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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tourism for Locals: Danielle Steel's Hedge-Lined Spreckels' Mansion

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Steel's bush needs a trim or wax. - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • Steel's bush needs a trim or wax.

There's a house in San Francisco that is shrouded in history and mystique.

Built at the turn of the 20th century, it's an opulent mansion with 55 rooms among three floors -- its contents closely guarded by a massive security barrier.

Seems like the kind of place to be part of a mystery, or romance, novel and how fitting because it's the home of a celebrity author.

Spreckels Mansion is the home of best selling romance author Danielle Steel and she has it surrounded by a massive, approximately 30-foot-high shrub barrier. The hedge itself has its own celebrity status -- caused by a controversy.

The historic residence is located at 2080 Washington (between Gough and Octavia) in front of Lafayette Park, in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood. Built in 1912, this French Baroque chateau was designed for Adolph and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels by George A. Applegarth, according to the Historical American Buildings Survey.

click to enlarge The mansion in 1960, before the bush got wild. - HISTORICAL AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY
  • Historical American Buildings Survey
  • The mansion in 1960, before the bush got wild.

Adolph Spreckels was the son of San Francisco sugar tycoon Claus Spreckels. He inherited and expanded his father's sugar empire to include Hawaiian and Californian sugar cane and sugar beet farms.

His wife, Alma de Bretteville, was born the daughter of poor Danish immigrants in the Sunset District. Her beauty and involvement in the art world led her to be a muse for local artists -- most notably for sculptor Robert Aitken, who modeled the statue atop of the Dewey Monument in Union Square in her image, according to the Historical American Buildings Survey.

At about this time, Alma was introduced to Adolph who dated her for five years before marrying her in 1908 when he was 50 and she was 24.

Totally gives new meaning to the word sugar daddy, right?

Adolph Spreckels died in 1924 and his wife inherited his empire and the mansion. Alma de Bretteville Spreckels remained in her home until her death in 1968. The home was then split into four luxury apartments by the Spreckels' daughters until they sold it to celebrity author Danielle Steel, who converted it back to a single home residence.

(Fun fact: The Spreckels Mansion had even a supporting role in the 1957 movie Pal Joey playing Frank Sinatra's nightclub called Chez Joey.)

click to enlarge Danielle Steel and her "bushy" responses. - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • Danielle Steel and her "bushy" responses.

Danielle Steel is currently the best selling author alive and the fourth greatest selling author of all time -- with only a mere 800 million copies of her books printed and sold. Her books have been translated into 28 languages, with 22 adapted for television, including two that have received Golden Globe nominations.

Early this year, the house made headlines once again.

In late December of 2013, the Chronicle began a series of comic critiques of Steel's bush calling it "comically offputting." C.W. Nevis, a Chronicle columnist published a blog post where he explained how the massive topiary represents her character. He explained the articles like this:

I may have made a little fun of the hedge that conceals Steel's San Francisco house. Actually, as I wrote, it isn't really a hedge. It's more like a huge, botanical freak of nature. Chronicle architectural critic John King, who started all this (you're welcome John, enjoy the view from the underside of the bus) called it "comically off-putting."

Steel, not one to back down from a writing challenge, responded to The Chronicle with the following statement:

Sometimes, I think San Francisco hates successful people. No matter what I do, people say nasty stuff. I mean the world is falling apart and people complain about my hedge. It's a mystery.

Nevius then responded with another column with the following quote:

... that's when we solve the mystery. It isn't that San Francisco hates successful people. It's snobs we don't like.

Steel then fired back with a letter to the editor, in which she deplores the obsession over her out of control bush and believes that San Francisco is losing its heart.

It didn't help when her ex-husband, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, said that people who accuse the rich and Danielle Steel's hedge are acting like the Nazi's did in World War II toward Jews.

But enough about the controversy, let's get back to the house itself. Our advice is to take in the massive freak-of-beauty at sunset, but -- the best way to enjoy the view is to bust out your favorite trashy romance novel (Maybe one of Steel's?) and read it in the park benches situated in front of the mansion. Then you'll truly have an epic backdrop for those passionate kisses.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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