Foerster: Work Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Name

By Amy O’Hair

The intersection of Foerster and Joost is not just a street corner in Sunnyside, it’s the stormy tale of a family torn apart by the relentless greed of one uncle, Behrend Joost, and the quiet loyalty of his nephew, Constantine Foerster, which finally gave way under the pressure of it. Joost went down in a long spiral of lawsuits, but Foerster survived and prospered, saved by taking the terrible decision to break his bond to his uncle, and stake his future in the company of men of better judgment and ethics.

2020. Street signs at Joost Avenue and Foerster Street. Photo: Amy O'Hair
2020. Street signs at Joost Avenue and Foerster Street. Photo: Amy O’Hair

Constantine E.A. Foerster was a successful and industrious corporate attorney in late nineteenth-century San Francisco. At the age of sixteen, he got his start in the city working for his uncle, a scrappy, ill-mannered hardware dealer named Behrend Joost. For many years his fortunes were deeply entwined with this uncouth entrepreneur, including as the attorney for Joost’s project to build San Francisco’s first electric streetcar system. The property speculation project called Sunnyside went along with the streetcar, and Foerster was one of several officers in the company whose names remain on the streets there.

CEA Foerster. 1880s. From Morrison & Foerster: the Evolution of a Law Firm (2006).
CEA Foerster. 1880s. From Morrison & Foerster: the Evolution of a Law Firm (2006).
Behrend Joost. 1890s. SF Call, 23 Apr 1893.
Behrend Joost. 1890s. SF Call, 23 Apr 1893.

Foerster was finally forced to break ties with Joost or risk imperiling is own family’s finances and his reputation as a lawyer. Joost’s grossly negligent business practices had resulted in numerous lawsuits, and even deaths and injuries from his poorly maintained streetcars. Foerster was a modest man, not prone to contention or conflict, and beloved by his family and friends. But he was not willing to let his uncle trash his own career and investments—his family’s survival depended on him, and in the end it was necessary to lend his abilities to the men who were arrayed against Joost.

Fate had finer things in store for Foerster; he was a very able lawyer and co-founded a preeminent law firm—Morrison & Foerster—which still exists today. Finally, a lifetime of tuberculosis caught up with Foerster, and in 1898 he died at the age of thirty-seven, leaving a fortune to his young wife and son.

German Roots in Wisconsin

Constantine Emmanuel Adam Foerster was known to his family and friends as Stanley.[1] He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1860. His early life was anchored in his mother’s large family, the Millers. His grandfather, Adam Miller, brought his young family from Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, to Milwaukee in the early 1840s, when Stanley’s mother Eliza was young girl. He changed their surname from the German Mueller. Eliza, the oldest child, apprenticed as a dressmaker at age thirteen, and became highly skilled at the work. She married a man named Constantine Foerster when she was twenty-one, and Stanley was born soon after.

Unfortunately Eliza’s husband was already sick with tuberculosis. While she cared for him, she contracted it as well. When Stanley was just four, his father died, as well as an infant sister. He also contracted the disease himself, and would suffer all his short life from the effects of ‘consumption,’ as it was called then.

California Calling

In 1864, the widowed Eliza and her young son Stanley moved with her parents Adam and Maria Miller and their extended family from Milwaukee to San Francisco. The transcontinental railway was not yet in place, so the family traveled overland by horse and wagon.[2]

In the city, Eliza opened her own dressmaker business at 124 Post Street, which supported herself and her son.[3] The extended family lived at various locations South of Market, struggling to get on in the burgeoning city. The Millers had several more children, including Anna, who was eighteen years younger than Eliza, and who comes into our story later.[4]

Eliza’s father Adam Miller (1813-1885) always worked as a carpenter, as did her brother of the same name (Adam Miller Jr, 1845-1932). The most prominent project I found that the elder Miller worked on was superintending the construction of the first city and county emergency hospital located on Potrero Avenue in 1872, where it was rebuilt as San Francisco General Hospital after the 1906 Quake.[5]

1880c. Adam Miller oversaw the construction of the Potrero Emergency Hospital, the first hospital on the site of what would later be San Francisco General Hospital. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.
1880c. Adam Miller oversaw the construction of the Potrero Emergency Hospital, the first hospital on the site of what would later be San Francisco General Hospital. San Francisco History Center. San Francisco Public Library.

A Landmark Home

In 1867 Adam Miller Senior built what is now known as the Miller-Joost House, still located on Upper Market Street.[6] Then it was a large estate in the farthest reaches of civilized San Francisco, a blissful country spot. Market Street was decades away from being extended through the area.

