Going under the Kosh

The sale of a $25 million mansion modeled on Marie Antoinette’s favourite retreat that has connections to Levi Strauss & Co., Yehudi Menuhin, the Zodiac Killer and a controversial dot-com tycoon


Modeled on the Petit Trianon, a small château in the grounds of Versailles that was favoured by Louis XVI’s wife Marie Antoinette, the Koshland Mansion at 3800 Washington Street in Presidio Heights, San Francisco, California was built between 1902 and 1904 for a pioneer wool, hide and fur merchant named Marcus S. Koshland and his wife, Corrine.


The Washington Street elevation of the former Koshland Mansion at 3800 Washington Street, San Francisco, California, CA 94118

An aerial view of the 18,000 square foot property and the 2,600 square foot guest accommodation

The inspiration for the Koshland Mansion: The Petit Trianon, Château de Versailles, Place d’Armes – 78000 Versailles, France

The Koshlands, whose son Daniel (1920 – 2007) was to become a president of Levi Strauss & Co., commissioned an architect named Frank S. Van Tree to design a replica of the Petit Trianon after having admired it whilst on holiday in France. The front of the building, facing onto Washington Street, is considered such a faithful representation of the neoclassical building the Koshlands copied and as a result the house is now designated a San Francisco Designated Landmark.


Daniel E. Koshland, Jr.

Some 20,000 square foot in size and set on a 2/3rd acre plot, the completion of this sandstone faced “single family residence” was celebrated by the Koshland family with a Marie Antoinette themed ball in 1904. The invitations to this legendary event were purchased and printed in Paris and hand delivered to the guests.


The Koshland Mansion survived San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake with only a little damage to the front elevation

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, just two years after they’d completed the building, somewhat interrupted the Koshlands hectic party schedule at 3800 Washington Street. Though the disaster caused the front columns and roof balustrade to collapse, the couple generously opened the otherwise undamaged property to some 60 to 80 displaced family and friends. With no mains water, the guests had to fetch water from Fort Mason but they were no doubt happy to have had somewhere to take refuge.


During subsequent renovations, as well as restoring the façade, a 5-car garage was added in 1909 and a greenhouse and extension in 1912. In the ensuing years, until her death in 1953, Corrine Koshland, better known as Cora, opened up 3800 Washington Street as a venue for concerts. A founder of the San Francisco Symphony Association and one of the first directors of the San Francisco Opera Company, Koshland invited music critics to review the performances and gave both Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern their musical debuts at the house as child prodigies. Amongst the other big names to play in the masnion were Igor Stravinsky, Jascha Heifitz and Leonard Bernstein.


Sir Yehudi Menuhin KBE (1916 – 1999) pictured in his youth

In 1953, the Koshland Mansion was sold for $100,000 by the estate of Cora Koshland. The purchaser was Walter E. Buck (1884 – 1966), president of the American Distilling Company. Buck and his wife Emily, who were well known for “Gatsby-esque parties” at their 1,300 acre estate, Woodside, redecorated 3800 Washington Street by “painting the mahogany library white, removing the dark green, gold-tooled leather from the dining room and developing small card rooms in the basement.” It seems likely that the era of parties at 3800 Washington Street continued during their occupancy.


On 11th October 1969, a murder occurred on the block where 3800 Washington Street stands when the Zodiac Killer, a to this day unidentified serial killer who operated in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, shot and killed a cab driver named Paul Stine. Stine had collected his passenger one block west of Union Square and had, as requested, driven him to the intersection of Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights. Once there, the cab driver was shot once in the head with a 9mm before the killer, observed by three teenagers across the street, took his wallet and car keys. The Zodiac Killer tore off a section of Stine’s bloodstained shirt, wiped the cab clean and walked off into the night before the police could arrive.


A sketch of the Zodiac Killer

Subsequently, on the 14th October 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle were mailed a swatch of Stine’s shirt to prove he was the killer and then on 9th November 1969, a 7-page letter followed. Excerpts from it were published from it in the newspaper on 12th November which revealed that a police officer, Don Fouke, who had responded to the teenager’s call, had actually encountered the killer for 5 to 10 seconds on a stairway of a house close to the murder scene. Fouke had been told to look for a black suspect and on seeing a white man going into the yard of a house, had discounted the individual and drove on. The Zodiac Killer, in his letter, detailed the encounter but claimed that two policemen had actually spoken with him 3-minutes after he’d shot Stine.


In 1975, a neighbour, Paul Renne purchased 3800 Washington Street for $675,000, supposedly to prevent it being acquired by property developers, but having been used as the 1982 San Francisco Decorator Showcase house, it was placed on the market and sold to a gallery owner named Heidi Betz and her business partner, an art collector named Charles Pankow. They paid $1.5 million for the house but failed in their bid to turn it into an art gallery due to objections from neighbouring residents.


Halsey Minor

In the two decades that followed 3800 Washington Street was sold several more times but finally it’s glory days looked set to return in 2007 when it was purchased by an “internet titan” named Halsey Minor and his second wife, Shannon. Having paid approximately $22 million for what essentially was going to be a very expensive renovation project, Minor supposedly assigned a further $15 million towards renovations and hired Michelle Obama’s favourite designer, Michael S. Smith, to oversee the project.


Minor founded CNET, a tech media website that published news, articles, blogs and podcasts on technology and consumer electronics, in 1992 after leaving Merrill Lynch and built it into one of the first internet companies to achieve profitability. CNET was sold for $1.8 billion in 2008 and is now CBS Interactive. Another of the companies he co-founded in 2000, salesforce.com, was “one of the most successful companies of the decade” and achieved a market capitalisation of in excess of $15 billion.


