The Gable Mansion
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
The Gable Mansion in Woodland, California
The Gable Mansion is located in the heart of Woodland, California, a city of 55,000 people that is the seat of Yolo County, a primarily agricultural region just west of the State Capital of Sacramento and north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Yolo County is perhaps best known as home to the University of California at Davis, one of the world's premier agricultural and biological research institutions.
Since its founding as one of California's original counties in 1850, Yolo County has been a place where agriculture is the primary creator of wealth. The larger a farming or ranching operation is, and the longer it has existed, the wealthier the family running it tends to be.
For this reason, many of the finest homes, both new and historic, in the county are the centerpieces of large ranches in its rural portions, rather than on regular blocks in the cores of its four small cities. The Gable Mansion is an exception: a massive, stately home on a large lot located just four blocks from the very center of Woodland's downtown.
This California State Historical Landmark is significant for its stunning Victorian Italianate architecture and close connection with the early agricultural development of Yolo County.
The very finest non-ranch home in Yolo County and among the grandest in California found outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and their environs, this historic mansion has been fully restored and in 2018 was placed on the market for only the third time ever, offering the public a rare glimpse of the stunning grandeur of this historic, architectural gem.
The Mansion and State Plaque in 2014
The Gable Mansion is an outstanding example of 19th century Victorian Italianate architecture. One of the last of its style, size, and proportion in California, this structure was built in 1885 for Amos and Harvey Gable, pioneer Yolo County cattle ranchers.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 864
Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Gable family and Robert L. McWhirk. June 1, 1974
The overall design of the Gable Mansion is Victorian, but it has Italianate and even Gothic details which make for a striking amalgam of architectural styles. This unique design paired with the massive size of the house (over 11,000 square feet) creates its stately sense of presence and ensures it stands out from the crowd.
The central tower, asymmetrical massing, and thick brackets under the eaves of the roof are all indicators of the Italian Villa style, which was popular at the time and fitting for Yolo County's rural environment.
The home also shows influences from the Stick-Eastlake style of architecture commonly seen in San Francisco row houses, particularly in the vertical of its wooden trim elements and ornamented entry canopy. In viewing the Gable Mansion, some may be reminded of the Painted Ladies of San Francisco, the most famous of which were built in the decade after the Gable House was completed.
The exceptionally steep pitch of the roof on the central tower is a hallmark of the Carpenter Gothic style which was popular in the years preceding the construction of the Gable Mansion. The best known example of this style is the cottage featured in the background of Grant Wood's 1930 painting American Gothic, which was completed in 1882.
The Gable Mansion was designed and constructed by architects A. Jackson Gilbert & E. Carlton Gilbert, a father and son duo originally trained as carpenters. The cost to build the home was $20,000 in 1885, over $550,000 in 2017 dollars.
That handsome sum came, as most big money in Yolo County does, from agriculture, in this case cattle ranching. The Mansion was built for its namesake Gable Brothers, Amos and Harvey, who came to California after rocky early lives.
Amos was born in 1834 and Harvey in 1836. They boys were two of fourteen children born to a farming couple in Ohio, who later moved further west to Iowa. Their father died when the boys were young after bursting a blood vessel while moving timber on the farm.The family was left without income, and so the children were separated and sent off to work for other farmers in exchange for the bare necessities of life. Most of them would never see each other again.
Amos made the best of life on his new farm despite the tragic situation and his lack of education. The experience taught him the value of independence and hard work. Upon hearing news of the California Gold Rush, he resolved to head West one day and got his chance in 1853, driving a heard of cattle to Yolo County for rancher Harvey Porterfield. Porterfield then hired Amos as a cattle herder, starting him at a salary of $30 a month and raising it over time to $100 a month. Amos saved as much of that salary as he could.
