Mar 21, 2018 282

The Gilded Age: How the Gump's Legacy Began

The Legend is Born

Gump's today is a very special specialty store. It's soul is as San Francisco as golden bridges and cable cars, with roots planted in city by the bay over 150 years ago, but how did it all begin? 

Solomon Gump arrived in New York in 1850 at age 17, two years after the Gold Rush began and the greatest migration America has ever known was hitting California. It would be another 11 years before Gump caught the fever and headed out west, but not for gold in the hills, but to work in the San Francisco gold frame and mirror shop his brother-in-law, David Hausmann, which opened in 1861. Massive gilt-framed mirrors behind the bars in Barbary Coast saloons provided a taste of civility in the rip-roaring tent and shack town. San Francisco was hardly more refined than mining camps in the Sierras in those days with city streets filled with mud, slop, horse droppings and dredges of society that washed up from the Pacific or swept down the mountains from the north. 

During bar room brawls, Gump's mirrors were easy targets for flying bottles, bullets and bodies, and the mirror shop flourished during these turbulent times. A year after arriving from New York, Solomon bought out his brother-in-law and sent for his wife, children, and brother, Gustav. The store became "S. & G. Gump."

Solomon Gump (right), one of the original founders, and William Gump (left) in the store chock-a-block with fine furniture, paintings and decorative objects destined for the homes that were being built in the expanding, prosperous San Francisco of the 1870-early 1900s. 

Behind the walls of the Spanish quarter there was a San Francisco that was seldom seen, where the old-line Californians, wealthy Spanish aristocrats, lived with dignity and grace. The new-rich kings of the Mother Lode bonanzas and later the railroad magnates were highly visible, but longed for the culture and respect inherent in old money. To achieve this, they called on Gump's to fill their grand salons with with gilded mirrors and fine artful objects that were quintessential for any upper class home at the time. To acquire such fine goods trips to Europe (and eventually Asia and South America) were required, and the legend of Gump's as purveyors of good taste began.

One of the Asian Rooms created to celebrate both the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, when the world was invited to San Francisco, and also to highlight Gump’s growing interest in the art and aesthetics of Asia. Visitors were dazzled by the mix of antiques with rugs, furniture, porcelains, and carved jade.