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In the 1870 Census, Stanley, ten years old, was living there with his grandparents Adam and Maria Miller, and two young aunts, Lydia and Anna, who were not much older than he was. It was the Miller family home until Adam Miller died in 1885.[7]

1870c. Stanley's grandfather, Adam Miller (Johann Adam Mueller) (1813-1885). Courtesy Jacqueline Garnier.
1870c. Stanley’s grandfather, Adam Miller (Johann Adam Mueller) (1813-1885). Courtesy Jacqueline Garnier.

Stanley’s mother was not living with him at the time of the 1870 census; she had recently remarried a prosperous Santa Clara County farmer named George Theuerkauf, a match made through the minister of her church.[8]

But soon Stanley joined his mother’s new family on the farm. His stepfather George happily accepted him into the household—something that the mores of the time didn’t require of him.[9] The next five years or so were wonderful for Stanley. The country air benefited his tuberculosis; his mother’s new family accepted and loved him. Eliza had four more children during these years, Stanley’s step-siblings—two daughters and two boys—so the farmhouse was full of the delights of young children. Family stories recount the happiness of these years, before Stanley moved away, and before financial troubles beset the farm.[10]

Fresh Fruit and Fresh Air

One time Stanley ate so many apples from George’s orchard that he was given the nickname in Apple Jack. He had a weakness for fruit. Another time on a trip to visit some property that George had bought in Monterey County, Stanley ate too many grape skins and got so sick he had to be cared for by “a colored woman,” as the family story tells it, at a house where they stopped for the night.[11]

Stanley was a good boy, a model his parents held up for his younger step-siblings to emulate. Beginning when he was about twelve or thirteen he attended school at the preparatory department of the University of the Pacific which had been founded at San Jose just a few years before. He was bright, and probably not well suited to the physical labor of farm work due to his lung condition. His talents lay in his intellect, and he would later return to school to complete his education.

County Boy City Bound

By 1876 Stanley, aged sixteen, had finished his education for the time being. His mother’s family moved to the Monterey County property, and the Santa Clara farm suffered a series of crop failures. Stanley needed to make his own way in the world.

A few months before this, his Aunt Anna Miller, not yet twenty herself, had married Behrend Joost, age 32, in San Francisco. Joost was then an up-and-coming thirty-something grocery merchant partnered with his brother Fabian. Ready for a working life, Stanley went to live with his Aunt Anna in the Joost household, located at Twelfth and Folsom street. This area at the far end of South of Market was practically in the country then. Joost had bought the house some years before his marriage, and it was located across the street from his grocery rival George H. Eggers. Here’s a photograph of the Eggers house, which gives some feeling for the area. No photo of the Joost house survives.

1870s. The home of grocery tycoon George H Eggers, across the street from Behrend Joost's house, at Twelfth and Folsom.
1870s. The home of grocery tycoon George H Eggers, across the street from Behrend Joost’s house, at Twelfth and Folsom.

The Joost Brothers’ Empire

By then, Behrend and Fabian Joost had recently expanded from groceries, which had been the Joost family business since 1856, into hardware, which meant bigger profits for them. Stanley went to work at the Joost Brothers shop at 1438-1440 Mission Street, near the corner of Eleventh Street. This would be the retail center of the Joost Brothers business until the Great Fire, although later Joost’s numerous financial dealings meant establishing an office at the Palace Hotel as a more prestigious place to conduct his business.

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By the next year, 1877, Uncle Behrend installed young Stanley in the apartment over the shop, the better to get more hours of work out of the boy.[12] Nonetheless, Stanley traveled when he could to visit his mother’s family on the farm, where the fresh air surely helped his chronic lung issues from tuberculosis.[13]

Stanley was always industrious and hard-working. Now he applied himself to his uncle’s growing business over the next decade. He worked his way from clerk to salesman. But he was more suited to brain work, and after training with Joost’s bookkeeper, an Irish immigrant whose family he roomed with a couple of doors down from the store, he became Joost’s bookkeeper.[14]

The Bar Beckons

Stanley’s intellect was destined for better things: in 1885, at age twenty-five, he went to Hastings College of the Law, and his life took at momentous turn.

1870c. The location of Hastings College of the Law then, in the Hall of the Society of California Pioneers, 808 Montgomery.
1870c. The location of Hastings College of the Law then, in the Hall of the Society of California Pioneers, 808 Montgomery.

In May 1886, he passed the bar. He took some time to rest, perhaps related to his health, and stayed with his mother’s family through the end of the year.[15] Then he became Joost’s own corporate lawyer, in time for that man’s move into the millionaire ranks of the city’s capitalists.

9 May 1886. Daily Alta California. Stanley Foerster passes the bar. His classmates included Abe Ruef, who would later be the notorious puppet-master of the Eugene Schmitz administration.
9 May 1886. Daily Alta California. Stanley Foerster passes the bar. His classmates included Abe Ruef, who would later be the notorious puppet-master of the Eugene Schmitz administration.

