Frank Colton Havens
History of Alameda County, California by Merritt, Frank Colton, 1889-p531-532:
Oakland, city of great resources and immense business, owes her advancement in notable measure to the efforts of Frank Colton Havens, who for many years labored untiringly to promote the city’s welfare. His was indeed an eventful and interesting career, for he was a strong and forceful personality, while his unselfish work, his intelligence and energy impressed his name on Oakland’s annals for all time. Men name him as a capitalist, a traction magnate, a former president of the Peoples Water Company and the founder of the Key Route ferry system. Any one of his accomplishments in the fields of business indicated would entitle him to representation with the distinguished men of California, yet he was not content with achieving his purpose along a single line. He readily recognized opportunity, and to him opportunity was ever a call to action, and thus it was that the commonwealth mourned the loss of one of her most distinguished citizens when he passed away at his beautiful home, Wildwood, in the Piedmont foothills, when seventy years of age. His birth occurred at Sag Harbor, New York, November 21, 1848, his parents being Wickham Sayre and Sarah Darling Havens. His father, who was born during the War of 1812, was a sea captain and came of a family whose male members devoted their lives to seafaring pursuits. His paternal ancestors were among the early settlers on Long island and were active in developing the whaling industry for which Sag Harbor became famous. The family was also represented on the American side in the Revolutionary war.
Familiar with the story of his forbears, who retold the tales of thrilling interest having to do with seafaring life, it was not a matter of marvel that Frank C. Havens ran away from home when a lad of sixteen years and shipped as a cabin boy on a sailing vessel which rounded the Horn and made its way to California. Like those before him, he found delight in a life on the bounding main and in the adventures which came in travel and sojourns in foreign lands. He spent two years in Honolulu and thence went to China. When in Shanghai and other coast ports he worked on various river boats which went far into the interior and there laid the broad foundation and experience upon which he later built the whole structure of his life. He was twenty-one years of age when he became a passenger on the Oriflame, the first steam-propelled vessel to make the trip across the Pacific. Thus he reached San Francisco, where soon afterward he obtained a situation in the bank of the Savings & Loan Society of Clay street. With the thoroughness that always characterized him, he acquainted himself with financial problems, won various promotions and after a period of ten years formed a partnership with Van Dyke Hubbard in the stock-brokerage business and became a member of the San Francisco Stock exchange. It was during the period that immediately followed that Mr. Havens formulated the plan that led to the organization of the Home Benefit Life Association, the American Investment Union of New York and the Mutual Investment Union, the last named being ultimately absorbed by the realty syndicate which came into being through the organization efforts of Mr. Havens and perhaps constituted the greatest element in his life work.
His operations in the real estate field reached mammoth proportions. It was during this period that he turned his attention to the possibilities of the east side of the bay and began to acquire the property interests which constituted the foundation of his fortune. In partnership with F. M. Smith of borax fame, he acquired thousands of acres of land in and adjacent to Oakland, to which city he removed, establishing his home at Vernon heights, where he laid out and platted one of the finest rose gardens not only in California but in the entire west. He knew that in order to develop and improve the lands which he had purchased there must be supplied adequate transportation facilities and accordingly he purchased the properties of three struggling street car companies which he merged under the name of the Oakland Traction Company. Thus in 1900 he began the development of the interurban system and maintained the highest standards of service in this connection. At that period the Southern Pacific had a monopoly of the ferry boat service of the bay and he established the Key Route system of ferries, which for five years he operated at a loss and which ultimately developed into what is today the fastest and best ferry service between the mainland and San Francisco. Under Mr Havens’ management the realty syndicate accumulated thirteen thousand acres of valuable land with a sky line from Mills College to North Berkeley. On the six per cent certificates of the syndicate which were made convertible into realty holdings, the Havens interests raised some twelve million dollars which went into development work of various kinds, and today many of the most beautiful sections and the most attractive business districts of Oakland and the east bay region owe their existence to his enterprise, sagacity and broad vision. At the time of the San Francisco earthquake and fire Mr. Havens resigned from the active management of the realty syndicate to become president of the Peoples Water Company. With the division of the interests between himself and his partner, Mr. Smith, Mr. Havens took over the water company and land holdings and Mr. Smith acquired the Key Route traction interests. Today the East Bay Water Company, the successor of the Peoples Water Company, controls one of the finest water systems of the state, and its splendid foundation lay in the efforts of Mr. Havens. Two excellent hotels, the Claremont and the Key Route Inn, came into existence as the result of his enterprise. Turning his attention to the bare foothills of Oakland, at his own expense he had planted millions of trees of all varieties and maintained a forest service of over fifty men to care for them. The Sky Line boulevard, rated in Baedeker as “America’s premier scenic route,” was his idea and he spent a large amount of money in developing the first portion of this great boulevard along the tops of the Oakland foothills, showing Oakland the real worth of this scenic highway, which was afterward taken over by the city. In Europe Mr. Havens acquired one of the finest art collections now in America and built in Oakland a museum which he opened for the free enjoyment of the public. He regarded no investment on his part too great if it would promote Oakland’s upbuilding along material, scenic and civic lines.
