Keep Oakland Beautiful Points of Interest remind us of how interesting and beautiful Oakland is and why we should care about protecting it. Located at 1418 Lakeside Drive, at the corner of 14th Street, the Camron-Stanford House is the last of a dying breed of 19th century mansions that once overlooked Lake Merritt. The house sits on a low rise, amidst eucalyptus, palms, and flowering shrubs. The front of the house faces Lakeside Drive, while the back has an expansive view of the lake and more distant Oakland Hills.
The architecture of the Camron-Stanford House is Italianate Victorian style. You can see the Italianate influence in the use of tall, narrow windows and the numerous, decorative brackets that uphold the overhang of the flat, parapet roof. Due to the lack of available stone and brick, 19th century Italianate homes in California were predominantly made of wood, making them somewhat unique. Incidently, the term ‘Victorian’ is used to depict the period coinciding with the reign of England’s Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Originally built by Samuel Merritt in 1876, the two-story house was purchased by Alice Marsh-Camron, using her vast family inheritance (her father, Dr. John Marsh was a pioneer settler in the East Bay and, despite the lack of a medical degree, is thought to be the first person in California to practice medicine). She and her husband, William Camron, a banker and politician, lived in the house for one year, along with their two daughters, Amy and Gracie. Unfortunately, Gracie passed away and, devastated, the family rented out the house and traveled to Europe. The house was sold in 1882.
Other residents of the house included David and Matilda Hewes (1877-1881), Josiah and Helen Stanford and family (1882-1903), and John and Terilla Wright (1903-1907).
David Hewes is known for removing the sand dunes on the peninsula across the bay, leveling the area of Market Street, and laying the groundwork for San Francisco’s City Hall. Hewes may be best known as the person who provided the golden spike used to connect the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines, thus completing the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory. If you’re interested in seeing this ceremonial ‘Last Spike,’ it’s on display at the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University. If you’re interested in learning about Chinese immigration and their role in the building of the transcontinental railroad, you might find this link to the United States Citizenship website informative: http://www.uscitizenship.info/Chinese-immigration-and-the-Transcontinental-railroad/
Josiah Stanford, brother of Leland Stanford (of transcontinental railroad fame and founder of Stanford University), made his mark by developing a method of extracting oil by tunneling, using the inexpensive manual labor of Chinese immigrants who came to America to work on the transcontinental railroad. Stanford became the first person to commercially produce petroleum in California.
John Wright, Jr. was a ‘49er,’ panning gold on the American River. He later worked for his family’s steamship business. Wright was part-owner of the first refrigerated container ship. By the time he bought the Camron-Stanford House, he was independently wealthy.
The City of Oakland purchased the Camron-Stanford House from the Wright family in 1907 and condemned all other private residences on Lake Merritt. In 1910, Mayor Mott established the Oakland Public Museum in the Camron-Stanford House. It was the first teaching museum west of the Mississippi River, continuing in existence until the mid-1960s.
The Oakland Museum of California, at 1000 Oak Street, opened in 1967, replacing the Oakland Public Museum and two other Oakland-based museums. To save the 90-year-old mansion from the wrecking ball, the Camron-Stanford House Preservation Association raised money to restore it to its former glory.
Since there were no photographs of earlier interiors, the renovation relied on pictures of other 19th century homes to select compatible wallpapers and period furnishings. Numerous items were donated by descendants of former residents and the new museum. Today, the building houses a beautiful collection of Victorian era American art and furnishings.
At 138 years of age, the Camron-Stanford House is a beautiful reminder of a former period and a true Oakland treasure. The building and furnishings are as interesting as the people who lived there. The house overlooking the lake is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as an Oakland Landmark. It is open for guided tours on Sundays at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm or by appointment by calling 510-874-7802. Admission is $5 (seniors are $4; children are free). We’re very fortunate to have such an Oakland jewel restored for all to enjoy.
Keeping Oakland Beautiful is everybody’s business.
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