Here Comes Trouble

By 1883, Joost had moved his wife Anna and his growing family into the house on the Corbett hill that his father-in-law Adam Miller had built seventeen years before. The old man was at the end of his life, and would die two years later.

Now established in this end of town, Joost proceeded to make trouble for everyone around him there—blocking roads, grading people’s property without their permission, and generally making a nuisance of himself. He sold off much of his father-in-law’s estate over the next decade. It’s a story for a different neighborhood historian to tell.[16] In a city full enterprising sociopaths, Joost worked hard at his own version of it, but he was rough around the edges, unsociable and uncouth, and not as compelling in the end as, say, the transcontinental railroad barons. But he is Sunnyside’s own, so I’m telling you about him.

Flush with hardware and real estate profits, and now the owner of the large Miller estate through his wife’s family, Joost began investing at a frenetic pace. During the late 1880s his transactions are recorded occurring several times a month in the newspapers. With other investors he started numerous corporations for the purpose of property speculation, and Foerster was the attorney for the ventures (with dates of published notices):

  • 14 June 1889: Germania Building and Loan Association
  • 27 July 1889: Market and Stanyan and Golden Gate Park Land and Improvement Company
  • 6 June 1890: Golden Gate Land Company [sometimes Golden State Land Company]
  • 27 January 1891: Sunnyside Land Company
  • 2 May 1891: Yerba Buena Building and Loan Association

Foerster also began to be associated with the investment projects of others, without Uncle Behrend, such as the Humboldt Building and Loan Association (3 Oct 1890), with John Henry Mangels, Rudolph Mohr, Robert Wieland, and others—names familiar to readers of Sunnyside’s history rooted in the beer industry. More here.

Joost, on the other hand, was a teetotaler, belonging to a small congregation of the German Reform Church, which he helped found years before around the corner from the Joost Brothers’ stores at Eleventh and Mission. He sued his own church in 1889, saying they had refused to pay back money he’d loaned for the church to make repairs. The bank then foreclosed on the church’s mortgage shortly after that and it was no more. The Joost golden touch of kindness.

The Family Lawyer

Foerster’s abilities as an attorney grew, and he came to understand the lightning-paced financial workings of San Francisco’s capitalists. It was the Wild West, but there were laws that constricted the ambitions of the profit-obsessed millionaires, and a lawyer who helped you navigate the way around was worth his weight in stock certificates. Stanley’s skills were put to hard use.

In five short years of hard work, he was, at just thirty, an able attorney. His career took a leap when the respected lawyer Alexander F Morrison took him on as a partner in late 1891. Morrison & Foerster was formed. Morrison was a few years older and well established by then. The pair made in good working partnership. They were the lawyers for Joost’s electric streetcar project. But later, when it started to go off the rails, and was repossessed by the sheriff and sold at a group of creditors, Morrison & Foerster moved to represent the new owners. It’s just business. But I get ahead of myself.

Let’s Build a Railway

Joost’s fortunes ballooned, and by 1889 he was ready to get in on the city’s new investment bonanza—streetcar franchises. He tried at first unsuccessfully to get a franchise from fourth and Townsend down Third Street to Bayview.[17] In September 1890, under the persuasive influence of JW Hartzell, who had built electric streetcar systems in the Midwest, he petitioned the Board of Supervisors for a franchise that would operate between the ferry building and the city of Baden in San Mateo County (now South San Francisco)–operated by electricity, something that had never been done before in San Francisco.

Joost and Hartzell put up some $100,000 in bribes for the Supervisors to grant them their franchise, greasing the way just like everyone did.[18] Mayor Pond vetoed it, but the “Solid Nine”—a group of supervisors who were arrayed again the mayor—overruled the veto. By December Joost had his franchise.[19]

A Pioneering Project

The Sunnyside Powerhouse was built in early 1892, located on Sunnyside Avenue (now Monterey Boulevard) at Baden Street. More about that here. It was to provide the electrical energy for the system and was opened with great ceremony on 26 April, one year to the day after the Sunnyside Land Company put lots on the market in the residential district of that name.

The Examiner, which never coddled Joost’s foibles, recounted in detail the journey of the first ceremonial streetcar, which departed in the morning from Steuart Street headed south.

SF Chronicle, 27 Apr 1892. An illustration of the all-new electric streetcar.
SF Chronicle, 27 Apr 1892. An illustration of the all-new electric streetcar.

As it went up the Guerrero Street hill, the steep grade caused blown fuses three times, each one necessitating a brief stop while the motorman changed it out. Finally he asked the men in the car, including President Joost himself, to get out and walk up the hill! Everyone reboarded and they went on their way.

SF Examiner, 27 Apr 1892. An illustration of the all-new electric streetcar on its first day riding the rails. No one had ever seen trolley poles here before.
SF Examiner, 27 Apr 1892. An illustration of the all-new electric streetcar on its first day riding the rails. No one had ever seen trolley poles here before.

