Posted By whatsitworth on June 4, 2012
Anna McKenna was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1845. After her father’s death the family moved to Boston. One of Anna’s older sisters had settled in San Francisco and, when Anna went to visit her sister in the 1860s, she was introduced to Frank Tillman, a wealthy San Francisco businessman more than twice her age.
Frank Tillman was born in Germany in 1819. In the 1840s he followed an older brother to Vicksburg, Mississippi where the two had a business selling lightning rods. When Frank learned of the gold discovery in California, he abandoned what he called “a malarial pesthole” and journeyed to San Francisco, arriving in October of 1849.
Frank amassed a fortune of $5000 in the gold fields but, unfortunately, succumbed to scurvy and spent his fortune recuperating. He gave up the gold fields and settled in San Francisco where he became a dealer in safes and scales for the gold trade. Always a savvy real estate investor, by the 1860s Frank had acquired 10 land parcels throughout the city.
Frank Tillman married Anna McKenna in 1867. The number of children born and the need for more space both grew and, in 1875, Frank built a large Italianate home on a Nob Hill parcel he owned at the corner of Broadway and Larkin. The family and their surviving children lived in the home until Frank’s death in 1904.
After Frank’s death Anna decided to move the Italianate house to a lot she purchased on Van Ness Avenue and to build a block of apartments on Nob Hill. The move was accomplished on rollers over the course of a month. In 1906 San Francisco was leveled by earthquake and fire and the Tillman house on Van Ness was wired with dynamite in order to act as a firebreak. The fires stopped two blocks from the family home and the Tillmans returned. Anna lived there until her death in 1941.
Generations of Tillmans have lived in the home at 2826 Van Ness, retaining most of the original 1875 furnishings, until a great grandson and his wife sold the home last autumn. Many of those furnishings, massive Renaissance Revival dining and bedroom suites, artwork and Frank’s 1867 specimen gold topped cane will be coming up for auction at Michaan’s in June.
By far my favorite item from this California Pioneer family is the portrait of jewel bedecked Anna McKenna Tillman, painted by society portraitist Tobias Edward Rosenthal in 1873. Not only is the portrait in lovely condition and in a San Francisco made M.D. Niles frame, the estate retained the suite of jewelry Mrs. Tillman wore in the portrait.
The jewelry includes a pair of pearl, enamel and 14k gold cuff bracelets (estimate $4000-6000), a pearl, enamel and 18k gold necklace ($1800-2500) and a diamond and enameled 14K gold brooch ($1200-1800). These will all be sold at auction on June. The portrait, with a presale estimate of $2500-5000, will be sold on Sunday June 3rd along with the Tillman’s furniture and Frank’s 1867 gold topped cane. Anna’s jewelry suite will be sold on Saturday, June 16th at Michaan’s Fine jewelry and timepieces sale. To learn more about the auctions visit www.michaans.com.
Frank Tillman was a proud and successful member of the Society of California Pioneers, the oldest historical organization west of the Mississippi. Membership today still comprises descendents of pioneers who arrived in California prior to January 1, 1850. Today the society maintains an exhibition center and library on Sutter Street. To learn more about the historical, social, cultural and educational events of the Society of California Pioneers visit www.californiapioneers.org.