Stonebrook Court - Lantarnam Hall: Residence, School, Residence Again

Please click the links below for the Stonebrook Court presentation on-line.

Part 1 --- Life of Percy T. Morgan

Part 2 --- A Series of Stonebrook Court manor owners

Part 3 --- Grand Ballroom and Grounds

Meeting with Historian John Ralston

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lantarnam Hall, named after the town of Llantarnam, Wales, was designed by Bay Area architect John Powers for Percy Morgan, a highly influential Stanford University trustee descended from Welsh immigrants, and his wife Daisy, and completed in 1916. Percy Morgan and his wife purchased 132 acres in Los Altos Hills for a country retreat and built a manor patterned after Speke Hall in England.

Subsequent owners included flamboyant restaurateurs Gerald and Gypsy Buys, whose bid to make the house a private club was denied. In the 1950's John Carter Ford purchased the house, neglected and abandoned, for use as a day school. In 1999 the house became a private residence again.

John Ralston, program director of Los Altos Hills Historical Society, will tell about the life of Percy Morgan (1862-1920), businessman and Stanford University trustee, who helped restructure the university's financial system, and how and why he built the mansion. John will also tell about the famous - and infamous - persons who have occupied the house since.

About the Author

John Ralston is a third-generation San Franciscan, the great grandson of Henry Russell Ralston, a Scottish ironworker who arrived in San Francisco with his brother, the first John Ralston, around 1865, and who with the first John established the Ralston Iron Works on Howard Street about 1870.

The current John was born on May 10, 1942, and as it was just after the United States entered World War II there was a shortage of necessities, including taxicabs. No cab came to the family's Larkin Street address when John's mother went into labor, and John's uncle was called in the middle of the night to take his mother and panic-stricken father to St. Mary's hospital. John's uncle tore over in his vintage 1940 Buick, the party was hustled aboard, and the Buick tore off, but too late. Sixty-five years later, John basks in the satisfaction of knowing that while many San Franciscans boast of being born in such-and-such a neighborhood, he was born in several! Appropriately, May 10th was Mother's Day.

Like his father, uncle, aunt, and two older brothers, John attended the old Lowell on Hayes Street, and he majored in history at the University of California, Berkeley, with an emphasis on Russia and the Soviet Union. The circumstances of his birth having indelibly impressed upon John a love for and fascination with his native city, he began researching San Francisco's history independently after graduating. Two literary sparks that ignited his research were the late William Bronson's The Earth Shook, the Sky Burned about the great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and Boss Ruef's San Francisco, by the late Walton Bean, distinguished professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and a foremost authority on California. In the latter work John first encountered the great editor Fremont Older (1856-1935), and the more he read about this incredible individual and the times in which he lived - and influenced - the more John was determined to produce a biography worthy of Older.

John and his wife Lana, have formed the Ralston Independent Works (the name commemorates Great-Grandfather Henry's and Great-Uncle John's venture), with several aims: publishing "This date in San Francisco", a book that will have an entry for every date of the calendar year, and will be available in 2010.
An Authentic Hero, the biography of Fremont Older; is almost finished. In October 2003 John and Lana presented a mixed-media program on the Billings-Mooney case to the San Francisco History Association. In June 2004 John gave a program on Fremont Older at the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society's monthly meeting, and in September, 2007, a program "Character References: Famous San Francisco Men and Women".

John and Lana also collaborate on the Encyclopedia of San Francisco website, to help stimulate interest in the SFMHS's monumental plans for a Museum of the City of San Francisco in the Old Mint on Fifth Street. Please visit Ralston Independent Works web site to get familiar with their work.








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