Another half-dozen fuses blew during the rest of the journey down to Holy Cross Cemetery, the southern terminus. These humiliating details were absent in the other news accounts. The whole ride was much longer than planned, although the smoothness of the stops and starts was remarked on in all the accounts—also how horses did not react to the cars. Such things had been feared for this novel propulsion system.

The multi-car entourage of important people was finally deposited at the Sunnyside Powerhouse for a grand celebration. After shunting the VIPs inside for the best food and drink—leaving the reporters and the lesser folk outside for a thinner repast—everyone gathered for the speechifying.

c.1905 Sunnyside Powerhouse, taken from Circular Avenue. Sunnyside sign just visible in upper right on hillside.

Constantine Foerster was chosen as master of ceremonies. He began by explaining something of the novel power system of electricity for streetcars—this was all new to San Francisco, and there had been many skeptics. Then he lauded the many men whose brains, time, energy and money had gone in to the construction of the line. He acknowledged the presence at the event of many luminaries of the professional and business world, and predicted that the system would herald “a new era of streetcar travel.”[20]

The new line would bring rapid growth in manufacturing, business, and residence in new areas of the city, Stanley said. Lastly, he told of his hopes that the friendly rivalry between the old cable systems and the new electric system would benefit all. Of course electricity would soon crowd out the cable systems, such that soon they became just a small minority of lines in the city.

The event was covered by all the city’s papers, but only the Examiner acknowledged Foerster’s position with Morrison & Foerster, the railway company’s lawyers. None noted that he was related to Joost.[21]

First and Cursed

After the grand opening, the first electric streetcar system in San Francisco began running to schedule. The system was fraught with problems of every sort from the beginning. Then there was a crash on the Chenery Street hill at Thirtieth Street–the third accident during the first six days of operations.[22]

SF Examiner, 3 May 1892. Illustration of the big crash at the bottom of the Chenery Street 'slide'.
SF Examiner, 3 May 1892. Illustration of the big crash at the bottom of the Chenery Street ‘slide’.

Eight people were seriously injured, and many others bruised and shaken up. This same hill was to be the site of an even more serious accident in January 1894. Read more about the San Francisco San Mateo Electric Railway here.

Supervisor Levi Ellert repeatedly took Joost to task for the poor maintenance of the tracks, which endangered passengers and other vehicles alike. There were plenty of opportunities to reproach him, because Joost regularly came before the Board of Supervisors to ask for additional franchises to expand his system, something he found more compelling than maintaining what had been already built. He cut corners everywhere. Hartzell, his engineer, abandoned the railway company just two months after the opening, leaving to develop other streetcar systems elsewhere.

The year that followed the opening was a disaster. The company and the system was beset by every sort of financial, labor, and safety problem imaginable. Joost did not pay the company that sold him the massive electric car a turbine engines for the powerhouse, so they sued him. He didn’t pay his workers at various points, and they sued him. His streetcars killed and injured passengers, so his customers sued him—or their survivors did. His investors went without dividends and suffered numerous extra assessments, and they sued him.

Joost always had to have control and it was his downfall. The law required that a company have governance that is more than the will of a single individual, that it be responsible to their investors, and that the construction of an enterprise be carried out by a separately controlled company. Joost created the Sunnyside Construction Company to build the railway line, but kept control over this company as well. [23] He even admitted that he had got the idea from the machinations of Charles Crocker and the Big Four who built the transcontinental railway in the 1860s.[24] If it was good enough for them, why couldn’t he get away with it now? Unfortunately it was thirty years later, and standards of corporate governance had come under a greater force of lawfulness.

Many at the time had sympathy with Joost as he bumbled his way through a maze of fraud and financial obligations. Hartzell was pointed to as the instigator of the project, luring in the Joost Brothers for their hardware money. An editorial in the SF Call quoted Joost, underlining his ignorance of good business practices:

‘The bickering which is going on in connection with the management of the San Francisco San Mateo Railroad brings out a confession of much naiveté from Behrend Joost….After the preliminaries of the company forming, Mr Joost says, the problem was how to get the road built, and he gives this explanation: “Hartzell thought we might profitably take the Southern Pacific for a model by doing the work ourselves. We agreed with him, so we organized the S.S. [Sunnyside] Construction Company….The two corporations represented the same interests, of course. The arrangement was merely designed to enable us to get all the profit the enterprise could yield.” Yet there must be a difference in the interests, or one corporation would have sufficed. The Southern Pacific did not play this sort of comedy for nothing.’[25]

In his successful hardware business, Joost had reached his highest level of competence. But like so many, he overreached, and rose to a level of spectacular incompetence. A pioneering railway was born, but the cost to many–some paying with their limbs and lives, some with their investments–was staggering.

