Technical notes about Mary Ellen Pleasant’s Geneva Cottage property

The property that Mary Ellen Pleasant held near the intersection of San Jose Avenue and Geneva Avenue between 1855 and 1900 has undergone many changes over the years. The land was originally part of the Bernal family’s Mexican land grants, specifically the 1840-granted Rancho Rincon de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo, which was confirmed to the family by the state of California in December 1852 and by the US government in December 1857. In 1857 Harvey S Brown purchased a large portion of what was then called the Bernal Rancho from the family, and began selling lots. In March 1863, he filed a homestead map with the City called “West End Map No.1”, platted into blocks and lots. In the late twentieth century with the installation of the interstate freeway and BART, the area is now a major transit hub.

Map of the land held by Mary Ellen Pleasant at the intersection of San Jose and Geneva Avenues, marked to indicate period of ownership or use, and the location of Geneva Cottage.
Map of the land held by Mary Ellen Pleasant at the intersection of San Jose and Geneva Avenues, marked to indicate period of ownership or use, and the location of Geneva Cottage.

The area Pleasant held was called Block 29 of West End Map No.1 (WEM1). This was the land that she sold to AB Southard in May 1900; Southard built the Geneva Car Barn, Office Building, and Powerhouse, opened in April 1901. The land she sold was the block bounded by San Jose, Geneva, Delano (was Delaware), and Niagara (was Unadilla) (SF Call 17 May 1900; SF Chronicle, 15 May 1900). This block now has the SF Planning Dept block number 6972. In 1901, when the entire block was rebuilt, the structure Pleasant built there in 1869 was demolished. Later, portions of the block were sold off for development of single-family houses (Lots 2-18 and 22-34), and for a factory building (Lot 19), all of which still stand. The City retains ownership of Lot 36, on which stands the Office Building, Powerhouse, and what remains of the car house facilities.

Satellite image of area around Mary Ellen Pleasant's property at San Jose and Geneva Avenues, marked to show land she held 1855-1900. Block 29 (hot pink) and Block 28 (pale pink). Google satellite image.
Satellite image of area around Mary Ellen Pleasant’s property at San Jose and Geneva Avenues, marked to show land she held 1855-1900. Block 29 (hot pink) and Block 28 (pale pink). Google satellite image.

In the 1880s, Pleasant also owned Block 28, West End Map No.1, the block just to the south of Block 29 (6972). This parcel is bounded by San Jose, Niagara, Delano, and Mt Vernon. This is now city blocks 7027A and 7027B, now bisected by Shawnee Avenue.

1907 SF Block Book map of Block 29, West End Map No.1 Showing the lots as delineated then. Pleasant used the north half (right side), lots 1-3, 10-12, from 1855. She owned this property from 1868 to 1900. The south half (left side), lots 4-9, she purchased in 1894. She sold both sets of lots in May 1900. From Archive.org, marked.
1907 SF Block Book map of Block 29, West End Map No.1 Showing the lots as delineated then. Pleasant used the north half (right side), lots 1-3, 10-12, from 1855. She owned this property from 1868 to 1900. The south half (left side), lots 4-9, she purchased in 1894. She sold both sets of lots in May 1900. From Archive.org, marked.

The whole map as filed by HS Brown in 1863, marked to show Pleasant’s land:

1863. West End Map No.1, plat map filed by Harvey S Brown with the City and County of San Francisco. Two blocks owned by Mary Ellen Pleasant for periods between 1855 and 1900 I have marked yellow and blue. Railroad depot adjacent in pink. Dept Public Works.
1863. West End Map No.1, plat map filed by Harvey S Brown with the City and County of San Francisco. Two blocks owned by Mary Ellen Pleasant for periods between 1855 and 1900 I have marked yellow and blue. Railroad depot adjacent in pink. SF Dept Public Works.

Below is a chronology of various property transactions relevant to Pleasant’s use of the Geneva Cottage property, with references and citations, as well as the property at 920 Washington Street (now 962). This latter property was intrinsically linked to the Geneva Cottage property by the 1868 lawsuit that Pleasant initiated against her daughter, Lizzie J Smith Phillips.

The links below to San Francisco Land and Property Records and Funeral Home records (digitized) are available free at FamilySearch. The SF Chronicle and SF Examiner archives are available at SF Public Library, sfpl.org > Articles and Databases. The Daily Alta California, Sacramento Daily Union, and other newspapers cited in the main article, are available at CDNC.

