COLONEL A. ANDREWS


Colonel A. Andrews, for many years proprietor of the famous "Diamond Palace" of San Francisco, at 221 Montgomery street, is one of the most versatile geniuses known to California history; a man who has seen all the climes of the globe, who has experienced all the mutations and ficklenesses of the goddess fortune; who again and again has embarked for the isles of wealth, and with their luxuries and enjoyments in his reach has met the winds of adversity and been borne back to the shallows of comparative poverty; but even so often has he resolutely turned his bark and renewed the fierce battle with the elements that beset the financial and commercial sea, and it is the happy privilege to record in this work that for many years he has been safely anchored in the harbor of material prosperity, with all good things abounding.

Colonel Andrews is one of the oldest of California and San Francisco business men. His jewelry emporium in the days of old, the days of gold, was one of the most popular and busy marts of trade in the city, and for nearly forty years the "Diamond Palace" has been one of the chief attractions to the visitor of the city and the leading jewelry and fine arts house. Outside of commercial life he has been identified in countless ways with the fraternal, social, military and political life of the west, and has made his influence felt on many corresponding institutions andorganizations. He is now approaching his eightieth year of life, but still fills with much of the old-time energy and vivacity of spirit the position as a man of affairs, which when vacant, will be found to have been one of the most conspicuous in San Francisco's history.

Colonel Andrews was born in London, England, April 7, 1826, in which city his father, who had previously served as a corporal under the first Napoleon, was engaged in the tobacco trade. After his father's death, which occurred during the childhood of the son, the mother took her family to the United States and located at New Orleans, that being in 1838.

At the age of twenty, in 1846, Colonel Andrews enlisted in the United States army for the Mexican war, first holding a lieutenant's commission and shortly promoted to the captaincy of Company A, Second Ohio Regiment. His excellence as an officer attracted the attention and commendation of his superiors, and he was mentioned for gallantry by General Scott. At the close of the war he had two hundred and fifty dollars and a government warrant for one hundred and sixty acres of land, and, being befriended by Michael Reese, a man of influence and wealth, he was able to start a jewelry store in St. Louis, where in a short time he had accumulated thirteen thousand dollars. The gold fever carried him off to California, and at Sacramento, in partnership with A. Hiller, he established a jewelry business. November 2, 1852, a disastrous fire, destroying the whole city, destroyed the store and left Mr. Andrews sixty thousand dollars in debt.

Once more he was at the beginning, with only a large fund of experience as capital. He came to San Francisco; secured a fresh stock of goods, and soon opened up a magnificent shop, one of the most thronged and busy resorts in the city during the early days. In twenty months after the failure at Sacramento the firm had retrieved its losses and had one hundred and eighty thousand dollars' surplus to their credit.

In 1856, being possessed of a competency, Colonel Andrews went to New York, but he could not remain long in the effete east, and returning placed his fortune in the argentiferous mines of Esmeralda, where he buried his gold without gaining an equivalent of silver. He was once more at "bed rock" and had to strike another lead. He offered his services to the government, then engaged in the Civil war. He was appointed major, but had a misunderstanding with the authorities and resigned. He next assumed the role of prestidigitator on the stage, and for a time managed various theatrical ventures. In 1862 he went to South America, and in the ports of Chile and Peru carried on a large commercial business for several years and became prosperous. He was one of the Americans who performed such herioc services in trying to save the thousands who had met death in the awful holocaust at the Jesuit church in Santiago, December 8, 1863, and the United States senate took recognition of the Americans who bravely risked their lives at this time, among the heroes being the Hon. Thomas H. Nelson, minister to Chile; Harry Meiggs, formerly of San Francisco; an engineer by name, Thorndyke; and Mr. Rand, secretary for H. Meiggs.

Colonel Andrews next made a grand tour of Europe and Asia, and returning to New York invested heavily in the stock market, and on the fatal "Black Friday" lost a fortune. Poor but undismayed, he once more came to California, and from this time the clouds of his sky have seldom know aught but silver linings. He did an enormous business in the store in the Cosmopolitan Hotel Block on Bush street, before taking up his quarters on Montgomery street, where he built and fitted up in most splendid style the Diamond Palace, so named for its gorgeous and costly decorations of pure gems, the decorations and furnishings alone being worth fortunes. In 1896 he remodeled this palatial establishment, and from that time has dated a new era in the commercial history of Montgomery street. The Diamond Palace is not only a place of beauty and magnificence in itself and where everything in the way of jewels can be obtained, but is also of historic interest and one of the landmarks of the city and a scene of some of the most interesting annals of the west. Several booklets have been printed describing the Diamond Palace and it has been the theme of countless newspaper articles and travelers' reminiscences, and to narrate all its wonders and beauties would transcend the limitations of this volume, which can only briefly sketch its importance in California history and as the enduring monument of Colonel Andrews.