Stanley Starts a Family

Meanwhile, Stanley’s career prospered under the aegis of the elder Morrison. Solidly grounded, with a promise of success, and quickly becoming part of a world beyond the frenetic nightmare of his uncle’s business dealings, Stanley finally married in October 1892. He was thirty-two.

SF Chronicle, 4 Nov 1892. Marriage notice for Stanley and Agnes. SF Public Library.
SF Chronicle, 4 Nov 1892. Marriage notice for Stanley and Agnes. SF Public Library.

His bride was Agnes Zweybruck, age twenty-seven, the younger of two daughters of Frederick and Henrietta Zweybruck, who had immigrated to San Francisco in the 1850s from Germany.

1900c. Grace Methodist Episcopal Church at 21st Street and Capp, where Stanley Foerster and Agnes Zweybruck were married in October 1892.
1900c. Grace Methodist Episcopal Church at 21st Street and Capp, where Stanley Foerster and Agnes Zweybruck were married in October 1892.

Agnes’ father was a small time cigar merchant, but he made sure both his daughters were well educated. Agnes and her sister Edith both became teachers in the public schools of the city. Agnes taught for about ten years, and excelled at her work, being awarded several certifications and commendations during her career, including a certificate to teach German. When she married Stanley, she resigned her position. Her sister Edith did not marry, and went on teaching until her death in 1927.

In 1893, a year after they were married, Agnes and Stanley traveled to Germany, while she was pregnant. In Bremen she gave birth to their first and only child, Roland Constantine Foerster.

A Scoundrel Falls

The seeds of collapse of Joost’s hollow empire, and the fracturing of the extended family ties, were planted in January 1892, when Stanley as an officer of the company signed a promissory note for $50,000 that CA (‘Gus’) Spreckels loaned to Joost’s Sunnyside Construction Company. A year later, seeing which way the fortunes of the enterprise were headed, and receiving none of the promised repayment, Spreckels put it up for auction, causing a huge uproar about the state of the railway and its workings.

Gus Spreckels, son of the Sugar King Claus Spreckels, was eager to embark on a European trip, and wished to get some of his money back. Unlike Joost’s family members and more timid investors, who put up with no dividends and Joost’s foibles, Gus was not waiting around. Joost was at the mercy of one of the city’s most ruthless capitalist dynasties. The Examiner published the public notice in early February 1893.[26]

SF Examiner, 14 Feb 1893. Gus Spreckels' public notice that he will sell his $50,000 note at a public auction.
SF Examiner, 14 Feb 1893. Gus Spreckels’ public notice that he will sell his $50,000 note, signed by CEA Foerster, at a public auction. View larger here.

From here one domino quickly toppled the next. The Chronicle and the Examiner followed hard on the notice with exposés of the Joost Brothers’ shenanigans and the miserably precarious state of the San Francisco San Mateo Electric Railway and the associated Sunnyside Construction Company.[27] Lawsuits by investors mounted.

Throughout his career as a capitalist in the city, Joost used his numerous family members as a bank to borrow from and a place to hide his assets, protecting him from the demands of his creditors. Joost leaned on all his relatives, and Stanley was no exception. When Stanley’s mother had extra money from good years on the farm, she entrusted it to Stanley to invest in property in San Francisco, and Stanley entrusted it to his uncle.[28] Now Stanley needed to break ties in order to keep his young family’s future secure.

By June, Joost had lost control of the railway to a group of his investors who were determined to incorporate the line into a consortium. They were backed by the ‘Octopus’, the Southern Pacific Company, and brought a great deal of money and influence to the effort. Corporate hegemony is never pretty, but the change in management eventually did bring the safety problems of the line under control, and later there were cars added and many improvements made at a steady pace.

Over to the Other Side

Morrison & Foerster became the attorneys for the new owners of the electric railway, putting them in the position of beating back Behrend Joost’s numerous attempts to repossess his precious project over the next couple of years. Joost was never one to forget his humiliations or give up, though at five foot four and three-quarters, he did not cut an imposing figure in a city where such contentions often got personal and came to blows.[29]

In 1896, Joost was still clamoring to get back his railway, and Morrison & Foerster, attorneys for the new owners, assured them that their rights were secure against Joost’s depredations.[30] Several months later, Joost threatened again to take back his beloved railway. Morrison & Foerster again assured their clients, and a skittish public, that no such thing could happen.[31]

A Better Life

Foerster did not look back. The law firm of Morrison & Foerster prospered, and the young partnership quickly achieved a prominent place in the San Francisco business world, taking on many publicized cases. In 1894, they acquired a very important client, Colonel Charles Frederick Crocker, wealthy son of the railway Baron Charles Crocker. When Crocker died in 1897, his fortunes stood at $10 million ($310 million now).[32] Enduring and lucrative, the relationship of the Crocker family with the firm continued even until the 1980s.[33]

