The McDonald Mansion, originally called “Mableton,” was built in 1879 by Mark L. McDonald, one of Santa Rosa’s most prominent early citizens. Colonel McDonald, a Kentucky native, came west as captain of a wagon train in the early 1850’s. Trained in engineering, he first built roadways servicing gold and silver mines. His early successes allowed him to buy a seat on the San Francisco Stock Exchange, during which time he joined the ranks of the city's rich and powerful, including George Hearst, Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker.
By the late 1860’s, McDonald had begun to apply his wealth, influence and entrepreneurial spirit to new business opportunities in Santa Rosa. These included purchase and subdivision of 160 acres of land, then called “McDonald’s Addition.” During the 1870’s, the new development flourished, and McDonald Avenue became the premier residential street of Santa Rosa. The neighborhood’s popularity was enhanced by a range of amenities including gas and water service, and a new streetcar line established by Colonel McDonald. An extensive tree planting program, implemented with the assistance of famed local botanist Luther Burbank, introduced some imported species while preserving existing native examples.
McDonald was active in civic affairs and was instrumental in the development of numerous local improvements, including Santa Rosa’s first library, the first steam railroad brought to Santa Rosa and operation of the Santa Rosa Water Works Company, an early private utility. He capitalized and built the nearby reservoir known as Lake Ralphine, which was named for McDonald’s wife. His other business interests included fruit packing plants and drying yards in the area.
The McDonalds’ primary residence was in San Francisco and Mableton was built as their summer home. The couple had seven children, although two of their daughters (Ralphine and Alice) died during childhood. Those who survived into adulthood included Mark L. McDonald, Jr., Stewart, Mabel, Edith and Florence.
McDonald Avenue street car, circa 1910. Note 804 McDonald Avenue (Healey Home) in rear.
Colonel Mark L. McDonald family around 1900. Mrs. McDonald, Edith, Stewart, Maxwell McNutt (husband of Florence McDonald), Mable, Florence, Mark Jr. and the Colonel.
Mark McDonald Jr. married Isabelle Juilliard, and it was they who would eventually own Mableton. Stewart McDonald died of tuberculosis in 1907. Mabel, who was an accomplished horsewoman, married William H. Hamilton of San Francisco. Edith married Selah Chamberlain, a socially prominent San Franciscan. Florence, also an excellent horsewoman, married Maxwell McNutt, a high-profile San Francisco attorney.
Mabel McDonald and William H. Hamilton Wedding Party. On Mableton steps circa 1904.
Mark L. McDonald Sr. died in 1917, in San Francisco, at the age of 84. Following his death, his wife Ralphine resided at Mableton, where she died in 1918 at the age of 75. The couple is buried in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, which is located at the north end of McDonald Avenue.
“Mableton”, circa 1910. This photograph was included in a promotional brochure published by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. It shows that, by this date, dormer windows had been added to the second floor bedrooms. Visible at far left is a bay window added to the rear portion of the house (absent in the 1882 lithograph view). Also, some of the original roof cresting is still visible. Courtesy of the California Historical Society.
After the death of the senior McDonalds, the eldest son Mark Jr. and his wife Isabelle eventually became sole owners of Mableton, and made it their primary residence. In his career, Mark Jr.’s followed the example of his father, and found success running the Santa Rosa Water Works, and the M. L. McDonald Jr. and Co. Fruit Packing plant. He also had extensive holdings in orchard land and other real estate.
Mark McDonald, Jr., with daughter Marcia
Mrs. Mark L. McDonald, Jr. (Isabelle Juilliard) holding son Juilliard, with daughter Marcia
Like her husband, Isabelle was a native Californian with family roots dating back to the Gold Rush. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Frederick Juilliard, settled in Santa Rosa. The site of their family home was donated to the city by Isabelle’s father, and survives today as Juilliard Park in downtown Santa Rosa. Isabelle’s privileged upbringing included private East Coast schooling and several years of residence in Tuxedo Park, New York with her wealthy uncle Augustus Juilliard, who was the founder of the Juilliard School of Music.
By the early 1920’s, Mark and Isabelle had begun to extensively remodel Mableton to suit their own tastes. Among the changes they implemented were alterations to the rear of the house, installation of additional bathrooms, and numerous landscape improvements, including a tennis court (now the site of a formal garden). The couple had two children who survived into adulthood: a daughter, Marcia, and a son, Juilliard (a third child, Mark McDonald III, died in infancy).
After Mark L. McDonald, Jr. died in 1932, Isabelle occupied a Nob Hill apartment in San Francisco as her primary residence. Until her death in 1960, Mableton was once again used mostly as a summer home. Isabelle’s son, Juilliard McDonald, had a successful career and maintained the family’s business interests. Although he was married twice, Juilliard died childless in 1946. Following the death of Isabelle, her daughter Marcia became the last surviving McDonald heir. Like her mother, Marcia chose to make her primary home in a San Francisco apartment. However, after her mother's death, she was less inclined to visit Mableton, and subsequently allowed the property to fall into disrepair.
When Marcia, who never married, died childless in 1971 at the age of 65, the fate of the mansion was uncertain. The terms of Isabelle’s will and trust had dictated that, upon Marcia’s death, Mableton was to be left jointly to the University of California and Stanford University. Eventually, the property was offered for sale to the City of Santa Rosa, and local controversy over possible development plans for the site ensued.
Mableton circa 1971.