Mr. Havens was twice married. He wedded Miss Sadie Bell, of Virginia City, Nevada, who passed away when about thirty-three years of age, leaving four children: Wickham, now a leading realtor of Oakland; Harold, now deceased, who was prominent in realty circles of Berkeley; and Seyd and Paul, twins, the former now a resident of New York city, while the latter lives in Oakland with his wife and son, Roland. For his second wife Mr. Havens married Miss Lila Mandana Rand, who now resides in Oakland. They built “Wildwood” in the Piedmont foot- kills, a world famous oriental home of teakwood and fine carvings from India, China and Japan. Extensive and important as were his outside interests, Mr. Havens found his greatest happiness at his own fireside. His was indeed an eventful career, enriched with many unusual and interesting experiences, and no record among Oakland’s citizens more truly embodied the romance of business than his. He took the keenest- pleasure in achieving his purpose, which at all times combined the ideal with the utilitarian. To improve and develop Oakland became the purpose of his life and he took the keenest delight in adding to its beauty and to its charm. Time gives the perspective which shows the true worth of every individual and as the years pass on Oakland more and more acknowledges her indebtedness to Frank Colton Havens.
Aside from his business qualifications Mr. Havens was a lover of books, poetry and art and was the author of a book called “The Possibility of Living Two Hundred Years”. He was the uncle of the much loved Californian poet, George Sterling, who married Caroline Eugenia Rand, a sister of Lila Mandana Rand. Mr. Havens was also a yachtsman and a winner of many cups. His boats carried the New York Yacht Club insignia as well as the Larchmont and other lesser clubs. Two of his boats, the “Lamascotte” and the “Avis,” were well known in eastern waters. He enjoyed his summers at Stag Harbor, Long Island, where he had a beautiful home on the bay and there he spent much time in swimming, boating and fishing and in the associations of his youth. His niece, Harriette Cady, is the celebrated pianist and composer, among her well known compositions being the “Volga Boatman Song.” Later her Chinese music drew much favorable comment.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Dec. 10, 1967
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Dec. 10, 1967
Around 1904, the idea spread (both in northern and southern California) that eucalyptus would make an excellent timber and hardwood crop. A get-rich-quick boom reverberated across the state. One of the principal promoters was Oakland attorney and real estate tycoon Frank C. Havens. Touting the incredible rewards to be reaped from investment in "the most valuable tree on the face of the globe" (suitable, the prospectus reported, for crafting fine violins, pianos, furniture, ballroom flooring and even city paving blocks), Havens incorporated the Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company in 1910 and began sowing a fourteen-mile plantation along the ridgetop from Redwood Peak to north Berkeley.
Havens also laid out a meandering "scenic boulevard" through his budding tree farm, serving "locations chosen and reserved for villa sites and for buildings of more than ordinary pretension." During its first year alone, the Mahogany Eucalyptus and Land Company planted more than 200,000 blue gum and almost 400,000 gray and red gum seedlings. By then, at least 100 other companies were similarly engaged throughout California.