His Last Year

But by the time of the high-profile Crocker will settlement, Foerster’s health had begun to fail. To prepare for his eventual departure and help with the case load, the firm took on a third partner, Walter B Cope, who had graduated from Hasting in the same class as Foerster in 1886, and who had been serving as a judge in Santa Barbara. It is a mark of the prestige of the firm even then, that they could lure Cope away from his position to serve in the firm.[34]

Even though he was only thirty-seven years old, a lifetime of tuberculosis told on Stanley Foerster. He moved to San Mateo County to recover, but soon needed constant attention. He came back to the city to stay with his mother and step-sisters at the family home on Shotwell Street. They cared for him during this last months of his life.

Stanley Foerster died surrounded by those who loved in March 1898. His death left his wife Agnes a widow at age 33; his son Roland was just five years old.

Life After Stanley

After this, Roland and Agnes Foerster lived with her mother, Henrietta Zweybruck, and sister, Edith Zweybruck. Roland entered University of California at Berkeley in 1910, but before he graduated, his mother died. She was only forty-eight and may have contracted tuberculosis from Stanley.

This tragedy in Roland’s life was followed two months later by an incident in Yosemite while he was traveling with three friends from the university. One boy slipped and fell to his death in Snow Creek. Roland and his friends determined to stay in order to find their friend’s body, which was swept away by the currents and eventually rescued by the US Cavalry; they returned to the city with the body two days later.[35]

The following spring Roland was engaged to a debutante named Mary Lou Bryant, but they did not marry until he had returned to the city two years later, in 1916–after he received his degree from Yale Law School. Roland C Foerster went on to a long career in law in San Francisco, although of course his father died long before this, and never knew what his son achieved.

When his Aunt Edith Zweybruck died in 1927, the venerable teacher who had dedicated her life to the public schools, Roland oversaw the business of her will. She left a very large fortune, giving several thousand dollars each to many relatives, and more than one tenth of her estate ($15,000) to the University of California to pay lecturers.[36]

A Tangent: Joost’s Bitter End

In 1917, Behrend Joost, who was then 75 years old, was largely retired from business and living at the Miller-Joost House. His wife had left him sometime before, and his finances were in trouble, threatening his survival and leaving him despondent. After several failed suicide attempts, he finally succeeded, dying by poison at his own hand in September. Obituaries at the time recorded an age far older than his actual age.[37] Perhaps by then his lifetime of trouble had told on his face. More to the point, he had no friends to recall the details of his life.

A Foerster Returns to the Firm

By 1918, Roland C Foerster had joined the law firm that his father Stanley co-founded in 1891, which was by then called Morrison, Dunne and Brobeck. Alexander F Morrison, the founder, had always been the most the prominent member of the firm. He died very wealthy in 1921. A memorial fund was founded soon after to pay for lectures at UC Berkeley, and a library was dedicated in his name there.[38] In 1925 the firm split and was reorganized, and the Foerster name was added back, becoming Morrison, Hohfeld, Foerster, Shuman and Clark.[39]

Roland and Mary Lou Foerster had their first child in 1918, shown in this photograph with her father, Major William A Bryant. She was named for her grandfather Constantine (Stanley) but she did not live past her second year.

SF Examiner, 7 May 1919. The first child of Roland and Mary Lou Foerster, held by her grandfather Major William A Bryant, just back from wartime duties. She was named for her grandfather Constantine (Stanley) but she did not live past her second year.
SF Examiner, 7 May 1919. The first child of Roland and Mary Lou Foerster, held by her grandfather Major William A Bryant, just back from wartime duties.

The couple went on to have had two more daughters and two sons. One of the sons, Stanley’s grandson, Roland Bryant Foerster, went into law like his father and grandfather, and joined the firm. Then, on the last day of 1952 he died suddenly at age 30 of pneumonia. One of Roland B’s co-workers at Morrison & Foerster, Robert Homans, concerned that he hadn’t heard from his colleague, went to his flat on California Street, and got the building manager to open the door. It was discovered that Roland B had died suddenly while showering, though no foul play was found.[40]

His father Roland C Foerster was still working in the firm at that time; he remained associated with Morrison, Hohfeld, Foerster, Shuman and Clark until his own death in 1961. Read his obituary here. Despite the fact that there were no more Foresters serving as attorneys for the firm after this, it kept the Foerster name, which it still carries today.


By the 1960s, the firm underwent changes instigated by a group of young attorneys who were subsequently called the Young Turks by historians of the firm.[41] They sought to reinvigorate the fortunes of the partnership with new business strategies. In 1975, the firm’s name was shortened to Morrison & Foerster—a brilliant stroke, as it both hearkened back to the firm’s nineteenth century roots, while shaking off the traditional long, stodgy, ever-revolving list of partners’ names.[42] The ampersand has been used in the new name since then, just as the firm used it in the 1890s. It looked fresh, even while reflecting history, and fitted the advertising sensibilities of the 1970s.

