California’s executive mansion, popularly known at the Governor’s Mansion, was built in 1877 for Albert and Clemenza Gallatin. Albert was a partner in the Sacramento hardware store of Huntington & Hopkins. The Gallatins hired Uriah Reese to build the house and the architect was Nathaniel Goodell.
In 1887 the Gallatins sold the house to local businessman Joseph Steffens and his wife Louisa, who were the parents of four children including the famous journalist and author, Lincoln Steffens.
The State of California purchased the house from Joseph and Louisa Steffens to use as a home for California’s first families in 1903 for $32,500. Victorian architecture was somewhat out of style by then, but the house was suitably impressive, conveniently located, and comfortable. A small wing was added to the house as a home office for the governor and the house was furnished, bringing the total cost to $56,000.
Governor George Pardee, his wife Helen and four daughters were the first residents of the “new” Governor’s Mansion. During the next 64 years it was home to the families of 12 other governors. Among these were Nina and Earl Warren with six children, and Nancy and Ronald Reagan with their two children. Warren later became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and Reagan became president of the United States.
As a historic house museum, the Mansion is unusual because it is not a replica or a restoration. It stands much as it did when vacated by the Reagans in 1967. Visitors walk through the accumulated history of the house seeing the furnishings and personal items left by each first family, including the Pardees’ 1902 Steinway Piano, the purple velvet sofa and chairs purchased by Minnie Johnson in 1911, hand-tied Persian carpets acquired by Nina Warren, and an early 1950s console TV added by the Knights.
Today’s guests see marble fireplaces from Italy, gold framed mirrors from France, and exquisitely handcrafted hinges and doorknobs, all of which are reminders of the Gallatins and the Victorian era. Outside some of the Mansion’s abundant vegetation includes flowers, shrubs, and trees dating back to 1877. But when visitors look behind the grape stake fence and see Governor Brown’s swimming pool built in 1959, they are reminded that the Governor’s Mansion State Historic Park is really a walk through time.