Our History

The University Mound Ladies Home has evolved over the past 125 years to meet the changing needs of older women in San Francisco. Here's a look back at how far we've come.

The original Lick Old Ladies Home, established in 1884 with a $100,000 bequest from James Lick, was a large, three-story wooden building on 25 acres of land at the present location (view photo). It had formerly been a boys' school, and most of the land was farmed; the Home raised cows for milk, pigs, chickens and eggs, hay for the livestock, and a vegetable garden. Ladies had to be in reasonably good health at the time of admission. The price of admission was $300, and in return, the Home pledged to care for the ladies for the rest of their lives.

Many of the ladies worked in the Home's gardens, and those who wished to go to town were transported by horse and carriage to the nearest cable car line, which took them to the city. A Matron was in charge of the Home, and her husband cared for the farm and drove the carriage. There were also festivities:

"By 1888 the annual reception and bazaar held at the Home on May Day provided extra funds, through the sale of fancy knitting and crocheted tidies made by the ladies, and general publicity since crowds came to pick the wildflowers and enjoy a day in the country. Year after year at that season, the newspapers contained long reports of these May festivals, how carriage after carriage rolled up to the doors of the spacious building, with its parlors elaborately decorated with ivy, how money had been provided for new matting for the corridors, how the crowds picked the 'golden eschscholtzias' while the aged residents and the social elite were photographed in front of the old building."
--From a history of the University Mound Ladies Home compiled by Percy Roberts

In 1922, a merger with the San Francisco Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, another venerable San Francisco institution, was proposed. The Society had been founded in 1853 during gold rush times to shelter young women; in more recent years, the home it operated had primarily housed children in need of support, but the rise of foster care had diminished the need for such services, so the home had found itself two-thirds empty. It had then switched its focus to providing affordable housing for older women, so a merger with the Ladies Home was appealing to many of the Society's board members. (Interestingly, at the time of the merger proposal, George A. Newhall was president of the Society's board of trustees, while another member of the Newhall family, Edwin W., was a trustee of the Ladies Home.) Ultimately, however, the two institutions chose to remain independent.

In 1932, the Home's present Colonial Revival building was constructed at 350 University Street. It was designed by architect Martin J. Rist, who also designed the Taraval Police Station and a number of distinguished private homes. The Ladies Home's Matron lived on the premises, and the chief nurse and her husband, two kitchen helpers, and the chef lived in rooms on the second floor. (View photo of ladies in the front parlor in 1932.)

In 1939, admission to the Ladies Home was $45 or $50 a month, or $3,000 for life care; there was a waiting list for admission. The ladies living at the Home that year had held professions including actress, teacher, nurse, department store saleswoman, stenographer, clerk, manager of a student boardinghouse, and homemaker. Eleven of the 72 residents had never married.

The San Francisco telephone directory at that time listed just two homes for the aged, the Crocker Old People's Home and the University Mound Ladies Home. (In the 1950s, the Crocker Old People's Home voted to merge with the San Francisco Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, which then built The Heritage in the Marina District, a life care community for senior men and women.)

"I delivered newspapers to the ladies for four years, from age 9 to 13; I became one of the Home's house pets. I got to visit and to know many of the ladies and their individual eccentricities very well. Mrs. Alexandre, the superintendent, would invite me to have lunch with them on Sundays. I developed a huge appreciation for the elderly that has stayed with me throughout my life."
--Franco Mancini, president, Friends of McLaren Park, San Francisco

Today's University Mound Ladies Home represents a collaboration between eldercare professionals and laypeople, assisted by area universities and city government, all seeking to fully realize the vision of this treasured institution: to provide older women with affordable, compassionate care in a beautiful, homelike setting. 

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James Lick, the Home's original benefactor, was among the richest men in a state noted for its riches, and he left the majority of his estate to social and scientific causes. In 1874, Lick placed his entire fortune, conservatively fixed at $3,000,000, in the hands of a board of trustees. All the money was to be used for public benefit, with most of the bequests for specific projects in San Francisco. In addition to the $100,000 he apportioned for the building of a home for "old ladies," his bequests ranged from public baths to a vocational school for boys (now the co-ed Lick-Wilmerding High School). The largest portion ($700,000) went to establish the University of California's Lick Observatory, which boasted the most powerful telescope in the world at the time. 

Other monuments to James Lick include the Conservatory of Flowers and the statue of Francis Scott Key in Golden Gate Park, and the Pioneer Monument in front of San Francisco's City Hall. The conservatory is a replica of the iron and glass conservatory in London's Kew Gardens, made by an East Coast firm; Lick had ordered it as a kit, and after his death the impressive structure was assembled in Golden Gate Park.

The Newhall family
The Newhall family of San Francisco has more than a century of involvement with the Ladies Home. The original trustees of the Home, in 1884, were A.B. Forbes, J.R. Roberts, Ira P. Rankin, Robert McElroy, and Henry M. Newhall. Henry's son, E.W. Newhall, later served on the board, followed by his son, E.W. Newhall Jr. Miss Jane Newhall, the daughter of E.W. Newhall Jr., was a member of the board from the mid-1960s through the mid-1990s, for many of those years serving as its president.

Why "University Mound"?
In 1896, the Home's name was changed to the University Mound Old Ladies Home to encourage financial contributions from individuals who, it was thought, might be reluctant to donate to an institution named after a specific person (James Lick). The Home's neighborhood had long been known as University Mound because of early plans to site what would have been named San Francisco City University there. As part of those plans, many of the nearby streets were named after colleges and universities, including Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Amherst, Princeton, and Dartmouth. For decades the area was home to more than a dozen flower nurseries, with University Mound Nursery one of the most prominent.

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  • "Architectural Practice and the Work of Martin J. Rist," Architect and Engineer (September 1932), pp. 10-25.
  • Articles of Incorporation of the University Mound Ladies Home
  • "Charity Bodies Unite to Build Two Big Homes," San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 1922, p. 6.
  • Ashley Chase, "Our Heritage: The San Francisco Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, 1853-2003: The First 150 Years" (San Francisco Ladies' Protection and Relief Society, 2003).
  • Rayna Garibaldi, San Francisco's Portola (Arcadia, 2007).
  • Gail MacGowan, "James Lick: Miser and Philanthropist" (City Guides).
  • Percy Roberts, history of the University Mound Ladies Home, ca. 1940.
  • Photos courtesy of the San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library. Thank you to Susan Goldstein, Program Manager, for her enthusiastic assistance with research.
  • Essay copyright (c) 2008-2009 by Sherri Schultz.