The obvious and subversive nickname MoFo was coined at the time, a cocky nickname for casual use which instantly updated the firm’s image with an urban edginess. Stanley, and indeed his son Roland, may have turned over in their elegant family vault at Cypress Lawn at the notion of this venerable old firm stamped with the mark of an implied vulgarity. Stanley was certainly never prone to brashness—he did not even have his likeness reproduced for the newspapers during his lifetime.[43]

The catchy shorthand ‘MoFo’—suggesting the longer urban profanity—was only used unofficially by those in the field for two decades. During those years the firm grew much larger and opened offices in a dozen major cities around the world. ‘MoFo’ only made it into print with the expansion of the Internet in the 1990s, when the firm began to use it as a URL,—still in use today.

2020. Screenshot from
2020. Screenshot from

Remembering Constantine E.A. Foerster

The name of Constantine E. A. Foerster should be remembered by those who live in Sunnyside as that of a well-respected, industrious, and principled lawyer of late 19th century San Francisco.

The street named for him is home to Sunnyside Elementary School, presently a top-rated public school in the city; this is something that his family with their interest in education would surely be pleased with. When Miraloma Park was developed north of Sunnyside, Foerster Street was extended up the hill. The street is also the location of the Sunnyside Playground, and the blocks around the park were where some of the earliest houses in the district were built, long before the streetcars came down Monterey Boulevard.

Forester’s extended family, encompassing the Millers, the Joosts, and the Zweybrucks, includes some of the most prominent and accomplished Germans in late nineteenth century San Francisco. His uncle, Behrend Joost, was in the end an ornery scoundrel, but the sort of scoundrel that made things happen in the early years of the city. His grandfather, Adam Miller, designed and built the Miller-Joost House that is a city landmark. His law firm Morrison & Foerster shepherded the pioneering San Francisco San Mateo Electric Railway from its disastrous start with Behrend Joost to its important inclusion in the burgeoning streetcar railway system of early twentieth century San Francisco. And his son Roland was a prominent attorney in the city for forty years.


Biographical Summaries

  • Behrend Joost (1841 Germany – 1917 SF)
  • Constantine E.A. Foerster (1860 WI – 1898 SF)
  • Agnes Zweybruck Foerster (1865 SF – 1913 SF)
  • Roland Constantine Foerster 1893 Germany – 1961 NY)
  • Roland Bryant Foerster (1922 – 1952 SF)


