For 50 years, the Peninsula was as big a showcase for the real estate bling of San Francisco’s superrich as Nob Hill. Starting in the 1860s and continuing into the early 20th century, its resident magnates erected opulent mansions and created verdant country estates south of the City. The ornate homes lined up like preening wooden peacocks on Nob Hill were more visible and aroused more outrage, but they were equaled by the manicured estates and imposing manors in and around what are now Burlingame, Hillsborough, Atherton, Menlo Park, Woodside and other exclusive enclaves.
The initial impetus for this great flow of marble, statuary, turrets, stables, pools and pristine gardens to the south was the 1863 opening of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which made it possible for the City’s newly minted wealthy to travel easily between the Financial District and San Mateo County. The area’s warm weather and beautiful scenery ensured that, as Frank M. Stanger writes in South from San Francisco — San Mateo County, California: Its History and Heritage, “Wealthy men’s mansions — some modest, others bizarre and flamboyant — would be for more than half a century the dominant feature of the Peninsula scene.”