John Ziegenbein (c.1834 – January 17, 1889) was a San Francisco produce merchant turned developer who built a large group of similar 2-story, Italianate houses in the Oakland Point/Prescott/Lower Bottoms neighborhood that featured hip roofs, 2-story bays, porticos, and often, a porthole. His obituary in the Oakland Enquirer in January, 1889 notes that he built 300 homes and enabled people to own homes with an installment purchase plan and that he kept “a large force of men almost constantly employed” over a period of 18 years. It is estimated around 100 of his homes still exist, including his, located at what is now 1004 Peralta St.
While is best known for the 2-story houses, Ziegenbein also constructed a number of smaller cottages, and at least one commercial building. 7
Ziegenbein was born in Hannover, Germany/Prussia around April, 1834. He immigrated to the United States at age 15, where he first lived in New York City for several years. He arrived in California in 1859, finding wealth in the mines of Placer County and becoming a merchant in Lincoln, CA. He arrived in Oakland in 1870.
He married Katherine Detels (Ziegenbein) (also born in Germany) and they had 8 children: Mary Ziegenbein (July 2, 1864 – October 10, 1945), Catherine Ziegenbein (c.1868 – August 12, 1884), Florentine Ziegenbein (March 8, 1872 – March 25, 1947), Adeline Ziegenbein (c.1875 - ?), Lilly Zeigenbein (June 6, 1877 – October 7, 1952), John M. Ziegenbein (c.1879 – ?), and Hanna Ziegenbein (August 5, 1880 – March 20, 1951). The name of the 8th child is unknown. Three of the children were blind. 3 Florentine became a bookkeeper, and Hanna became a nurse. John M. appears to have served some time in the military, as there is a record from 1902 showing his release from Letterman Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco.
While Ziegenbein was very successful, he had a major financial setback in 1883-1884, losing about $80,000 in some failed ventures. 3,4 This was in part because of the Depression of 1882-1885. Still, he left an estate valued somewhere between $20,000 and $32,000 when he died in 1889, all left to Katherine to provide for the children. Ziegenbein is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. 5 He did not belong to a church or any 'secret societies', whch was uncommon for men of means in that day. Katherine carried on the business after his death, with the aid of construction foreman Peter Swanson. 6
Links and References
- For Sale on Installments Oakland Tribune February 9, 1888
- A Builder of Homes Oakland Tribune January 17, 1889
- Oakland Items Daily Alta California January 5, 1884
- An Extensive Failure Oakland Tribune January 4, 1884
- The Eastern Shore Daily Alta California January 23, 1889
- John Ziegenbein Dead Oakland Enquirer January 17, 1889
- Extensive Building Operation Oakland Tribune December 23, 1880
- John Ziegenbein on FindAGrave.com
- NB: although ads and most records spell the family name Ziegenbein, the Daily Alta California consistently spelled it Zeigenbein