Historical Saturday: Alma de Bretteville Spreckels

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If you visit Union Square, you will find a statue in the middle poised atop a tall column.  Her name is “Victoria:  The Goddess of Victory,” and she was placed on this pedestal as a remembrance of the 1898 Manila Bay battle during the Spanish – American war.

The statue of the goddess was actually modeled after a real San Franciscan named Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (1881-1968).  Born into poverty, the local beauty began to make a name for herself early on by modeling and even posing nude.  Because of her fame, the sculptor Robert Aiken met her and decided that her figure and face should be immortalized in Union Square as the goddess Victoria.

Her personal life took a turn during this time by the meeting and courting of Adolph Spreckles, heir to a sugar fortune.  It took four years for the statuesque woman to convince the renowned bachelor and playboy to marry her.  After all, he was 26 years older than her and never been officially “caught.” They were wed in 1908, had three children, and he passed away from pneumonia in 1924.

With her financial future secure, Alma’s passion turned from modeling to fundraising.  She was aggressive about it and soon had a reputation as a woman who could get anything done.  She was a woman who knew what she wanted, and she went after it.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels kept her name in the spotlight with a series of shocking events.  For example, out of the blue one night she eloped and married a transvestite cowboy in Reno.  The marriage did not last long, and the cowboy then married her niece.  In addition to her shocking exploits, she was also known to be a woman who was a constant chain-smoker and one who never had a pitcher of martinis out of reach.

In addition to the 1913 mansion, now the home of novelist Danielle Steele, both Alma and her husband left their mark on San Francisco with the creation of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor which houses her Rodin sculptures.

Alma de Bretteville Spreckels
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