At night noon on July 16, 1912, a caravan of limousines arrived at St. Matthews in San Mateo. Jennie, whose fortune was now estimated at $15 million, stepped out of the third automobile wearing a $1,000 lace wedding gown and jewels worth $100,000 — a veritable fortunate at the time.
Responsible for protecting the diamonds and pearls were plainclothes San Francisco policemen, secret service agents and Hillsborough Officer Marshall Conens. When Conens was not policing the millionaire colony, he worked as a private secretary for one of Hillsborough’s wealthy residents.
Despite the strong show of police, onlookers scrambled atop automobiles an carriages for a better view of the lovely bride. Holding a bouquet of white hydrangeas tied with blue tulle, Jennie was ushered into the cool, fragrant chapel, as bright summer light streamed through the memorial stained glass windows.
The setting was exquisite with masses of pink and lavender orchids bordering the aisles; potted orange trees with fragrant white blossoms banked the walls. On instruction from Jennie, horticulturist Maier purchased the entire supply of orchids on the Peninsula.
Coinciding with her wedding, Jennie was anointed as one of Four Hundred Ultra Fashionables in Americaby author C.W. deLyon Nicholla.
Her wedding would set an incredible standard. Two years earlier Empire Mine heir William Bourn, president of Spring Valley Water Company, and future owner of Woodside’s Filoli estate, spent $25,000 on a wedding for his only daughter, Maud, also at St. Matthews.
Tallying up Jennie Crocker’s list of expenditures, ranging from gifts to the wedding party ($40,000) to orchards ($4,500), maids, porters and grooms ($500), her wedding cost $55,900–more than double that spent by Bourn.
As a leader of the young social set, Jennie occasionally displayed a devil-may-care attitude. After a round of golf at the Burlingame Country Club in 1911, she and a girlfriend sped away in an automobile, drive 35 mph through the hills of Belmont and Redwood City. They were oblivious to Police Officer Mike Brown behind them.
Concerned over the safety of children walking home from a nearby school, Brown arrested Jennie and her friend and they were fined $25. Since neither carried money, the heiress promised a check would be posted at once.
Jennie’s relationship with Malcolm Whitman had grown serious Socially prominent Peninsulans were caught off-guard when their engagement was announced. Everyone wanted an invitation to what was billed as a magical scene out of the Arabian Nights.
When her dear friend Janetta McCook Whitman passed away on the East Coast, Jennie began spendin time with the widower who would become her husband, Malcolm Douglas Whitman.
Both athletic, Jennie preferred golf to Malcolm’s tennis. A Harvard graduate, he had been a member of America’s first Davis Cup team. Whitman seemed to admire her compulsive interest in prize dogs, even when they numbered as many as 63.
Learning of her brother’s intention to marry Helene Irwin, Jennie left “Uplands” and bought 150 acres of the historic Henri Barroilhet estate, also in Hillsborough. The $250,000 sale surprised Peninsula residents, who believed the owner, Mr. William Tevis, was going to subdivide the property.
The natural beauty of maple and pine woods on Jennie’s property, adjoining her Uncle William’s estate New Place, created a perfect setting for raising dogs. Teahouses and swings stood along the banks of San Mateo Creek, which was crossed by rustic bridges. Tending the acres of roses and hothouses was horticulturist and orchid expert Henry Maier.
Soon after Jennie’s 24-year-old sister, Mary, wife of an East Coast political figure, was killed in an automobile accident on Long Island.
Now $2 million richer from her sister’s estate, Jennie traveled to England with a letter of credit, covering all her expenses. In London, her friends included the American Ambassador and his wife, the daughter of D.O. Mills. Wearing a white crepe de chine princess gown embroidered with pearls and diamonds, she was presented to King Edward VII.
Back in San Mateo in 1907, Jennie Crocker competed with 300 entrants for 135 trophies at a dog show held on the grounds of the fashionable Peninsula Hotel, once mining tycoon Alvinza Hayward’s huge villa. Her prize Boston bull terrier, Dick Dazzler captured the Freeman Ford trophy for best in class.
But European tours and a passion for dogs could not replace the loss of her parents. Jennie and Templeton Crocker established the Armitage Orphanage in San Mateo in 1909.
Presiding over the dedication was Bishop William Nichols, the same minister who would perform Jennie’s wedding ceremony three years later.
Uplands healthful surroundings were not helping Frederick Crocker. Several months after moving to Hillsborough he died of kidney disease.
The Peninsula reacted to his death as if he had been royalty. All of the Southern Pacific stations were draped in black. Crocker’s elegantly furnished private railroad car, Mishawaka, originally owned by his father, was dispatched from San Francisco to San Mateo to collect the mourners. The Southern Pacific’s private funeral railroad car, El Descanso transported the flower-draped coffin back to San Francisco for the impressive and solemn funeral and burial.
A lectern was erected in Crocker’s memory in St. Matthew’s Church, where stained glass windows were installed in memory of his wife and daughter Mary.
For Jennie, her brother and sister, the primary adult figure at Uplands was their surviving grandmother, Adeline Easton, a sister of banker Darius Ogden Mills, after whom Millbrae is named. Their uncle William, the founder of Crocker Bank, lived nearby but he was busy forging a financial empire.
After her introduction as a debutante in 1904, Jennie Crocker inherited $5 million from her father’s estate, some of it property in San Francisco. Her finances were managed by family adviser Henry T. Scott, who also owned a Hillsborough mansion.
Even though Jennie Crocker could afford to lose her famous $35,000 pearl necklace (which was later found), her wealth could not protect her from the constant intrusion of death.
The day after her birth in February 1887, her mother, also named Jennie, passed away, leaving Jennie and two older children, Templeton and Mary, motherless. Jennie’s father, Frederick, a director of the Southern Pacific Railroad and a University of California regent, was devastated by the loss of his wife; slowly his own health deteriorated.
A year later, Jennie’s grandfather Charles died from serious injuries sustained in a fall from a horse-drawn carriage. Within months, his wife also died.
When Jennie was 10, her father, on advice of his physician, moved the family from San Francisco to the fresher air of Hillsborough, the Peninsula’s millionaire colony.
Written in 1997, this story is part of my “Over the Hill” series.
The County Witnesses Peninsula’s Royal Wedding
Dodging the pressing crowd anxious to witness a royal 1912 Peninsula wedding, 25-year-old Hillsborough heiress Jennie Adeline Crocker rushed into the back door of San Mateo’s St. Matthews Episcopal Church. Despite the calculated choice of a weekday ceremony, Jennie had to be shielded from hundreds of uninvited guests milling around the church at Baldwin Avenue and El Camino Real.
Waiting in the church was the handsome 35-year-old groom: tennis star, socialite and New York attorney Malcolm Douglas Whitman, himself the possessor of a vast estate.
There to witness the marriage of California’s richest heiress were 300 of the most fashionably dressed members of the smart set, wedding guests from New York, San Francisco and the Peninsula.
Granddaughter of Charles Crocker–one of the Big Four, who had personally supervised the laying of rails for the Central Pacific Railroad–Jennie Crocker was born a princess. Rich and pampered, she was third-generation wealthy, with the rough edges smoothed out.