James Lick, the Unhappy Multimillionaire
This block on Sutter Street was once the site of the fabulous Lick House, a grand hotel whose dining room was copied from the Palace of Versailles. It's owner and builder was James Lick, a man who knew how to make money but not how to enjoy it. Lick arrived in San Francisco in 1848 and bought lots of land near downtown. When the Gold Rush hit, one year later, he became incredibly rich. Despite his wealth Lick remained 'scrawny, filthy, and disheveled' he begrudged himself the price of a square meal and would walk around town with a gunnysack, begging bones from butchers and restaurants. He ground the bones to meal to use in his fruit orchards in Santa Clara.

Despite his personal deprivations he spared no expense on the palatial Lick House which featured bars, billiards rooms, reading rooms. The famous dining room had a mosaic parquet floor made up of 88,000 pieces of exotic woods and its 32-foot walls were covered with paintings of the Golden Gate and Yosemite. Toward the end of his monastic life Lick decided to give his entire fortune to San Francisco. He donated the land and paid for the construction of the California Academy of Sciences. His money also funded orphanages, schools, the SPCA and a other projects. One other beneficiary of his philanthropy was the unfortunately-named Lick Old Ladies Home on University Street.
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