Charles Crocker’s 40 Foot Tall Spite Fence
Nicholas Yung and His Cottage Home and Garden
Nicholas Yung was a man with a dream to make it in America, and he immigrated from his home country of Germany to the United States in 1848. As he lived in San Francisco he persevered and became the owner of his own mortuary. When the business grew it helped him and his wife Rosina to buy a nice local lot, where they built their dream cottage-style house and grew a garden to match. The beautiful ambience of California made their home light up with sunlight flowing over their colorful garden.
After enjoying his time in America and his comfortable home, Nicholas was prepared to live out his days in peace, but he couldn’t have foreseen what was to come next.
There was a man named Charles Crocker,
who was obscenely wealthy and in all his wealth and power he became quite petty.
Crocker would eventually set his sights on Yung, and turn his life from a bright idyllic future into shadowy despair.
Charles Crocker was a 6 foot-tall man sitting at 300 pounds, so even in day-to-day life, he was used to being intimidating to others. On top of that, he was one of the four major barons of the Central Pacific Railroad, which made him one of the wealthiest men in America. His pockets had no limits, and so he decided he wanted to build an estate in sunny San Francisco.
Charles Crocker and the Beginnings of the Fenced In House
Charles started looking for a place to establish his estate, and brought in his wealthy business partners to help. He eventually had his eyes on California Street Hill for the picturesque views, the very same street Nicholas Yung lived on. One of his partners, Leland Stanford, who was the previous governor of California and would go on to found Stanford University, emphasized that California Street Hill would make the perfect place for their homes if they could install a cable car to move residents from the bottom of the hill to the top. Stanford was the one to install a cable car, which attracted more wealthy men to buy and build houses in the area. Crocker had built a 12,000-square-foot mansion on California Street Hill, which was actually renamed Nob Hill after all the wealthy businessmen moved in.
The rebuilding of the neighborhood by magnates was almost complete, except for one plot of land where a resident wouldn’t sell. You guessed it, Nicholas Yung, who was not willing to sell his perfect cottage home and garden because he had truly enjoyed living there.
Home Negotiations Between Yung and Crocker
How all of this went down isn’t certain, but many say Crocker opened with an initial offer of $6,000 for his plot. Nicholas Yung was a smart man and knew Crocker could afford the world, so he offered to sell the land at $12,000. Crocker offered to meet in the middle at $9,000, but Yung said no. From another source it’s said that Yung agreed to $3,000, but would increase his price any time Crocker hesitated, slowly increasing from $6,000 to $9,000 and then settling at $12,000. Either way, Crocker refused to buy at such an increased price, regardless of what he could afford and shut down negotiations.
After their heated negotiation process, Yung decidedly made the choice to not move. Crocker’s construction crew cleared the entire block, with the exception of Yung’s cottage. It’s said that Charles Crocker even told his workers to try and get their debris from dynamite explosions to hit Yung’s home.
Crocker might have thought his harassment, and ongoing construction would get Yung to buckle and sell or move, but in reality, it made Yung even more steadfast in his resolve. Crocker was also a stubborn and petty man, so he wouldn’t raise his offer one cent. This was a classic stalemate between a juggernaut of industry, and a man trying to enjoy his home life. Yung may have had some part in hardening Crocker’s position in his negotiating behavior, but Crocker was the one who had the money to really cause problems in Yung’s life.
Crocker’s 40 Foot Tall Spite Fence Around the Home
Rather than raising his offer on Yung’s home, Crocker spent an extra $3,000 to construct a fence that would surround his home of Yung on 3 sides, since Crocker owned all the plots around his land. He was extra spiteful by creating 40 foot tall wooden panels that would tower over the house Yung once enjoyed and didn’t let any light through. Yung’s once lively green garden began to wilt and die, while Crocker would decorate his side of the fence with ivy and bright plants. Way back in 1878 this kind of spite fence was actually completely legal.
The only thing Yung could really threaten to do at this point was to have a flagpole installed that had a skull and crossbones flag at the top to give Crocker something displeasure to look at. He also had a plan to place a coffin on the top of his house to advertise his mortuary business, but also to annoy Crocker. The media saw Crocker as a bully who used his financial advantages to try and belittle a man whose pockets weren’t nearly as deep. Often times tourists to the area would take the cable car just to see the enormous spite fence. Even though he was made to be a villain in his time, Crocker refused to tear down the fence or raise his price for the plot.
Tearing Down a Fence Built in Spite?
During a pro-labor protest near Crocker’s home in 1877, 2000 men marched through the neighborhood. One man would stand up and shout at Crocker for the spite fence he built, saying that the fence would be torn down by the pro-labor party if he didn’t tear it down by Thanksgiving. Though, the leader of the group was arrested for inciting a riot, and he mentioned to the press that they had no reason to target Crocker.
Yung may have had some hope when this happened that a group may intervene and get the fence torn down, but unfortunately this was quickly diminished. After a time, he and his family would move out, tired of living in never-ending darkness. However, even after they left they held onto the land and refused to sell it to Crocker.
The Fence Feud Continues
So, Crocker may have thought he was about to win the epic feud after Yung’s death in 1880. He was completely wrong. Nicholas Yung’s widow, Rosina, kept Yung’s stubborn wishes alive by holding onto the vacant land, which started collecting street garbage from passerbys. Crocker would keep his spite fence going to the end of his own life in 1888, but even after this, the heirs to his fortune weren’t able to convince Rosina to sell the land. Rosina would try to appeal to city laws in 1895, saying the fence made her property worthless, and while they might have agreed the city lawyers did not.
Wind Damage to the Fence Cuts the Height
By this time Crocker’s spite fence was cut down from 40 feet to 25 feet since California’s winds battered the fence to the point of nearly falling over. Rosina also passed away in 1902, which finally ended a feud between two stubborn men. Her daughter sold the land for an undisclosed amount, but it was said to be worth approximately $80,000. Once the sale was complete the legendary spite fence was razed in 1905.
6 Foot Fence Laws Take Hold
In 1956 California would create a law that would stop people from building fences with the sole purpose of obstructing a neighbor’s view or annoying them. Most states in the US must have learned something from this story because fence heights are primarily limited to 6 feet for these reasons as well.
The Final Crocker Yung Spite Fence Conslusion
After the decades-long feud came to a conclusion it seemed it was meaningless, because an earthquake in 1906 would ravage the area, and cause fires that burned through San Francisco. The Crocker mansion and surrounding homes were heavily damaged by this and they chose to donate the land to charity rather than rebuild. This final act of generosity by the family is a fitting end to what started as an act of pure spite, and a Cathedral was built where the mansion once stood.
Privacy Fences and Fence Construction
So if you think you have some bad neighbors, in another time you might’ve had a guy like Charles Crocker building 40 foot tall fences around your property. Fortunately, those laws restricting spite fences from being built exist today. Though, if you ever need a 6 foot tall privacy fence for your home, Chamblee Fence would be happy to help. Or even a quaint 4 foot tall picket fence. Our 60 years of fence building expertise is longer than the spite fence feud, so we know what we’re doing when it comes to fence installation. Call (770) 396-4200 to get your free fence quote today.