In 1893, hundreds of banks shuttered, thousands of businesses went under, and a healthy portion of railroads went bankrupt. The stock market fell to an all time low.
Lesser men than Frank Havens were shooting themselves in the head and kicking chairs out from under their feet at a rate not matched in the previous decade. But not Havens. Born in 1848 when adventurers were teaming across the nation to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush, Havens spent his childhood in Sag Harbor watching the desperation in men’s faces as the whaling trade collapsed. He learned early and painfully the cyclical life of the commodity: whale, oil, or gold — nothing was more or less valuable than anything else. Every resource would have its day. Boom would follow bust.
Money. That was what he learned to watch.
Once in San Francisco, Havens secured an entry level position in a savings and loan company. There he learned there was nothing to be gained by simply holding onto other people’s cash until they came to get it. Havens quit banking and joined the securities rush. As the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific railroads spread their tentacles throughout the state, stockbroker offices sprang up around Montgomery and Sansome streets. He worked his way up to partner in one firm and then formed his own company, the Mutual Investment Union. He become one of its youngest, and certainly handsomest, members of the fledgling San Francisco Stock Exchange. He married and had some children. He diversified his securities business, founding the Home Benefit Life Insurance Company. His wife died and he married again — this time his secretary, Lila Rand, in 1892. But the financial clouds were already gathering.
Speculators had tried for decades to squeeze money out of the railroads, underwriting schemes to put up towns wherever a railway line could be imagined to reach, just to feed the greater appetites for railroad stocks. But they had been too greedy. The 1893 crash wiped out the profits built on the bubble of railroad securities. Banks became skittish and stopped lending. International investors, spooked by America’s lack of any central banking instrument, fled the market. Unemployment soon topped more than 10 percent. Farmers were hit hardest. The agricultural boom of the 1880s gave way to over-production, price depression, and farm foreclosures. The dispossessed came to the city to look for opportunities. San Francisco, on its way to becoming a major city with more than 300,000 souls, was soon beset by poor sanitation, political corruption, and vice.
Frank Havens didn’t panic. Unlike most Californians, he had come west the hard way, sailing around Cape Horn. Decades before he arrived, San Francisco had grown into a city from a town of a few hundred; people arrived at a port town crawling with speculators and sailors and lived in tents and shanties until housing could be constructed. As millions of dollars of gold dust were processed through its customs house, the city began to build, and Frank watched it grow: hotels, mansions, churches, a hospital. Streets were paved and widened. Migrants began to stay. Havens observed how the rapid cyclic economies fed San Francisco’s industries for pleasure and distraction. Opium dens, saloons, brothels, and gambling halls catered to the whims of the recently wealthy, or the desperation of recently bankrupt.
But now there was a class of wealth that had made it through all that. A class of Westerners who wanted to settle down. They wanted bigger houses and open spaces where their children could play. They wanted the filth, the laborers, and their prostitutes out of view.
Havens would fulfill their desires. He had a plan: A joint transportation and realty empire that would take the wealthy out of the city to homes in the East Bay on reliable ferry, rail, and streetcar routes. His buyers would be those who understood the finer elements of class distinction, who craved respectability to rival their counterparts in the old money East. Havens believed the overgrowth of San Francisco would come to Oakland given quick enough transportation across the Bay. He would make his suburbia above Oakland the bedroom community for San Francisco elite.
Land prices after the crash were appealingly low. Now was the time to buy. He just needed capital to invest, and he was tapped out. Havens knew almost everyone in the San Francisco business circles. He chose one man to approach who had survived the recent crisis and lived on the Oakland side of the Bay: “Borax King” Francis Marion Smith. San Francisco businessmen scoffed at Smith, considering him a country bumpkin. Originally from Wisconsin, Smith came west in his twenties, starting up in the timber industry. He soon switched to hauling borax deposits out of the Death Valley by twenty-mule teams. Sold under the “20 Mule Team Borax” brand, Smith’s product had become nearly recession proof. It was an all-in-one household staple: detergent, germ killer, odor remover, and termite eliminator. Exactly what a populace ridden with anxieties over filthy cities needed.
