San Francisco History

Crocker Spite Fence

Crocker Mansion, Spite Fence, circa 1870sFamous Spite Fence Has Outlived Its Purpose.

Built Around Small Lot by Charles Crocker Because Owner Would Not Sell to Him.

"FOR SALE" signs have been placed by real estate agents on the lot on Sacramento street, near Taylor, which Charles Crocker surrounded with a high spite fence twenty-six years ago because the owner, Nicholas Yung, refused to sell the property to him at the price Crocker offered.

This fence is the most famous memorial of malignity and malevolence in the city. Thousands of persons have gone up Nob Hill to view it since its erection in 1876. Crocker has long been dead, but his heirs have preserved this testimonial of rancor. Yung went to the grave in 1880, but his offense of fixing his own price on his own residence was never pardoned by the Crockers. The fence has been an eyesore to them as well as to everybody else, but they have kept up the feud and sought to hide the ugliness of the lofty barricade on their side of it by covering the boards with ivy and other greenery.

Charles Crocker, Spite Fence, circa 1902The fence cost about $3000, but Crocker was a millionaire and did not mind the expense, and he had the satisfaction of driving the Yung family away from their home. Their house was boxed up and the sunlight shut out, and Yung was compelled to move the dwelling to another lot which he owned on Broderick street. The tall fence destroyed the value of the Sacramento street lot, which for about a quarter of a century has remained unused and unsightly. Mrs. Rosina Yung, widow of the man who incurred the deep displeasure of the Crockers, had a considerable estate and preferred to keep the cooped-up lot rather than sell it for the trifle which she might have been able to obtain. She died in last January and bequeathed the property, which has been appraised at about $80,000, to her daughters, who are Mrs. C. D. Postel, of Alameda, Mrs. O. J. Kron of San Francisco, Mrs. Frank Church of El Paso, Tex., and Mrs. John Kelly Russell of San Jose. In the course of administration the sale of the property belonging to the estate has been ordered.

When the last lot has been sold to someone not of the Yung blood it may be that the Crockers will drop their legacy of hatred and let the inartistic monument of resentment be torn down. Perhaps they may conclude to buy the lot which they wanted so badly.

In 1895 Mrs. Yung appealed to the city authorities to have the fence removed, and the Board of Supervisors, appreciating the wrong which had been done to her and her family by the erection and maintenance, was willing to comply with her request, but City and County Attorney Creswell advised the Board that it has no power to interfere with the legal right of the Crockers to keep the structure standing. The resolution of the Supervisors, on which the City and County Attorney rendered his opinion, contained this statement concerning the Yung lot and the celebrated fence:

Charles Crocker, Spite FenceA number of years ago a valuable dwelling-house was erected upon the said lot and the erection of said fence excluded air, light and the necessary adjuncts of habitable life, thereby making said house uninhabitable and the ground valueless, which resulted in having the house removed, leaving the lot unoccupied, and thus working a great injury to Mrs. Yung and depriving her of constitutional rights.

The Yung lot is the only portion of the block bounded by California, Taylor, Sacramento and Jones streets which Charles Crocker was unable to secure, when he erected his mansion there. Nicholas Yung, who was in the undertaking business and who was comfortably fixed, although not wealthy, preferred to stay in his Nob hill home. He and his family enjoyed the view and the other advantages of the situation as much as did Crocker, and he saw no reason why he should trade his residence for some other property which Corcker offered him, and emigrate. Crocker was willing to give him $6000, but we would not sell, even when the blasting on the Crocker site sent rocks flying around his house and the grading left his place up in the air. Finally Crocker threatened to fence in the Yung home, and at last Yung said he would sell for $12,000. Crocker refused to pay that sum, and carried out his threat to put up the fence. Yung did not consider the price he asked exorbitant, it being said that Flood paid $25,000 for a similar lot when he wished to get a complete block on Nob Hill.

Several years ago Mrs. Yung said: "Carrying out the policy of my husband, I did not care to retaliate for the meanness shown by Mr. Crocker. There are some things in which people like ourselves do not care to stoop. I have had many offers to lease the lot for Chinese landry purposes, merely to annoy the Crockers, but I refused. I have been asked also by advertising firms to let them use the lot for large signs, and while I could have go a revenue from the lot by doing so, I declined all such offers."

When the Yungs moved away and subsequently had their lot graded the Crockers reduced the height of the fence somewhat, and now it is about twenty-five feet above the earth. The reduction was made because the wind at times threated to lay the lofty fence low, and thus show what the spirit of the elements thought of the Crocker spite. Had not the Crockers kept hte fence strongly braced, it would long since have been demolished by the winds.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 01 November 1902, page 16.
Black & White photograph (with Spite Fence coloured) of Crocker Mansion and Spite Fence, circa 1870s; original at Bancroft Library.


Crocker Estate Buys Property That Caused a Bitter Feud.
Special to The New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 19 [1904]. -- For over twenty years tourists to San Francisco have been shown the twenty-foot-high "spite fence" which the old railroad millionaire Charles Crocker built around the house and lot of Undertaker Nicholas Yung because his poorer neighbor would not sell his home to make Crocker's ownership of the block on Nob Hill complete.

Now, many years after Yung's death, his widow is dead and the heirs have agreed to sell the lot to the Crocker estate. The fence will now come down.

When Crocker tried to buy this property, in the early seventies, he and Yung were good friends. Crocker offered $5,000, but Yung wanted $7,000. Neither would yield, and hence the feud.

Source: The New York Times, 20 January 1904.


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