A Party House for California

Photo: Marilyn Sommerdorf

When globe-trotting nabobs and industrial titans come to town, where does the state of California entertain them? Beginning next year, the answer will be the newly refurbished Leland Stanford Mansion—four stories of Victorian stateliness located at Eighth and N streets in Sacramento. After years of fund raising, a private-public partnership is wrapping up some $20 million of restoration to the mansion.

Rainy seasons in the ’90s almost finished off the leaky 147-year-old building, the birthplace in 1868 of University namesake Leland Stanford Jr. Efforts to maintain the home as a museum had mostly floundered, but after Gayle Wilson, ’64, wife of former Gov. Pete Wilson, proposed reviving the mansion for official events, fund raising picked up. Preservationists and state groups worked out a way the house could remain open for public tours as part of the state park system yet also provide meeting rooms, office space and banquet facilities for a state that needed to wine and dine business leaders and dignitaries in a style befitting the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Construction—from the new roof down to the custom carpets—was mostly finished in June. Landscaping, including Victorian gardens close to the house and more contemporary plantings toward an outdoor reception area big enough for 200 people, will be completed as the year progresses. Some rooms are being maintained as museum space to honor the Stanfords and the years when the building was a Catholic home for foundlings. Charlotte Shultz, the state’s newly appointed chief of protocol, will have offices on the third floor. First Lady Maria Shriver asked Wolfgang Puck to consult on the catering kitchen. A publicized search for the home’s original furniture has turned up a dining room set of the Stanfords’, and experts from several museums are seeking early California paintings for the walls.

Susan Peters, chair of the Leland Stanford Mansion Foundation and a recently elected Sacramento County supervisor, credits many people as champions of the building, including the first foundation president, her late husband, Peter A. McCuen, ’56, ms ’57, phd ’62, a business executive who fostered the economic development of Sacramento, and former Ambassador L.W. “Bill” Lane, ’42, a former publisher of Sunset magazine. Peters, who looks forward to the deals and news events that will be consummated and celebrated at the mansion, thinks it soon will be “the most photographed building in California.