— G. T. Marsh —
George Turner Marsh, photographed in his later years.
George Turner Marsh was born outside of Melbourne, Australia in 1857. When George was 15 years old, his family decided to move to the United States. On the way, the boat stopped in Yokohama, Japan, a place that would forever hold a special place in Marsh's heart. Enamored by Japanese culture and art, Marsh begged for permission to stay behind so he could immerse himself in the ways of this wonderous land. His parents obliged, and his father found him his first job: a position at a tea import/export firm and auction house.
Rise to Prominence
Marsh lived in Japan until 1876, when his family called him home to San Francisco. With his return to the United States, Marsh brought a collection of Japanese artwork and artifacts, in addition to plans for starting his own gallery. This dream would be brought to life as the "G.T. Marsh and Company: Japanese Art Repository", which resided in Palace Hotel at 625 Market Street.
Even though Marsh's gallery was likely the first of its kind, he had no interest in keeping his entire collection for himself. Many of his foreign possessions were on open display for customers to purchase. Soon enough, Marsh found his unique line of trade taking off into the public mainstream, with his gallery being virtually the only place to buy imported Japanese (and later Chinese) furniture, clothing, and decorations for years.
The Marsh' first home, located at 12th Avenue & Clement Street. Finished construction in 1886.
Marsh married Lucy Whiteside, niece to the first American minister to Japan, in 1880. The couple soon built a large home in the "Outside Lands", a large portion of unsettled land to the west of San Francisco, at the time. This home, the Richmond House, being of Marsh's own design would, of course, turn out to be much more elaborate and foreign in architecture, compared to the more typical houses in the area. Some special elements of this house were its garden, orchard, ornamental stream, and animal pens. Marsh happened to be especially fond of the carrier pigeons he raised, and he would bring a few with him when he left home to later send back to his wife toward the end of the day to tell her when he intended to return or if he wanted to have guests over.
A portion of the Outside Lands that would eventually become Golden Gate Park. (July 1886)
The Richmond District
As decades passed, San Francisco gradually expanded into more and more of the Outside Lands, to the point where real estate agents and property owners decided it was necessary to rebrand this once empty region with a new, catchy name. The "Outside Lands" wasn't exactly the most appealing name to market to potential buyers who wanted to feel like they were part of San Francisco.
After much discussion, the property owners settled on the "Richmond District", named after Marsh's famous residence, which itself was named after the Melbourne suburb of Richmond that Marsh was born in. After all, Marsh had been a longtime resident of these lands and was held in high regard. This name was likely chosen out of respect for Marsh's accomplishments. The change was made final in 1890 by the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco.
The modern day Richmond District in foreground, with Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, and the Presidio in background.
Above: The Japanese Tea Garden (1904)
Below: The Japanese Tea Garden (2010)
Marsh went on to conceive and design the Japanese Village exhibit at the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park. After the exhibition's conclusion, Makato Hagiwara, a wealthy landscape gardener, lovingly transformed the space into what is now known as San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden, which remains as the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The garden encompasses approximately five acres, featuring typical plantings, pond, and structural elements that include bridges and gates.
As for Marsh, he moved with his family to Mill Valley where he created a larger and more elaborate estate with Asian elements among the redwoods. His business, despite the setback of being destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, grew and expanded to multiple locations in California, including the Marsh Building.
In the 1920s, Marsh expanded his business into jewelry-smithing. It proved to be an adequate trade, but it wasn't until the business hired an Italian jeweler in the 1930s that Marsh's jewelry became something remarkable.
Unfortunately, the identity of the jeweler is unknown, but it is known that he worked exclusively for Marsh and had a great interest in shotguns, iron, and metallurgy. His experience with handling and building such materials and objects made him very knowledgeable of "sandblasting", a technique used to clean or polish metallic surfaces through the projection of highspeed abrasive particles, and "bluing", a technique used to oxidize the outer layer of an iron or steel object with heat, giving it a more rust-resistant finish. When paired with traditional Asian materials such as pearl, coral, and jade, Marsh's new line of jewelry became a sensation amongst jewelry enthusiasts.
Tragically, George Turner Marsh died in a car accident in 1932 at the age of 75. His granddaughter, who was a passenger, survived albeit injured. Marsh's business continued with his sons, remaining in family hands until its official closing in 2001.
Marsh led a remarkable life that changed how the United States perceived East Asian cultures and artwork. His own work went on to inspire the birth of the Richmond District, the Japanese Tea Garden, and many other installations. Of course, one of his own creations is now the home of our business, and to have our establishment be such a distinguished and historically rich building is nothing short of an honor.