Frank Havens suggested Borax Smith that there was another way to profit from middle class anxieties. Convince them to move out of vermin-infested San Francisco across the Bay. Sell them on the wide open spaces above Oakland. Smith, eager to stick it to the San Francisco men who had snubbed him, happily threw in his money. Together, Havens and Smith created a transportation and realty empire they called “The Realty Syndicate.” Havens opened offices for the Syndicate at 14 Sansome Street in San Francisco’s financial district and moved his staff there.
The Syndicate’s real estate holdings spread over eighteen miles of prime Bay Area land. Havens concentrated the company’s acquisitions on the 1.8-square-mile territory of Oakland dubbed “the Piedmont,” up to that point a largely rural area. He saw residential potential in the expansive views of the ocean, mountains, and city the Piedmont plateau offered. And so little of it was developed. Dairy rancher Walter Blair in the 1850s had settled there first. Selling milk and mining the hills for paving stone, Blair soon discovered the Piedmont had marvelous sulfur springs. He built a hotel with a grand veranda, twenty bedrooms, and a mahogany bar. For a while, the Blair Hotel attracted tourists including Mark Twain to “take the waters.” The Piedmont could briefly advertise itself as a destination for the Gilded Aged vacationer. Soon Blair created an amusement park offering rides on ponies, small boats, or hot air balloons. Buying into Blair’s vision, silver prospector Isaac Ruqua imagined a grand spa town would emerge around in the area. He built an Italianate mansion not far from the hotel.
Yet the spa never got off the ground. Nor did the area develop any industry. Aside from a few dairy farmers, there was a 15-acre Silk Farm where young women fed mulberry leaves to worms who failed to spin silk fast enough to compete with Chinese exports. In the 1890s, the boutique silk farm failed, the hotel at the springs burned down, and a six-year-old boy fell 1,000 feet from a hot air balloon as Blair Park picnickers gasped and fainted. The land was left for cursed and the Syndicate swooped in to buy it up.
After buying the land, the Syndicate worked on convincing people that they could get to live in its green hills and get to their office by nine in San Francisco. The reliability of this commute was critical. Ferry travel was now up to 21.9 million passengers a year. Havens published an advertising pamphlet in 1896 showcasing his vision of the improved transportation system. Oakland’s population would grow by 7.5 percent — a far faster rate than that of San Francisco which was already running out of places to build. Simply put, there was no other obvious place for the commuter to go but Oakland. Fortunately, Havens’ ferry system would land the Piedmont dweller at the foot of Market Street in San Francisco inside of twenty-five minutes, just in time for work. And Oakland had the lowest death rate of any city in the country!
Developing farmland into dwellings was only the first step of Havens’ business plan. The big money was not in real estate, but in selling the Syndicate itself as a viable concern. The Syndicate offered stocks paying 6 percent interest. Known locally as “Syndicate Sixes,” they were Havens’ prime instrument to raise capital. The Sixes, Havens boasted, were the next best thing to free money for the buyer — investment in real estate without the unpredictable expenses of home ownership. “You do not have to find a purchaser for the lots represented by your shares if you wish to dispose of them; or to sell at a loss to turn them into cash; nor do you have to find a tenant if you wish to receive an income from their rental. All this is done for you by the Syndicate.” No taxes, no water bills. For the investor wanting to profit off the downturn in the real estate market without the hassle of owning actual property, the Syndicate would assume the grunt work on their behalf: “If you wish to buy a home, buy a suburban lot that suits you. If you wish to invest for profit, do not buy a suburban lot; the profit has been made by the original owner. For profit, buy suburban acreage property. To do this requires capital, judgment and opportunity.”
Speculators skittish from the Panic of 1893 would have to be convinced that the Syndicate was a sound investment, that Havens and Smith possessed both judgment and opportunity. To build their credibility, Havens listed in the 1896 brochure the names of the Syndicates’ principal stockholders: twenty-six men of the mercantile, utilities, and real estate elite of the Bay Area. He solicited individual testimonies as to what a sound investment the Sixes offered, including a letter from the cashier of Wells Fargo Bank and Company, who avowed his confidence in the ability and the integrity of the Syndicate’s business plan.A letter from then-president of the Oakland Water Company estimated the Syndicate would double if not quintuple their investment on their land purchase. With the “exceedingly fertile soil” and mild temperatures of the Piedmont — so mild that lemons could grow — and the improved ferry transportation and streetcar options, the return on investment was assured. Even Oakland rector of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church J. B. McNally was called upon to attest to the moral fiber of the gentlemen of the Syndicate “our leading Capitalist Professional Business Men, in whose honor and integrity I have the utmost Confidence.” The brochures indexed all minor shareholders as well, including David Starr Jordan, President of Leland Stanford Jr. University.
Next, Havens and Smith attacked the Southern Pacific Improvement Company’s monopoly on the ferry routes. Through sales of the Sixes, the Syndicate was able to raise millions of dollars to acquire and consolidate streetcar, ferry, and railroad lines bankrupted since 1893. Then they bought the nearly 5,000 meter causeway that stretched from West Oakland towards Yerba Buena Island, renaming it the Key Route Pier. From there, millions of travelers and commuters would step aboard Key Route Ferries bound for San Francisco ending at the Embarcadero. Taking advantage of Oakland’s position as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railway, the Syndicate planned a hotel, the 130-room Key Route Inn, on the Oakland side of the Bay to receive the weary cross-country traveler. Havens demanded a Tudor style building to give an old English feel but with a twist: Train tracks would run under the inn’s broad archway. The traveler could step from breakfasting in the inn’s wood-beamed dining area onto Key Route electric trains that departed every 15 minutes. Their guests would never get wet in the Bay Area’s frequent rain.
Finally, the Syndicate extended streetcar routes through Oakland to their housing developments. Commuters could walk from their homes off Piedmont Avenue to nearby green-topped streetcars bound for the Key Route Pier ferries. They could return home by the same path, arriving at the stately brick Key Route’s Piedmont depot walking through the exit adorned with the symbol of the system — a long shafted key with a triple loop for the bow.
As an extra service, the Realty Syndicate acted as a holding and investment company to finance the mortgages of those buying into the Piedmont region. Havens cut out the middle man. Money made by the Syndicate would stay in the Syndicate. Step by step, Havens’ plan of a transportation and real estate empire came to fruition. The rolling green hills of the Piedmont soon vanished behind houses and mansions.
The San Francisco Examiner -
Wed - Feb. 18, 1914
Napa Journal - Thu - Jun. 8, 1911
Did you know Frank Havens very well?
I'll never forget Frank C. Havens . He had the cool assurance of a financial genius, an arrogant, but pleasant, easy manner with friends, and he wore an emerald as big as a pigeon egg - the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen.
He was a very interesting personality, but I didn't see too much of him. When they opened their big home in Piedmont we were all invited. I went with Carrie Sterling. Ruth St. Denis was there, sitting, a gilded Buddha in a niche. At the appropriate moment she came to life and danced.
Marty, Frank C. Havens and George Sterling, towards the end of the party, having had plenty to drink, with their arms about each other, faced this very middle class audience and sang the revolutionary songs - especially the beautiful ones with a Latin rhythm - the famous French revolutionary songs that Marty had taught them. It was delightful. All three holding on to each other and singing at the top of their lungs.
Frank Havens must have been outstanding in this middle class audience at his housewarming.
Yes, he was one of those personalities that are outside of class. You know, he made a big fortune in Piedmont real estate, as well as other ventures. I remember seeing the check he had for a million dollars - the check that he had made out for, I think it was the Dingle properties, for the Water Company he bought.
