National Register of Historic Places in San Mateo County

National Register #66000234: William Ralston Home in Belmont 27 October 2004
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National Register #66000234
William Ralston Home
AKA Ralston Hall
College of Notre Dame Campus
Completed 1868

Ralston Hall was the country estate of William Chapman Ralston, San Francisco financier, founder of the Bank of California, and builder of the California Theater and the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

Located in the ruggedly beautiful Cañada del Diablo twenty miles south of San Francisco, Belmont, as the estate was called, was purchased by Mr. Ralston in 1864. He utilized a modest villa built by Count Leonetto Cipriani in the l850's as the core of his great house which ultimately boasted over eighty rooms. It was a Victorian palace with extensive outbuildings, one of which, a magnificent stone carriage house, is also standing and in use today.

The house and grounds, although largely completed by 1868, were constantly embellished until Ralston's death in 1875, when the estate passed to his former partner, Senator William Sharon. Senator Sharon lived in the house until his death in 1884.

Subsequently the house was sold to Mrs. Alpheus Bull who established a girls' finishing school, Radcliffe Hall, in the mansion.

Following her death it was sold in 1900 to Dr. A. M. Gardner, superintendent of the State Hospital in Napa, for use as a private "nerve" sanitarium. After Dr. Gardner's death in 1913 the sanitarium waned in reputation and finally closed after World War I.

In 1922 the house and property were purchased by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who were searching for a suitable place to relocate their college which was then in San Jose.

In the many years since they acquired the sadly-deteriorated mansion, the Sisters have restored it to much of its original magnificence and furnished it with antiques of Ralston's period. Because of the many changes of ownership, very few of Mr. Ralston's furnishings remained in the house but a few have been given back to the college by subsequent owners who felt that the pieces belonged in Ralston Hall again.

In style Ralston Hall is a modified Italian villa. The interior incorporates many features of nineteenth century steamboat Gothic construction and design, reminiscent of Ralston's early days on the river boats of the Ohio and Mississippi before he came to California.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination.

Ralston Hall is also California Landmark 856.

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