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Whitter Mansion: San Francisco’s Haunted Architecture

Updated on January 3, 2011
San Francisco's Historic Whittier Mansion. Is it haunted?
San Francisco's Historic Whittier Mansion. Is it haunted?

William Franklin Whittier. Even the name sounds distinguished. And the stately mansion that was constructed by the man of this distinguished name continues to do justice to the imposing image the name provokes to this very day. Located in San Francisco, this mansion has a lot of history associated with it. And some people say that some of that history involves being haunted by local ghosts!

The Whittier Mansion, built in approximately 1895 on a hill in what is now known as the Pacific Heights Neighborhood of San Francisco, is a building with a refined appearance that stands out in contrast to the colorful Victorian architecture for which San Francisco is best known In all honestly, it almost looks a little dark compared to flirty, fun San Francisco but its architecture is impressive and amazing.  The Whittier Mansion is made of red sandstone and boasts 30 rooms including a 24’ x 32’ entrance hall with carved oak paneling, an octagon-shaped smoking room with mahogany paneling, and a 36’ x 54’ ballroom. It is 16,000 square feet in size, with thirty rooms spread out over its four stories. Can you imagine being a single family living inside of a space like that?!

In addition to the grandiose design of the rooms of this mansion, the German silver hardware located throughout the house and the towers and gorgeous exterior façade are enhanced by the architectural history associated with the home. The Whittier Mansion was the first ever location to be designed with a stone structure over a steel frame, a design that eventually became frequently used in the area and ultimately throughout the world. The Whittier Mansion is truly an icon of architectural genius, and it is a place that has stood out in the area in this way since it was first constructed.

Who was the man behind the construction of such an elegant location? Whittier was a local San Francisco Bay Area businessman who made his fortune by dipping his finger in to the trades of being a merchant, a shipper and a railroader. Although it sounds like only pennies today, the $152,000 price tag on the mansion was a lot of money back when it was first constructed, money that Whittier could easily toss around since he was one of the area’s first millionaires. Being a millionaire back then was a big deal!

But money couldn’t save Whittier’s life from distress. The mansion was created as a gift for his wife, a woman with whom he was desperately in love, a woman to whom he wanted to give the world. Surely, she would have appreciated the magnificence of this gift had she lived. However, such was not to be the Whittier fate. Just before the completion of the mansion’s construction, Mrs. Whittier was involved in a carriage accident that ended in her tragic and untimely death.

Whittier probably struggled for awhile with the decision of whether or not to move in to the mansion after all, given that his wife had never even seen its final beauty, but he ultimately made the decision to go ahead and live in the house without her. He moved in to the home with his son, Billy, a man who was known around town primarily for his carousing and his immature behavior. Billy made use of the elaborate resources earned by his father to carve out a life of luxury for himself. In modern day terms, Billy would be known as a silver spoon baby who turned into a slacker.

Billy and his father did not spend a significant amount of time talking with one another. They had an uneasy relationship that was spent primarily trying to avoid dealing with one another too often. They lived mostly quiet lives, each playing the strong silent type as he tried to work out his feelings over the death of Mrs. Whittier. Mr. Whittier died in the home in 1917. Billy remained until the late 1930’s.

The interesting history of the Whittier mansion does not end when the Whittiers were no longer a part of its life, though. In 1940 the Whittier mansion was acquired by the German government for use as their German consulate. Historical associations with the location related to this time include events hosted by Adolph Hitler’s commanding officer Fritz Wiedemann and his eventual burning of all secret papers in the furnace of the mansion, an occurrence that took place at the beginning of the Second World War.

After extensive investigation of the mansion stemming from this association with Germany during wartime, the home was acquired by the Mortimer Adler Institute for Philosophical Research and then moved on to being the home of the California Historical Society. At the present time, it has returned to being a private home. It is clearly a home with a rich history.

And perhaps the Whittiers were never quite able to leave behind the physical gem of their lives. To this day, one or both of the male Whittiers reportedly haunts the mansion. The basement is said to always have an icy chill and the shadowy outline of a male figure is apparently seen there. Most people believe that the shadow belongs to the elder Mr. Whittier who has remained behind in the home that he constructed for the love that he lost. But some say that it is actually the younger Mr. Billy Whittier who is still enjoying the fruits of his father’s success by bothering the guests of the home in which he indulged in the good life throughout his living years.

What do you think is going on in San Francisco’s Whittier Mansion?


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  • profile image

    Debbi Harrow 5 years ago

    San Francisco sounds like an interesting place. I'd like to visit there sometime. I love how it's rich in history and ghost stories. I'll be sure to get the book Ghosts of San Francisco. I'm sure it will be a great read.

  • amybradley77 profile image

    amybradley77 7 years ago

    Thanks for your work here voted up , very good info. you did your homework here for sure. I have always felt many of these older building have much more to tell, then what meets the eyes, this is a good affirmation of this for me as well, thanks again. I find your work not only very interesting, but also motivating and inspiring with my own writting here. A.B.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    Brilliant hub about a beautiful house. Very interesting.

  • rebepa3 profile image

    rebepa3 7 years ago from New York

    wow! Great article!

  • Iontach profile image

    Iontach 7 years ago

    Awww that's sad that his wife died...reminds me of some sort of movie. The house really does have a random history.

  • Docmo profile image

    Mohan Kumar 7 years ago from UK

    Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing..