RAILROAD BARON CHARLES CROCKER’S 40-FT NOB HILL “SPITE FENCE”: A FEUD LASTING 26 YEARS


In the mid 1860’s railroad tycoons Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford and Collis Potter Huntington became incredibly wealthy as the four founders of the Central Pacific & Transcontinental Railroads.

In 1876, Leland Stanford financed a cable car route to come up California Street, allowing for each of the ‘Big Four’ members to build mega mansions on California Hill (subsequently renamed Nob Hill).

One of “The Associates” (as they preferred to be called), Charles Crocker wanted a whole city block bounded by California, Jones, Taylor and Sacramento streets for his mansion. He proved successful in purchasing all the lots on the block – with the exception of a parcel facing Sacramento Street that was owned by Nicholas Yung, a German immigrant in the undertaking business. Crocker offered Yung $6000 for his modest home. Yung, knowing that Crocker had just paid $25,5000 for his property, countered at $12,000. As a compromise, Crocker responded with an offer of $9,000. Yung refused.

As progress on the mansion continued, Crocker became more and more desperate to have Yung and his house removed. When dynamite was used to level the hilltop for his home, Crocker apparently ordered his workmen to aim the flying debris towards Yung’s house. Despite Crocker’s attempts at intimidation, Yung held firm on his decision not to sell.

With the mansion just about completed, Crocker made one final attempt to buy Yung’s property, doubling his original offer – to no avail.

Used to getting his way, the 6-ft, 300-pound Crocker sought revenge, ordering the construction of a 40-foottall “spite fence” at a cost of $3,000 on his property in an effort to obstruct any light or view Yung would have from his windows. The fence soon became one of The City’s most popular sight-seeing attractions, with thousands of people riding the cable car to the top of California Hill to stare at the infamous landmark and loath at Crocker’s capitalistic excesses. Newspapers began calling the fence “Crocker’s Crime”.

Nicholas Yung passed away in 1880. His wife Rosina Yung purchased a home elsewhere but was unwavering on her refusal to sell to Crocker. The property, appraised at $80,000 at the time of Rosina’s death, was bequeathed to her daughters – who ultimately agreed to sell the since leveled lot to the Crocker family in 1902, allowing the 26-year old Spite Fence to come down. In 1906 the earthquake and fire destroyed the mansion. The Crocker family subsequently donated the whole block, which is now the current site of Grace Cathedral