PAST OWNERS OF SAN FRANCISCO’S MOST ICONIC MANSION

Adrian & Lee Herbst Gruhn, 1967 - 2010

 

In 1967, A. Adrian Herbst Gruhn and his wife, Lee Herbst Gruhn, purchased the home.  Adrian owned the Great Western Furniture Company, a 15-store chain.  Lee was a renown singer in Hollywood’s top Jazz and Supper Clubs.  Mr. Herbst Gruhn met his future wife, Lee, in 1965 while he was in Los Angeles on business. 

 

Lee was a child prodigy who possessed an amazing a 5-Octave range.  Born in Topeka, Kansas, Lee began singing in Kansas City jazz clubs at the tender age of 16.  At age 18, she moved to Chicago where she headlined jazz clubs throughout the city.  Shortly after arriving in town, Lee entered Chicago’s Harvest Moon Festival, hosted by Bob Hope.  The contest was broadcast coast-to-coast on the NBC radio network.  Lee won “Best Female Vocalist”.  Her prize was an appearance on Ed Sullivan’s “Talk of the Town” show in New York.  From there, Lee signed a contract to tour the country with such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace, and Lou Rawls.  After touring the country for two years, Lee settled in Hollywood.  There she sang in clubs and recorded with the Nelson Riddle band.

 

Upon their marriage in 1967, Mr. and Mrs. Herbst Gruhn purchased their San Francisco home. The couple began a lifelong patronage of the arts.  They were frequent donors to both established and fledging performing arts organizations.  Mr. Herbst Gruhn also supported art museums, with an emphasis on Asian Arts.  In 1970, the couple made the largest single contribution, $350,000, ($2,000,000 in 2012 dollars) to help secure the Avery Brundage collection of Asian art, among the largest Asian art collections in the world, for the De Young Museum. The collection is now housed at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. They also made generous donations to refurbish the Veteran’s Auditorium, which was then renamed Herbst Hall to honor his grandfather, and to Glide Memorial Church. Adrian also served on the boards of directors of the San Francisco Opera’s Merola training program, the American Conservatory Theatre, and the San Francisco Ballet, and Lee sat on several arts councils.

 

In addition to their financial donations supporting the arts, Mr. and Mrs. Herbst Gruhn opened their home on a monthly basis, hosting fundraising events in support of San Francisco non-profit organizations.  Because of their major contributions to San Francisco arts and culture, Mayor Alioto awarded the couple the “Key to the City”.

 

Following her husband’s death in 1982, Lee remained active in community causes and continued the tradition of opening her home for charitable events.  Lee loved holidays, especially Halloween.  For 20 years, Lee gave away stuffed animals to generations of San Francisco children.  One year, Lee gave away, a record, 4,000 stuffed animals to the delight of thousands of costumed children who came to Herbst Manor from throughout the City.

 

Lee lived in the home until she passed away in 2010. Today, Herbst Manor is owned by Lee’s nephew and his wife—Mark and Karen Montoya. The Montoya’s have continued the family legacy of opening Herbst Manor to San Francisco arts and community organizations for fundraising purposes.

 

John A. McGregor, 1914 - 1967

 

In 1914, John A. McGregor, a Canadian, and his wife, Elisa, purchased the property. Mr. McGregor had been treasurer of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and after Bethlehem’s shipbuilding division bought Union Iron Works in 1905, he became the latter company’s president. The Mechanic’s Monument at Bush, Battery, and Market streets is dedicated to the precursor of Union Iron Works. The company built ships for both World Wars, and still operates in the earliest remaining structure on Pier 70. Mr. McGregor sat on the Park Commission and Board of Supervisors, and was an avid supporter of the San Francisco Symphony, the Boy Scouts, and Calvary Presbyterian Church. The wedding of his daughter, Katie-bel, to John Lukenbach at the flower-filled home in 1916 was a celebrated social event. The McGregors’ son, Campbell, who lived in the home in the 1940s, loved opera so much that he bankrolled two lower budget opera companies that publicly sparred with one another for audiences and for a short time, competed with the San Francisco Opera.

 

Herman Shainwald, 1906 - 1914

 

By 1906, just before the San Francisco earthquake, Herman Shainwald and his wife, Mathilde Gregory Shainwald, had purchased the property from Ms. Spooner. Mr. Shainwald was President of Shainwald, Buckbee & Co, which was founded in 1887 and later evolved into Buckbee Thorne & Co. For over 25 years, Shainwald was one of the most prominent realtors in the Bay area. Mrs. Shainwald passed away in 1908. Following a disabling accident in 1910, Mr. Shainwald passed away in 1915, leaving a $100,000 life insurance policy.

 

Sarah Mathilde Spooner, 1899 - 1906

 

In 1899, Sarah Mathilde Spooner, a wealthy Philadelphian art collector, commissioned Ernest Coxhead to build the “twostory attic and basement residence.” She purchased the lot for $10, and the construction was filed as costing $12,854. Ms. Spooner traveled widely and amassed an immense, eclectic art collection that lined the walls of her home. She loaned works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and was an early supporter of the “Museum at the Park” that later became the De Young. In 1904, Ms. Spooner donated over 1400 art objects worth more than $50,000 to the De Young. Among these were rare ceramics, antique lace, tapestries, miniature paintings on ivory, and valuable paintings including “Shepherd and Flock” by French naturalist painter Jean-François Millet, whose work was later considered to have inspired Van Gogh, and pieces by two important artists from the Barbizon School of landscape painters, a landscape by Charles-François Daubigny and “Twilight” by Jules Dupré. In 1910, a young German artist, William Kunze, sliced the Millet painting from its frame at the De Young Museum and slipped past the guards. When apprehended by Pinkerton detectives, he claimed that he was spellbound by the beauty of the work, and absconded with it only to copy Millet’s technique. After Ms. Spooner’s sudden death during a trip to Germany in 1914, the De Young received a large bequest from her will, and some of these works were displayed in the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exhibition.

 

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Research and copy courtesy of Lisa Rosenberg.

Thanks to David Parry for his verification of architectural details.