William Chapman Ralston
With riches derived from Nevada's Comstock Lode, he became one of the richest and most powerful men in California. He founded the Bank of California and was known for having a nothing-is-impossible attitude.
His dream was the construction of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California at the corner of New Montgomery and Market. He spent $5M on its construction, draining his banking empire in the process. John Painter Gaynor was the architect and engineer. It opened on October 2, 1875. The hotel had early elevators or "rising rooms" and electric call buttons in the rooms. The hotel survived the 1906 earthquake, but was destroyed in the fire that followed. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1909. There is still a Ralston Room in the hotel off the main corridor to the left.
In 1871, following a severe drought in California, he initiated work on the surveying for an irrigation scheme in the San Joaquin Valley, and his lobbying was successful in securing the passage through Congress in 1873 of an Act to set up a Water Commission to advise on the irrigation of California.
The collapse of his financial empire
In 1875, his financial empire collapsed as a result of the combination of the expense of building the Palace Hotel, the failure of his attempt to buy and then resell the Spring Valley Water Company, the after-effects of the Panic of 1873, and a crash in the stock value of the Bank of California. The crash occurred just weeks before the opening of the Palace Hotel.
The day after the collapse, his body was found in the San Francisco Bay, due either from a stroke during his regular swim or from suicide. About 50,000 people were said to have watched his funeral procession, and 8,000 of his friends were said by Robert Brereton to have attended the public meeting held in Union Hall on September 8, 1875 to express the community's loss. His partner, U.S. Senator William Sharon, acquired many of his assets, including the Palace Hotel and Ralston Hall.
Ralston Avenue is one of the principal roads in Belmont, California. Ralston Street in Reno is named for William Ralston. There are Ralston Avenue exits from both Highway 92 and Highway 101. Ralston Middle School, Ralston Hall, and the William Chapman Ralston Award are all named after him. A small mining town in southwest New Mexico was named Ralston City in honor of William Ralston, its largest investor, but has since been renamed Shakespeare, New Mexico. The town of Modesto was to be named for Ralston; he declined, however, and it was called Modesto as one of the Spanish-speaking workers at the naming ceremony for that town said he was "muy modesto" or very modest. Modesto is home to Ralston Tower, an 11-floor building dedicated to elderly living. It is the second-tallest building in the city.
Ralston was portrayed by Ronald Reagan in a 1965 episode of Death Valley Days, "Raid on the San Francisco Mint." The episode dramatizes an 1869 event in which Ralston gets the head of the mint drunk in order to persuade him to authorize an exchange of bullion for coins. This was Reagan's final acting role.
- "A celebrated history". Ralston Hall Mansion. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- "Captain William Chapman Ralston". The Maritime Heritage Project. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- Pierce, J. Kingston. "The magician of San Francisco". zPub San Francisco. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco
- "Palace Hotel: A San Francisco Historic Hotel". Palace Hotel, San Francisco. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- ThePalaceHotel.org (An online illustrated history of the Palace Hotel.)
- Photographs of W.C. Ralston and His Mansion in Belmont, Calif., 1872-1874, taken by Eadweard Muybridge, from The Bancroft Library
- Guide to the William Chapman Ralston Correspondence at The Bancroft Library
- The William Chapman Ralston Award
- The virtual museum of the city of San Francisco
- Julian Dana (1936). The man who built San Francisco.
- "Ralston, William C.". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.
- Mrs. Frank Leslie (1877). "Chapter XII: A Prince and a Palace". California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate. (April, May, June, 1877.). New York: G. W. Carleton & Co. pp. 124–128.
- William Chapman Ralston at Find a Grave