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The Gold Rush Financiers: Pioche and Robinson

Historical Essay

by Mae Silver

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Francois L.A. Pioche

F.L.A. Pioche and L.L. Robinson were business partners but they were also personal partners. Unmarried and living together until Pioche's untimely death, they were possibly a gay couple. That relationship, and their secrecy about it, possibly contributed to their obscurity in San Francisco history. Their contributions to the growth and development of this city, especially the rancho lands, were visionary and remarkable. San Francisco land records and deeds of the 1860s show Pioche and Robinson owning Rancho San Miguel land in Eureka Valley and Upper Market Street areas.

When Pioche and Robinson were not actual partners in a project, they often acted in tandem, buying and selling from and to each other. In 1865, with H.M. Newhall and Peter Donahue, Robinson bought the Market Street Railway Company from Pioche. He graded Valencia Street hills to 26th Street as well as other streets in that area. Then he rebuilt the entire road. After he changed the energy source of the railway engine from steam to horsepower, he sold the company. This transit upgrading opened up the Rancho lands for more land development that Robinson and Pioche were planning.

They were involved in some single land transactions but mainly in sales of the homestead associations they created. Homestead associations were a way for ordinary working people to buy land.

For example, a prospectus of the Noe Garden Homestead Union owned by Pioche and Robinson showed an 1868 map of the area and described the terms of purchase: 368 shares for $450 cash; then shareholders paid $12.50 per month, starting Feb. 1868 to 1871. For a total of $1200 paid over three years, a working class person could own a piece of land in San Francisco.

Pioche reserved a part of the Noe Garden Union Homestead property for himself. Its boundaries were Grandview, Elizabeth, 22nd Street, and Douglass. Interestingly, the 1857 patent map giving Jose Noe ownership of Rancho San Miguel, located Noe's first house on that same land Pioche labeled, "Pioche's Reservation." As indicated by this quotation in the homestead prospectus, perhaps, Pioche knew that: "This land was selected by Jose de Jesus Noe a great many years ago as the most eligible (sic) spot on the Rancho San Miguel to build his homestead. The soil is a rich loam and most of it is under cultivation." In addition to the Noe Garden Homestead Union Association, Pioche and Robinson owned other homestead associations in the city: Buena Vista Homestead Association, Market Street Homestead Association, Redwood City Homestead Association, and Visitacion Land Company.

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Lester L. Robinson

Images: San Francisco Historical Society


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