  1. Much intimate biographical information in this article comes from an account contained in a letter written by Constantine E.A. Foerster’s stepsister Anna Therkof [sic] (1873-1968) to his son, Roland C Foerster, dated 1958, courtesy of Jacqueline Garnier, a descendant. The focus of the letter was Foerster’s early life as remembered by Anna (called hereafter called “the Therkof Letter”).
  2. The Millers are first listed in the SF Directory in 1865. Other information from the Therkof Letter. The travel route is my supposition.
  3. As per San Francisco directories for 1865 and 1866; and the Therkof letter.
  4. The first years of the Millers’ life in San Francisco is pieced together from SF Directories, US Census data, and the Therkof Letter.
  5. “The New Hospital,” Daily Alta California, 20 May 1872.
  6. It has been claimed elsewhere that the Miller-Joost House was built by the younger Adam Miller (1845-1932), but I find this very unlikely. According to the SF Directories and the US Census in 1870 and 1880, the senior Adam Miller (1813-1885) lived at the house from at least 1868 until his death in 1885. Although the same historical context statement (reference below) mentions a milk ranch run by the Millers, there is little evidence Adam Miller was much involved in that business, though it may have operated on his land around the home. The younger man never lived at the Miller-Joost House, and resided and conducted his construction business elsewhere in the city, as per the directories. I have no doubt that the younger man assisted on the construction of Miller-Joost House, but it was always the house of the senior Adam Miller (1813-1885). See “Corbett Heights, San Francisco (Western Part of Eureka Valley) Historic Context Statement” at SF Planning Dept website.
  7. As per SF Directories for Adam Miller, carpenter. The house had a great many different location descriptors in the directory, before it took on the street address of 104 Falcon Ave in the 1910s: “S Corbett near 18th,” “17th near Mission and Ocean House Road,” “West side 18th St near Casserly,” “Mission House Road near 18th St,” “Ocean House Road near Mountain Spring House, and “18th St near Mountain Spring House.” The area was a jumble of dirt tracks and subject to bad mapping for many years.
  8. Therkof Letter.
  9. Therkof Letter.
  10. Therkof Letter.
  11. Therkof Letter.
  12. As per San Francisco directory for 1877.
  13. Therkof Letter.
  14. My supposition from census data and SF Directories listings for Constantine Foerster. After ‘clerk’ in late 1870s, then ‘salesman’ in 1880, Foerster was listed as’ bookkeeper’ in 1882 and 1883.
  15. As per Voter’s Register for Monterey County, October 1886, accessed through
  16. Unfortunately Mae Silver in her book Rancho San Miguel, which offers some account of Joost’s doings on the slopes of Twin Peaks, was not a critical reader of her sources, taking a contemporary vanity biography in the newspaper as truth. This mistake was also made, with some corrections, by the author of the historical context statement cited in Note 6. The bio was part of this article: RH M’Donald Jr, “Men of the Time,” SF Call, 28 May 1893, p29.
  17. Daily Alta California, 14 May 1889.
  18. “How Franchises are Bought,” SF Examiner, 2 Mar 1893.
  19. “Franchise Wanted,” SF Call, 2 Sep 1890; “An Electric Road,” SF Chronicle, 8 Oct 1890; “That Solid Nine Again,” SF Call, 24 Dec 1890; and “The New Railroad,” SF Chronicle, 25 Dec 1890.
  20. “First Electric Road,” SF Chronicle, 27 April 1892.
  21. This precis of Foerster’s speech is gathered from three accounts: “To the Sepulchre by Wire,” SF Examiner, 27 April 1892; “First Electric Road, SF Chronicle, 27 Apr 1892; and “The Electric Road,” SF Call, 27 Apr 1892.
  22. “The Third Since Opening: Another Serious Accident on the New Electric Road,” SF Examiner, 3 May 1892, p3.
  23. “Twin Corporations,” SF Chronicle, 8 Feb 1893, p3.
  24. “A Novel Argument,” SF Call, 2 Apr 1893, p4.
  25. “A Novel Argument,” SF Call, 2 Apr 1893, p4.
  26. “Notice of Sale by Pledgee of Properly Pledged,” SF Examiner, 14 Feb 1893. Notice was placed weekly from 7 Feb to 14 Mar 1893.
  27. “The Electric Road: An Officer Presents a Brief Explanation: Why Sunny Side Construction Company Has Not Met its Obligations,” SF Chronicle, 9 Feb 1893; “After the Electric Road: The Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Hungry for Possession,” SF Examiner, 15 Feb 1893;“How Franchises are Bought: The Operations of the San Francisco and San Mateo Railway Company Exposed,” SF Examiner, 2 Mar 1893; and “Two Bodies with One Mind: Behrend Joost’s Dual Corporations that Built a Railroad,” SF Examiner, 3 Mar 1893.
  28. Therkof Letter.
  29. Joost’s stature was recorded in the San Francisco Voter’s Register of 1898, accessed at
  30. “The San Mateo Road Cannot Be Redeemed,” SF Examiner, 5 Dec 1896.
  31. “Who Will Own the San Mateo Road?” SF Examiner, 9 Apr 1897.
  32. SF Chronicle, 23 Jul 1897, p14.
  33. “Crocker Nearly Gone but Not Forgotten,” LA Times, 27 May 1986.
  34. SF Chronicle, 13 Apr 1897, p5.
  35. “A.R. Pohli Falls to his Death in Yosemite,” SF Call, 21 May 1913; “Soldiers Risk Lives to Recover Remains,” SF Call, 22 May 1913; and “Companions Return with Pohli’s Body: Friends Tell Story of Tragic Death of Prominent Young San Franciscan in Yosemite,” SF Examiner, 23 May 1913.
  36. SF Examiner, 20 Dec 1927, p8.
  37. Joost’s age at death was variously published as 82 or 85 years old. Census data and other sources clearly put his birth year as late 1841 or early 1842, making him 75 at his death. “Builder of SF’s First Electric Road Passes,” The Recorder (SF), 25 Sep 1917 (85 Years old); “Behrend Joost Dies from Poison,” Oakland Tribune, 24 Sep 1917 (82 Years old); and SF Examiner, 24 Sep 1917 (82 years old).
  38. SF Examiner, 8 Feb 1927, p10.
  39. From a timeline on the firm’s website: “Firm History,”, webpage dated 28 Nov 1999, accessed via the Wayback Machine.
  40. “History of Case,” Coroner’s Register Record of Death, for Roland Bryant Foerster, 31 Dec 1952, accessed through
  41. See entry at Wiki Law School, , and a brief article in Bloomberg Law News, .
  42. The date of the shortening suggested by the date at which it begins to appear in newspapers ( confirmed by the timeline on the 1999 history of the firm on their website (see Note above).
  43. I have been unable to find even one image of C.E.A. Foerster, much to my disappointment.


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