Each day, sometimes twice a day, I walk past 3800 Washington Street in the Presidio Heights district of San Francisco. It is part-in-parcel of being a dog-owner in the city—to walk one’s neighborhood on a regular schedule with dog-in-tow. My ‘hood sits above the forest of The Presidio, and is sometimes called “Wuthering Heights” for the frequency and ferocity of the afternoon winds and the proclivities of its residents. This particular stretch of sidewalk is also known as the location of the final fatal shooting by the Zodiac Killer in 1969.
Not to be overlooked on this block is 3800 Washington Street. This “Greek style” estate was built as the Koshland Mansion between 1902 and 1905 as a mini-version of Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon in France. Yep, William Randolph Hearst had nothing on the owner of this grotesque rip-off of a French “mini-estate” of the Queen of France who is best known (however erroneously) for her phrase “let them eat cake” upon learning that the peasants had no bread—a tale tied to the beginnings of the French Revolution.
3800 Washington Street post-1906 earthquake
Across the pond in San Francisco, Presidio Heights is a none-to-shabby neighborhood (home prices range from $5 million to $50 million) but even in this neighborhood, the nearly 18,000 square foot gaudy structure stands out—and not in a good way.
In 1906 the estate suffered from the Great San Francisco Earthquake and was resurrected. But this story is not about the ancient history of this home, it is about its current status, and owner Halsey Minor—the man present at the birth of both c|net—the legendary dot-com media company (sold to CBS Interactive for $1.7 billion), and Salesforce.com where he was the largest financial investor in a company which achieved a market capitalization in excess of $15 billion.
However many millions Halsey has made over the years, rumors have persisted that he was a “multimillionaire who lived life as a billionaire”—a polite way of saying that even the exceedingly rich can live beyond their means.
In 2007 Minor purchased San Francisco’s version of Petit Trianon for somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million, and assigned another $15 million to its renovation—reportedly hiring Michael S. Smith, the well-known interior designer who was hired to redesign the interior rooms at the White House for the Obamas.
And then the Great Recession hit. Just as the Great Earthquake of 1906 had damaged 3800 Washington Street, the financial crisis of 2008 had its own impact on the estate, and Minor’s plans. By 2010 reports had surfaced that panicked bankers froze Minor’s accounts for fear of exposure to unpaid tens of millions of loans, which precipitated loan defaults (foreclosure) of Minor’s properties across the country.
“Merrill (Lynch) took away all my liquidity,” Minor told The New York Times in 2010. “I couldn’t sell anything.” Frozen yes, but penniless no. Minor said he had assets worth $207 million in 2008, and they are worth $125 million by 2010. “My death has been prematurely reported,” he said. The Times reported that Minor owned a $20 million house in Bel Air; a $7 million luxury-hotel project in Charlottesville, VA; had spent $25 million in bids for art at Sotheby’s and Christie’s; $15.3 million for a Virginia plantation; $6.3 million for two thoroughbred racehorses; and had put down a $3 million deposit on a soon-canceled order for a top-of-the-line Gulfstream jet.
With all of this financial turmoil, 3800 Washington was left frozen in a pre-rennovation state—with the grounds and façade clearly unkept—dead ivy covering the walls, weeds overgrowing the once-manicured garden. Forlorn and neglected, I witnessed teenage boys regularly using the marble entry staircases as a skateboarding ramp—clearly believing the house belonged to no one now.
The neighbors of the well-heeled neighborhood protested by asking the city to issue an abandoned building violation (two were issued on the property)—despite the fact that the 2,600 adjacent guest house was clearly being used as a residence. Notices have been taped to the front door—for abandonment claims, and foreclosure notices.
For a time, the California Franchise Tax Board, listed Minor is the largest tax delinquent in the state, owing around $10 million.
The dot-com wunderkind is now putting 3800 Washington Street on the open market, for $25 million. The 8-bedroom, 7-bath house comes with a 7-car garage, a 3-bedroom, 3-bath guest house and an extra lot which travels down to the next block.
Not to mention ties to earthquakes, serial killers, and dot-com millionaires.
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