashes of the Huntington and Crocker Mansions, in front of the ruins of the Flood mansion and the Fairmont Hotel, 1906.

Photos courtesy:  San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

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