Meet The Russ Family, 1022 Stanyan Street's First Owners

Meet The Russ Family, 1022 Stanyan Street's First Owners

Walter Thompson/Hoodline

Walter Thompson
Published on May 23, 2015

The 4-bedroom, 6,350-square-foot Victorian mansion at 1022 Stanyan Street is getting a remodel, so we took a look into its history. The story turns out to include pre-Gold Rush settlers, the development of the Financial District, a prominent local family, and charges of treachery against the government.

1022 Stanyan Street in the1907 Block Book (via SFPL)

Emanuel Charles Christian Russ was a German immigrant who came to prominence after building the city's first hotel and thirty shacks at the corner of Pine and Montgomery using wooden bunks he purchased from a ship moored in the bay. Nine months after his family's arrival, gold was discovered in the Sierras. Several of his sons left to seek their fortune, but the elder Russ "remained in the city, knowing there were harvests to be reaped at home, in city real estate," according to Tales of San Francisco.

After an 1852 fire reduced the Russ House and surrounding shacks to cinders, Russ built the American Hotel on the same location, as well as a family mansion at Sixth and Harrison, south of Market. He quickly became one of the city's largest landowners and established the Russ Estate Co. Today, the Russ Building stands on the site of the old hotel; built in 1927, the 31-story building claimed to be the tallest edifice west of Chicago for 30 years.

5/1/06, San Francisco Chronicle

According to a 1907 Block Book, the land under 1022 Stanyan was owned by Emanuel's grandson, Robert R. Russ, a notary and secretary of Russ Estate Co. That year, he and his wife Lottie moved from 3111 24th Street to their new home on Stanyan. 

To get to his office at 32 Montgomery, Russ used one of the new streetcar lines that reached Stanyan, but a September 1907 article reported that a gang of pickpockets relieved him of $300 in gold while he rode home on a crowded car. It's unknown whether the experience put Russ off public transit forever, but in 1909, his wife Lottie posed behind the wheel of their new 1910 Packard Model L for a Chronicle article. According to newspaper accounts, Russ had a sincere need for speed - he was a member of the Bay City Wheelmen cycling club, as well as several automotive societies. 

9/5/07, San Francisco Chronicle
As a descendent one of the city's wealthiest families, Russ' doings were frequently reported upon: a successful hunting trip with friends to Humboldt County, gala events for private clubs and socialite weddings gave reporters plenty of reasons to spill ink, but in 1919, the Russ name stopped appearing on the Society page and became hard news.

Trading With The Enemy

After World War I ended in November 1918, the US government prosecuted a number of cases involving the conduct of allegedly disloyal Americans, generally for providing aid and comfort to the enemy. On June 18, 1919, Russ turned himself into US Marshals before being indicted "on charges of violating the 'trading-with-the-enemy' act," reported the Chronicle. According to the government, Russ and others used a Swedish intermediary to transmit funds to heirs of his father's estate back in Germany.

On July 9, Russ entered a plea of not guilty, along with co-defendants C.O. Swanberg, president of the Portola Cafe Company, and Henry W, Westphal, president of the Merchant's Ice and Cold Storage Co. The trial generated several linear feet of headlines; at one point, Russ' attorney accused the prosecutor of offering his client immunity if he turned state's witness against his friends. The prosecutor "vehemently denied that he had made such a statement," the Chronicle reported.

On February 25, 1920, Russ, Swanberg and Westphal were acquitted of all charges, with the judge ruling that the men acted in good faith to help "suffering relatives who were caught in Germany at the outbreak of the war." The Chronicle reports the defense entered letters into evidence from Westphal's German relatives that described "grave danger from starvation" and other bleak conditions facing Russ's relatives in the old country.

2/26/20, San Francisco Chronicle
The trial didn't appear to negatively impact Russ' business or reputation; advertisements and legal notices indicate that he carried on his work at Russ Estate Co. during his trial. After his acquittal, news accounts show that he was active in local cycling and automotive circles, and even wrote the Chronicle to complain about the outcome of a heavyweight boxing match

Robert R. Russ died on September 28, 1934. According to his death notice in the Chronicle, "his passing severs one of the very few remaining links directly connecting present day San Francisco with the foundation of the city in the days before the discovery of gold in 1849."