For a while he was Borax Smith's partner, you know. But Havens was too imaginative and too reckless to suit Smith, so they parted company. He put in the Key Route system. Later, he became a speculator on a large scale. He was very lucky until he took the fortune he had made in California and went to New York. Wall Street stripped him down to his last dollar. There was only a little land in his wife's name left for the family.
He returned to California to recover or remake another fortune. But the confidence in his genius was lost and he could find no one to back his really brilliant schemes. Soon afterwards he died.
What was the family relationship of all the Havens? I haven't got it straight in my mind.
Well, there was Frank C. Havens ; George Sterling was his nephew, and brought him out to be his secretary. He brought out the whole Sterling family. George's mother was Havens 'sister. She reminded me of one of the old French marquises. She had a gorgeously decorated bedroom and sitting room and she always received like a court lady there.
I was very much impressed when I was a child and my father took me there. She was handsome, still, in her late seventies, and was interested in everything, with a socially brilliant mind. That's the mother of George Sterling.
They lived at the bottom of Scenic Avenue hill in a big old house. There was Lillian (Rounthwaite), Madeline, Marian, Avis, and Alice. George had two brothers, one a priest, who later became a mental case and died. All of the girls were beautiful, too.
I have a little note here which says, "Carrie Sterling, a sister of Mrs. Frank Havens ."
Yes, they were sisters. Mrs. Havens and Carrie - Lila and Carrie Rand - were the first lady secretaries in Oakland. They wore little candy striped blouses with little collars and cuffs and little flat straw hats. Carrie was George's secretary. Lila was Havens's secretary.
This was before Carrie was married to George?
Yes, and before Lila Havens was married to Frank Havens . This is how the two secretaries became part of the family.
Frank C. Havens was older than George, wasn't he?
Oh yes, quite a bit. Havens was his mother's brother. He had had a family already in New York; the wife had died. Then he married Lila Rand, Carrie Rand's sister.
Carrie told me that when she and George went on their honeymoon, they thought they'd take a boat and go to the Islands. That was the romantic thing to do then. It was not a large boat and the season was unseasonable - storms mostly - and the cabins dank and cheerless. They were both seasick and by the time they got off at the Islands, she said romance was almost dead. (Laughter) Carrie said even the Islands had a hard time reviving romance for them.
After Lila married she started to build their beautiful home in Piedmont. It took years to build and it was very beautiful. Lila had brought over from India and Japan expert wood carvers. It was a labor of love and asceticism.
Did George come?
No, he was in New York. He was terribly upset about that whole thing. He said he'd always felt that Carrie hadn't wanted the divorce and he blamed Lila for it. At first, of course, he felt himself as part of the guilt for her suicide, and then finally, little by little, he felt that the whole thing had been done by Lila. I guess that eased his conscience considerably. He'd always begged her not to divorce him; Carrie told me that over and over, and he asked her to come back to Carmel. He took it very hard. He returned immediately and was terribly upset. His friends had difficulty trying to make him feel that he was not entirely responsible. Of course the Bierces — Laura and Caret — blamed Lila entirely, because they were very fond of George.
But there was a side of George not generally known. His father, a Catholic convert, persuaded George and his brother to become priests, and they were sent to the Paulist St. Charles Seminary. While he was in the Paulist Seminary, Father Tabb, also a poet, discovered George's poetic talent, developed it, and finally told him he had he had no vocation and that he should go into the world and be a poet.
George then came to his uncle, Frank C. Havens , in Oakland, or Piedmont, rather, to be his secretary. The Catholic side of George - we only hear the pagan side that's been too much emphasized. There was a compassion in George. He felt very strongly his friends' troubles and woes. He always was helping people, always doing things for people. That side of George I never understood until I was a Catholic convert. George's fine qualities were very Catholic; his gentleness and his compassion for his friends when they were unhappy. They always turned to George because of his gift of understanding.
Oakland Tribune - Sun - Dec. 10, 1967
San Francisco Chronicle - Tue - Feb. 12. 1918