It now remains to give Colonel Andrews' connection with the social, military and fraternial affairs of his city and state. He was appointed by General John A. Sutter as quartermaster, with the rank of colonel on October 7, 1853, and of the sixty-eight colonels appointed by that general, Colonel Andrews is the only one now living. On November 18, 1903, he was appointed by General John C. Black as aide de camp, with the rank of colonel, in the Grand Army of the Republic. He is a pensioner of the government for his services during the war with Mexico, but has never used a dollar of the pension for himself, it all going to a needy old lady of San Francisco, now nearly ninety years old. He is a past president of the Veterans of the Mexican War.

In June, 1893, he and seventeen other representative business men of San Francisco, at a meeting called by Eugene Gregory, president of the board of trade, started active work on the Midwinter Fair, which was opened January 1, 1894. After a hard struggle this was made one of the successful enterprises of the Pacific coast, resulting in much permanent benefit to the industries and liberal arts of this region, and its successful issue is another of the honorable and worthy works in which Colonel Andrews bore full share and credit.

At the breaking of the ground for the Midwinter Fair, Colonel Andrews requested that the first shovelfull of earth be given him, which he later sold for $650, at auction, and the shovel, costing $1.25, was sold for $125, Roos Brothers of San Francisco being the purchasers of the earth. In 1884-85 Colonel Andrews was appointed commissioner, by President Chester A. Arthur, to the Cotton Centennial Exposition at New Orleans, and so well did Colonel Andrews conduct the affairs intrusted to him, that the British government, after ascertaining who the California representative was, tendered him a United States commissionership to the World's Fair in London in 1886. Colonel Andrews was awarded the gold medal for the finest exhibit at New Orleans. The Hon. John C. Keffer, in his speech to the committee, said in part: "If you propose to give a medal to the commissioner whose state, in competitive contest, appears to have made the most complete, the most varied, and the most attractive exhibit, you will need no jury to award. Hand it over to California at once." Out of the appropriation of $10,000 appropriated, he returned $3,000 besides having spent some $15,000 of his own, together with giving a year of his time.

Colonel Andrews has always stood high in the esteem of his fellow citizens of San Francisco, and before closing this brief sketch mention should be made of the elegant gold badge which his admiring fellow San Franciscans gave him as a mark of their respect and appreciation of the countless services which he had rendered city and citizens. The presentation was made on November 11, 1874, and the badge, surmounted magnificently with twenty diamonds, has upon its reverse side this inscription so befitting the career of the recipient:

"A soldier in the hour of danger, In charity ever willing to give, In industry unsurpassed, In taste unequalled: The public appreciate your patriotism, private virtue, business capacity and enterprise.
"To Colonel A. Andrews,

"November 11, 1874."

In 1853 Colonel Andrews installed Union Lodge No. 58, F. & A. M., in Sacramento, with thirty-three charter members, of whom he is now the only one living. He became a Mason at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1847, and is now the oldest member of that order in San Francisco and the state of California. He has affiliations with Doric Lodge No. 216, F. & A. M., of which he is the oldest member; San Francisco Chapter No. 1, R. A. M., at San Francisco; and Islam Temple of the Mystic Shrine at San Francisco, and the thirty-second degree has been conferred upon him. He is the oldest member of Pocahontas Tribe of the Improved Order of Red Men, and has been elected its sachem five times in succession (the only instance of its kind in the order), and for many years was representative of the great council of the United States, and the great meneawa. he is a member of the Veteran Volunteer Firemen of California, and ex-foreman of No. 3 of Sacramento and the only surviving member, and a member of the Old Friends and the New Friends, and of many other societies nd organizations.

Colonel Andrews married, January 18, 1849, Miss Margaret Newberg, of Cincinnati. Two daughters and one son being born: Katie, deceased; Rose, widow of Frank Tousey, who was a New York publisher; Milton S. Latham, who died aged thirty-four. The Colonel was married to Emma Gerstner, of San Francisco, on April 7, 1880. Colonel Andrews speaks eight languages, acquired by travel.

Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume II

The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine


Return to Biographies Index, Volume II

Return to California AHGP home page

Return to Sacramento County AHGP home page