The history of Stanford Court Hotel goes back over a hundred years, beginning not with a hotel, and not even with the now famously opulent neighborhood of Nob Hill.
In many ways, the foundation of Stanford Court Hotel was laid in the industrial revolution, over a century before the hotel itself was built. In the 1840s, as the United States entered a time of unprecedented development, a discovery in the westernmost area of the Mexican territory known as “Alta California” would enhance one man’s fortune beyond belief, begin a famous legacy that endures to this day, and give the newly born state of California its enduring nickname, “The Golden State.”
When gold was found in Coloma, California in 1848 the news hit like a lightning strike — both nationally and internationally. More than 300,000 people picked up and moved west in hope of striking it rich. President James Polk confirmed the discovery in an address to Congress in late December of 1848. So by the time 1849 rolled around, the migration was underway, with a wave of immigrants soon dubbed “the forty-niners.”
Up until the gold rush, not many people had heard of San Francisco — there were only about 1,000 residents. But with the gold rush came an incredible rush of residents. In two years, by 1850, the city’s population had exploded to more than 25,000 people. Nob Hill was at that time, well ... just a hill. Soon, because of its central location and elevation, the area caught the eye of several prominent tycoons, including a man named Leland Stanford, who would go on to build their estates there. Ever since, the hill has been known as Nob Hill, “nob” being a shorted version of “nabobs,” which is an old Anglo-Indian term for a wealthy man.
After losing his law library and other property to a fire in New York — it wouldn’t be the last time, unfortunately — Leland Stanford migrated to California to get in on the gold-rush action. He quickly became a successful merchant and wholesaler and went on to found the Central Pacific Railroad in 1861, the same year he was elected governor. Stanford also served eight years as a senator from 1885 to 1893. The most famous establishment bearing his name is, of course, Stanford University, which was founded by Leland and his wife, Jane.
The land upon which Stanford Court Hotel now stands was originally Leland Stanford’s estate. Built in 1876, the mansion cost $2 million at the time ($43 million if it were built today). But as fate would have it, another fire — and much worse — would visit Stanford’s property once more. It was the 1906 earthquake, which leveled almost the entirety of Nob Hill. So catastrophic was the destruction that mansions not destroyed by the earthquake or the ensuing fires were dynamited by the Army forces in order to aid the firefighting efforts by creating firebreaks.
In 1912, a real estate investor named Lucien H. Sly purchased the land and built the original incarnation of Stanford Court — the Stanford Court Apartments. This luxurious and well-known version of the property endured until the apartments were sold, completely remodeled, and reopened as Stanford Court Hotel in 1972. When you visit, look for a large basalt and granite wall topped with a wrought iron fence at the eastern edge of the property. It was part of the original Leland Stanford estate.