Harvey, meanwhile, was only 10 years old when his father died, and despite their resulting separation, he managed to stay close to and in touch with his older brother Amos. Hearing that Amos had moved West, Harvey set about trying to join him, and found the opportunity to work his way to California. It is unclear what kind of work he was doing, but it must have been unforgiving, as Harvey arrived in the Golden State with no shoes, no hat, and no possessions but the ragged clothes on his back. He got to work right away, and in time had become one of the few prospectors to actually find gold in the Gold Rush. His time in the mines produced $700 in cash, equivalent to roughly $20,000 in 2017 value. With the money in hand, Harvey headed down the mountain to Yolo County to rendezvous with his brother.
Reunited, the Gable brothers bought out Porterfield's ranch, falling into debt to do so despite Harvey's Gold Rush windfall, but confident that future results would make their investment worth it.
Those instincts proved to be correct until the year 1864, when California was hit with a major drought, the likes of which is all too familiar to the state's farmers of today. The Gable brothers lost much of their cattle since there was nothing growing for them to graze on, and found themselves facing a $5,500 debt, over $80,000 in 2017 value.
Despite an offer from the brothers to repay the debt with the whole of their savings and possessions, their creditors agreed to hold of on collection, expecting the brothers to fall on better times in the years ahead.
This expectation became a reality, perhaps quicker and more completely than anyone had expected. Not only would the Gable brothers repay their debt in full, they would also come to own over 8,500 acres of land, which increased in value year after year as the area continued to develop. They grew crops and raised cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs. Within a couple decades of their arrival in Yolo County, the brothers had become its leading citizens.
Amos married Mary Gottwals, a Yolo County native, in 1874. The couple had four children: a son named Harvey Hayes and three daughters. Harvey Gable does not appear to have ever married or had children.
The Gable Mansion was built in 1885 and soon became known as one of the finest homes in all of Yolo County and the wider region. Amos planted orange trees and other tropical shrubbery on the property, and spent his later years relaxing under them. It was said that his favorite passion was improving the mansion and enjoying it with his family.
The Gable brothers were renowned throughout the county as men of great success and high character. Both served on the boards of the Bank of Yolo and the Yolo County Savings Bank, and were both Knights Templar Freemasons. Together they enjoyed lives of wealth, success, and prominence.
Amos died in 1898 and Harvey in 1901. Harvey Hayes Gable then took ownership of the mansion and the extensive business empire the brothers left behind.
Successive generations of the Gable Family owned the mansion until 1973, when it was sold to Robert L. McWirk. Under his ownership, the home was designated a California State Historical Landmark and the state plaque was installed. McWirk sold the home to the Barrow Family in 1997, who painstakingly restored and modernized it. The Barrows placed the Gable Mansion up for sale in the spring of 2018.
When it was placed on the market in 2018, the Gable Mansion made a nationwide splash. It was the single most viewed listing on realtor.com® for the week of April 15, 2018, and local news media outlets from Sacramento and San Francisco covered the listing as a major story. Local television stations were invited to send camera crews to the mansion to film walkthroughs for broadcast.
The reality firm selling the mansion, McGuire Capital Reality Group, created a website specifically for the home featuring information on its architecture and history, dozens of stunning photos, and a full 3D walk through of all four stories.
The home was both modernized and restored under the Barrows' ownership. The interior decor style is still largely reminiscent of late nineteenth and early twentieth century ranch living, from the heavy wooden furniture to the elegant stained glass windows. Modern conveniences and luxuries abound however, from the granite counter tops of the kitchen to the indoor pool and movie theater of the basement and the home gym in the attic.
The home is priced at just under $4 million, several times the cost of construction even when converted to 2017 dollars. That price point makes the property among the most expensive in the four county Sacramento region, excluding massive ranches or lakefront compounds in the Lake Tahoe area.
Because the restoration preserved so many details while adding such unique modern features, the Gable Mansion will offer its buyer the rare opportunity to live as the rural wealthy did 150 years ago, yet enjoy all the luxuries of today. With the home still on the market however, just who will have the privilege of writing the next chapter of this storied mansion's history remains to be seen.
For Further Information:
History of Yolo County, California: With Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men and Women of the County, Who Have Been Identified with its Growth and Development From the Early Days to the Present by Tom Gregory
(Features the biographies of Amos and Harvey Gable)
Article from Woodland's local newspaper The Daily Democrat announcing that the mansion is going on sale