Bourn Mansion – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco, California

Bourn Mansion

A brooding mansion of clinker brick stands out among the Victorian houses of Pacific Heights. 

William Bourn II was said to be the richest man in San Francisco. Inheriting a fortune in mining, and then later building up Pacific, Gas and Electric, now known as PG&E. In fact he may have even been one of the richest men in the world when he built his grandiose town house in the posh neighborhood of Pacific Heights.

Modest by Bourn’s standards, this 27-room mansion was built in 1896 by Willis Polk. A masterpiece of the bricklayers’ and stonemasons’ arts, the mansion was only one of the elaborate buildings Bourn owned, the likes of which included palatial Empire Mine in Grass Valley, CA., and the Bourn’s famous estate, Filoli in Woodside.

Despite it’s classic, upper crust beginnings, the 70’s were a crazy time in San Francisco, and the mansion saw it’s share of debauchery. Purchased by eccentric Arden Van Upp, what was once a classy, Georgian-style home became a swinging party pad. The perfect place for lavish hedonism, the mansion was visited by rockstars, movie stars, porn stars, and overflowed with good drugs, fine wines, and sexual abandon.

Eventually, the party ended, and like most narcissistic eccentrics, Arden Van Upp fell out of favor, while the house fell into disrepair. She became a shut in, her only companions her white Chinchilla Persian cats. Garbage piled up, as did the debt and the lawsuits. Eventually, Van Upp became bankrupt and the house was deemed uninhabitable. By 1998, the mansion was so decimated that the homeless people squatting inside had to move onto the yard.

The house was finally cleaned up and sold at auction in 2010, and despite assessments that repair would cost quite a bit more than the house is worth, it remains a Historical Landmark and still stands at 2550 Webster Street. Locals who are attached to the mansion with the hard-luck story are hoping that the new owners are willing to restore it’s former beauty, despite the cost.