Just The Point: Have you visited the Leland Stanford Mansion?

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A Winters Express op-ed column

By Richard Kleeberg Special to the Express There is a fantastic 1870’s mansion and museum in downtown Sacramento that few people know about. Tours of this historic jewel are available every day – and they are free. The Leland Stanford Mansion is nearly 20,000 square feet of awesome architecture, wonderful woodwork, fantastic furniture, classic chandeliers, and amazing art. And the best part of it is that more nearly 75 percent of the furnishings and art are the very items that Leland and Jane Stanford actually had in their home, and almost everything is displayed in the same place it was 150 years ago. Leland and Jane Stanford purchased a house at 8th and N street in Sacramento in 1861. At 3,000 square feet, it was the finest home in the City, and one of the very few built of brick. The Stanford’s bought the house because Leland needed a fancy place to live, as the new Governor of California. While living in the house, and serving as Governor, Leland Stanford was also the President of the Central Pacific Railroad – the Western part of the soon to be built Transcontinental Railroad. By 1869, the successful Railroad project had enabled Leland Stanford to become one of the richest men in the country. And what had once been a fine home for a Governor, was now far too small for the immensely wealthy Leland Stanford. So, in 1871, the Stanford’s grandly remodeled their home, raising the existing structure by 12 feet, constructing an entirely new first floor, adding a fourth floor, and increasing the square footage from 3,000 to nearly 20,000. The Stanford family eventually moved to San Francisco, where they built a 60,000 square foot palace on Nob Hill – three times the size of their Sacramento Stanford Mansion. Unfortunately, the vast fires that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake burned their Nob Hill home to the ground. The Stanfords had only one child, Leland Stanford Junior, who was born in third-floor master bedroom of the Mansion. But little Leland died of Typhoid, just prior to his 16th birthday. His heart-broken parents then chose to use their great wealth to found and build Leland Stanford Junior University, as a permanent memorial to their son. In 1900, Jane Stanford, now a widow, deeded the Stanford Mansion over the Sacramento Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters used the house for nearly 90 years, as an orphanage and home for abused and homeless teenage girls. They packed up just about all of the Stanford’s furnishings and artwork to the fourth floor, where it was all pretty much forgotten. In 1987, the State of California purchased the Mansion, and during the subsequent decade-long restoration, the Stanford family treasures stored on the fourth floor were re-discovered, and seen again for the first time in nearly a century. The Stanford Mansion today offers you an opportunity to see about 75 percent of the original furniture, artwork, and light fixtures that Leland and Jane enjoyed in their house. And because Leland Stanford had wonderful photos taken of each furnished room, almost all of this original decor is in the exact same place now as it was when Jane and Leland lived there 150 years ago. The Leland Stanford Mansion and State Historic Park is easy to find at 8th and N streets, in Sacramento. It is open to the public seven days per week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 30-minute free tours are offered every half hour. I work at the Stanford Mansion as a volunteer tour guide, on most Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I’d love to see you there.

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