Sifting through tens of thousands of pages of handwritten property records required months of careful work. I am deeply indebted to Kathleen Laderman for her assistance in this project and her familiarity with these difficult-to-use records. Without her help, I could not have produced as complete or as true an account of Pleasant’s property in the Ingleside district. In the end it was from an accumulation of these slim clues that a chain of events and transactions emerged to tell a new story about Mary Ellen Pleasant.

Date Transaction Notes Reference
1850 Feb 22 News item. Sheriff’s sale of the property at 920 Washington (NW corner of Stone). Lot contained a small two-story house. Daily Alta California

[date]

1850 Jun 29 Deed. Robert James Harlan sells 920 Washington St to Sully Cox for $3500. 1853 Nov 21 re-recording or a late recording of the 1850 transaction. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1855 Feb 13 News item. Sully Cox listed as delinquent on taxes due on property at 920 Washington St. Daily Alta California

[date]

1855 (circa) Mary Ellen Pleasant builds a laundry on San Jose Avenue at what will later be Geneva Avenue. Accepted date by other researchers; discussed in main article.
1856 May 20 Sully Cox includes Raspberry [sic] Phillips on deed of 920 Washington Street SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1856 May 23 Sully Cox and Raspberry [sic] Phillips take out a mortgage on the property with Cyrus G Finney, merchant. Another transaction that day appears to transfer mortgage to Phillips. LINK SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

LINK

1856 Aug 23 Mary Ellen Pleasant(s) pays off a mortgage from or for Sally [sic] Cox et al This is Pleasant’s first appearance in the property records. I surmise she pays off the Cox/Phillips mortgage for 920 Washington St, due to what follows. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1856 Nov 26 Mary Ellen Pleasant files a document showing her intention to sue Cox and Phillips over the 920 Washington St property. My surmise based on the fact that two weeks later Cox and Phillips deed the property to her. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1856 Dec 10 Sully Cox and RB Phillips deed property to Pleasant My surmise, given the fact that Pleasant has the property when she deeds it back to Phillips in 1861. SF Land and Property Records.

Cox: LINK

Phillips: LINK

1860 Dec 02 RB Phillips granted divorce from Kate Phillips Daily Alta California

[date]

1861 Sep 11 John J and Mary Ellen Pleasant deed property at 920 Washington St to RB Phillips for $2500 This discounted price suggests property is gift or enticement. Phillips is in Napa at the time. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1862 Mar 04 John Manahan, saloon and boarding house keeper in South of Market, buys Lot 1, Block 29, West End Map No.1 from HS Brown. Corner portion of the property Pleasant using for her laundry. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

Deed: LINK

1865 Apr 14 Marriage of RB Phillips to Pleasant’s daughter Lizzie J Smith The Elevator

[date]

1866 Feb 02 RB Phillips takes out a mortgage from Pleasant. Likely against the 920 Washington property, the only property associated with Phillips SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1868 Jan 27 RB Phillips granted a divorce from Lizzie J Phillips Sacramento Daily Union
1868 Jun 01 RB Phillips buys Geneva Cottage land from HS Brown. Pleasant buys same from RB Phillips. Deeds are gone. My surmise this property is the Geneva Cottage land, given lawsuit against Lizzie that follows that includes it, and the fact that HS Brown was owner of most of the West End Map lots. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

Note this index page is ordered Grantee-Grantor

1868 Jun 06 RB Phillips dies of gastritis at Pleasant’s boarding house at 708 Stockton. The cause is recorded in the Death records at Ancestry.com, which does not give an easy way to cite this particular source. SF Funeral Home Records.

LINK

1868 Sep 16 Mary Ellen Pleasant files injunction suit against her daughter, RB Phillips’ ex-wife Lizzie J Phillips. Suit regarding the properties at 920 Washington and at Geneva and Delaware (now Delano), i.e. the Geneva Cottage property SF Chronicle

[date]

1868 Sep 24 Lizzie J Phillips deeds property to Mary E Pleasants.

Pleasant’s husband JJ Pleasant gives her power of attorney.

SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1868 Sep 25 John J and Mary E Pleasant take out a mortgage from Occidental Insurance Co. This mortgage, likely against the 920 Washington St property, will finance a renovation of the structure. SF Land and Property Records.