Having made a small fortune from his dot-com success, Minor diversified into investments that brought with them a lifestyle that would later be described as “a multi-millionaire who lived life as a billionaire.” In 2007, he began construction of a hotel in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia and announced this would be part of a series he’d open as part of the Minor Family Hotel group he planned. The hotel has never been completed.


Carter’s Grove, 8797 Pocahontas Trail, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, VA 23187: considered to be one of America’s finest and most historic residences. It was bought by Halsey Minor in 2007 and has fallen into significant decline in the years since.

The 1983 Group of Seven (G7) meeting at Carter’s Grove. Pictured outside the house are: Pierre Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada; François Mitterrand, President, France; Helmut Kohl, Chancellor, West Germany; Amintore Fanfani, Prime Minister, Italy; Yasuhiro Nakasone, Prime Minister, Japan; Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister, United Kingdom; Ronald Reagan, President, United States of America and Gaston Thorn, President, European Commission

In the same year, he also bought the Koshland Mansion and purchased 400 acres of land and a residence on the James River, the Carter’s Grove Plantation, for $15.3 million. Here, he planned a centre for thoroughbred horse breeding and at around the same time he attempted to buy both the Hialeah Park Race Track in Hialeah, Florida and the Pimlico Track in Baltimore. Both bids failed.


Minor’s investments were not just limited to property and the equine sector. In 2006, he placed a $3 million deposit on a $59 million Gulfstream G650 and at Sotheby’s in 2008, he was the winning bidder on a painting by Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, at a hammer price of $9.6 million and also bought paintings by Andy Warhol and Childe Hassam.


Around this point, however, this dot-com tycoon’s fortune began to unravel when Merrill Lynch called in a $25 million loan and various legal suits connected to his art collection, investments and properties commenced. Several of his homes were repossessed and at a court hearing in August 2011, he claimed to have just $112,643 in cash and owned no publicly traded securities. Minor claimed to be majorly broke but the declaration did not cover illiquid assets such as art, real estate and shares in non-public companies. To this day, Minor remains listed in first place on the State of California’s Franchise Tax Board’s top 500 delinquent taxpayers owing some $10,455,580.69.


In response to his supposed progression from riches to rags, Minor wrote an article for The Huffington Post in July 2012 entitled “Why I Fight”:


“I often wonder what Thomas Jefferson would think of today’s America, a nation that is rapidly but silently abandoning the individual in favour of faceless corporations, rapacious banks and a collusive, unresponsive government… The simple answer is that someone must [fight] or we will emerge from this recession with wealth and power concentrated in a few tiny financial institutions representing a new ruling elite, not unlike the one that inspired Thomas Jefferson’s generation to revolution.”


Somehow, in spite of his changed circumstances, Minor has managed to hold on to 3800 Washington Street. Though, during his tenure, the house has fallen into decline and is now half covered in ivy, it is still one of San Francisco’s finest properties and it is still situated in one of the city’s best neighbourhoods. It is still an asset of considerable value and Minor’s decision to sell may well help him rake back some of what he has lost.


The hallway at 3800 Washington Street

A drawing room at 3800 Washington Street

One of the property’s dining rooms

The opulent ballroom at 3800 Washington Street

Steven Mavromihalis of Pacific Union International launched 3800 Washington Street onto the market in May 2012 for $25,000,000. This move came just after two Abandoned Building Notices had been issued on the property by the City and County of San Francisco Department of Building Inspection. On offer is the 18,000 square foot main house at 3800 Washington Street, a 2,600 square foot 3-bedroom house at 3810 Washington Street and a vacant lot at 125 Maple Street. Though the agents don’t give much more in the way of details, they do refer to the house having a double marble Palladian staircase, 22 rooms, a “spectacular ballroom,” 8 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, 9 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, an elevator and three original stained glass windows by the San Francisco poet, writer sculptor and artist Bruce Porter (1865 – 1964).


According to the agents, 3800 Washington Street is second only to Danielle Steele’s 55-room residence, The Spreckels Mansion, at 2080 Washington Street in the rankings of the largest homes in San Francisco. This is most certainly a mansion with a fair few tales to tell but whoever buys it will need both Steele’s wealth and imagination to get it back into good order. Dot-com tycoons and serial killers need not apply.


Read more about the Zodiac Killer at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zodiac_Killer


A profile of Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. is available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_E._Koshland,_Jr.


Read more about the downfall of Halsey Minor at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2154564/Halsey-Minor-tech-guru-files-bankruptcy-ruined-Carters-Grove-estate.html


All enquiries about 3800 Washington Street, Presidio Heights, San Francisco, California, CA 94118 should be directed to Steven Mavromihalis of Pacific Union International on +1 (415) 345 3030 or email him at: smavromihalis@pacunion.com.


More details are available at: http://www.pacunion.com/homes/CA/San_Francisco/94118/3800__Washington_St/AGT-107397278-685992/ whilst a video tour of the property can be viewed at: http://vimeo.com/42775765

  1. The house directly next to it on the left is of equal importance to the History of Modern Architecture. It is the Russell House and has been build by German-Jewish Architect Erich Mendelsohn in his late career in the 1940s-1950s. It is a unique example for the residential buildings of the international style in the US, a term that originated from a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, which still has profound impact on the architecture of today.


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