Fundraiser at Dunsmuir-Hellman estate to benefit Oakland parks and recreation

By Annalee Allen Oakland Tribune Columnist
Posted:   07/21/2013 12:00:00 AM PDT

Oakland’s Dunsmuir-Hellman Historic Estate will be the scene of an evening garden party July 26 to benefit youth programs at the city’s parks and recreation centers.

The event, “An Intimate Evening 2013,” is part of National Parks and Recreation Month.

Guests are asked to wear all-white attire as they stroll the historic grounds, sample food and drink, take mansion tours or a carriage ride, and listen to live music. A silent auction is also part of the event, which begins at 6 p.m.

Find details about how to purchase tickets at

Oakland acquired the 75-acre estate of Mrs. I.W. Hellman Jr. in 1961. Tucked away in a secluded part of the Oakland hills near the San Leandro border, the property in the late 1800s had been a horse-breeding ranch. The 42-room Neoclassical Revival-style mansion was built in 1899 for Canadian-born shipping-magnate heir Alexander Dunsmuir as a residence for him and his longtime love, Josephine Wallace.

The cost to complete the grand residence was a then-princely sum of $350,000. The couple’s time together in wedded bliss was very brief, as both died within a short time of the home’s completion.

The Hellmans, longtime bankers and financiers from San Francisco, purchased the estate in 1906; for 55 years, they used it as a summer residence and retreat. It was known as Oakvale Park in those days, and the family was able to make many improvements to the grounds and the house. A live-in domestic staff of 12 looked after the needs of the cousins and grandchildren who came to stay with Frances, the Hellman matriarch.

There was an expansive lawn, carriage house, croquet court, swimming pool with separate bathing cabana, glass conservatory and aviary. The estate featured a quaint two-story storybook-style honeymoon cottage, built for daughter Florence and her husband, Lloyd Dinkelspiel.

Initially, a nonprofit group oversaw events and programs at the estate. The annual Christmas Showcase was an annual tradition for several years, when visitors enjoyed holiday decorations and festive trees in every room.

In 2010, the city assumed direct oversight of the estate. Weddings and receptions are often held there, as well as an even more lavish Holiday Open House.

The story of how the German immigrant Isaias Hellman (1842-1920) rose from store clerk to titan of West Coast commerce is told in a book written by his great-great granddaughter Frances Dinkelspiel, titled “Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California.” It’s available at local libraries. I recommend it.

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