LINK

1869 Spring Mary Ellen Pleasant opens renovated luxury boarding house at 920 Washington Street. SF Directory listings; discussed in main article.
1869 Mar 18 Lizzie J Phillips married to William B Peck. SF Chronicle [date]
1869 Sep (circa) Mary Ellen Pleasant builds the structure at San Jose and Geneva Avenues called “Geneva Cottage” Date given by “biographer” Helen Holdredge. Accords with year cited in 1899 Chronicle article. SF Chronicle

1899 Jul 09

1875 March Mary Ellen Pleasant, John J Pleasant, Lizzie J Peck, and Sarah Green (Pleasant’s employee) living at Geneva Cottage “Hog Ranch” SF Directory listings.
1876, 1879 Mary Ellen Pleasant at Geneva Cottage “Hog Ranch” During this time, Pleasant builds her enormous mansion at 1661 Octavia Street, where she will live until 1899. SF Directory listings.
1877 Oct 26 Mary Ellen Pleasant buys Block 28, West End Map No.1 (blocks 7027A and 7027B) Pays $5500 SF Examiner [date]
1883 Nov 16 Mary Ellen Pleasant puts her Geneva Cottage property in the name of Rebecca Howard Gordon. Rebecca entrusted Pleasant with her money and property, and allowed Pleasant to put property in her name as it suited her (Pleasant’s) needs. This comprises Lots 1-3, 10-12, Block 29 WEM1, that is the north half of Block 29. SF Examiner [date]
1883-1887 Rebecca J Howard Gordon lives at the Geneva Cottage property with her husband and four daughters. Rebecca splits from husband Nicholas Gordon in July1887. SF Directory listings.
1884 Oct 01 John Manahan, deceased. Administrator’s sale of Lot 1, Block 29, West End Map No.1. This is a one-sixth portion of the land Pleasant claims in Block 29. SF Examiner [date]
1885 Mar 15 First instance of “Geneva Cottage” in print. Society page notice about Rebecca’s visitors from her hometown of Cleveland OH. SF Examiner. Also in the SF Directory listing for Nicholas Gordon.
1887 Feb 13 James Kelly, John Manahan’s son-in-law and heir, sues Rebecca Gordon, to evict her family from Geneva Cottage; asserts ownership of Lot 1, Block 29 WEM1 SF Examiner, [date] p17.
1887 July Rebecca and Nicholas Gordon split up. SF Examiner,

1891 Jul 13, p3.

1888 Feb 15 James Kelly wins suit against Rebecca Gordon re Lot 1, Block 29, WEM1 Mary Ellen Pleasant claims she did not get deed when she purchased it in “1871”. SF Examiner, [date] p8.
1888 Sep 06 Mary Ellen Pleasant appeals ruling in February in some fashion and offers new testimony asserting her right of ownership of lots 1-3, 10-12, Block 29 WEM1. Rebecca Gordon “is niece of Mammy Pleasance [sic] and claims to have derived title to the land through her.” Daily Alta California
1888 Nov 12 Judge Hunt ruled in favor of the Gordons re ownership of Lots 1-3, 10-12, Block 29 WEM1. As reported in Daily Alta California,

10 Apr 1889.

1889 Apr 10 James Kelly’s motion for a new trial denied. Daily Alta California [date]
1889 Sept Robert Morse Park, Civil War vet and friend of Pleasant, dies in SF.
<1892 – 1899 Susannah Jessie Park, friend of Pleasant and Robert’s widow, goes to live at Geneva Cottage with her six sons. SF Directories
1891 Oct 27 Mary Ellen Pleasant sells Block 28, West End Map No.1, through India Howard, sister of Rebecca J Howard Gordon. Pleasant had gifted the block to India earlier in the month (SF Examiner, 16 Oct 1891). Daily Alta California
1899 May Mary Ellen Pleasant, evicted by Teresa Bell from the 1661 Octavia Street mansion, goes to Geneva Cottage to live during legal tussles over her estate and the Bell Estate. She was accompanied by India Howard, sister of Rebecca J Howard Gordon Boone. (She married Charles Boone in 1896.)

The 1899 Chronicle article indicates that Jessie Park and her children were also still living at the cottage in July.

SF Chronicle

1899 Jul 09.

SF Directory for 1900 lists both women there, 2309 San Jose Avenue.

1900 May Pleasant and Boone sell all of  Block 29, West End Map No.1 to AB Southard This indicates that Pleasant must have moved out by this date, as the Geneva Office Building was constructed soon after on the site. Deeds:

1900 May 10, Boone to Southard

LINK

1900 May 14, Pleasant to Southard

LINK

1904 Jan 11 Mary Ellen Pleasant dies at the home of her friends the Sherwoods. Hudson. p95.