Built at the Behest of Spirits

by Seana Miracle

The Hayward Building at 400 Montgomery Street was built at the behest, and some say, with the financial backing, of the Spirit World.

The Hayward Building was commissioned by Alvinza Hayward at the request of the spirits, whose previous advice had led him to the richest gold vein in the country. The medium who communicated this information from the Spirit World was given and estimated $80,000 in finders fees. To repay the spirits for their guidance and support, Hayward was asked to use his winnings to build the largest skyscraper in the City of San Francisco.


The 11-story Hayward Building, built in 1901, is unique in that it is the only building in the Financial District to have survived the Great Earthquake. However, it was hardly the only building in the Bay Area to be built at the behest of spirits. In fact, the spirits had been quite ambitious in this endeavor of late, and had no shortage of wealthy patrons.

In 1884, the same year that Alvinza Hayward struck gold with the help of a medium, construction began at the Winchester Mystery House in order to house the spirits of the people killed by Winchester rifles. The following year, the cornerstone was laid at Stanford University, which was built as a memorial for Leland Stanford Jr., who continued to communicate with his family following his death in 1884.


Charles Lane with spirits

When miner Charles Lane first purchased “The Invincible” mine for $10,000, everyone thought he was either a fool, or a complete lunatic. The mine had been abandoned in quick succession by each of the previous owners, including mining expert James Fair. The claim was considered so unworkable it had recently exchanged hands for a meager 50 dollars. Rumor was that the mine had long since been played out and the ground had been “salted” (sprinkled with minerals) in order to unload it on a gullible buyer. Lane’s wife surely strongly objected when her husband proposed to spend their entire life savings on such an unpromising venture, but Charles Lane insisted, and in 1880, purchased the abandoned mine outside Angel’s Camp and renamed it the Utica.

Charles Lane spent every last penny he had, every man hour he could muster, dug thousands of feet of underground tunnels and went deep into debt, but his efforts yielded no results. One by one, his partners sold off their shares, and Charles Lane was left the last man standing, with not enough money to feed his own family. He could have given up hope and moved on, as had his partners, and as he had done himself so many times in the past, but this time, Charles Lane refused to give in to the nagging voice of doubt. Instead he allowed himself to be guided by voices from beyond, and continued toiling underground for years without reward. Until one day, he struck the richest gold vein in the State of California.

“Everyone else says “no,” but my ghost says “yes,” so the work must continue.”

– Charles Lane

Lane was fueled on by the advice of a San Francisco fortuneteller named Mrs. Robinson. Mrs. Robinson had a unique talent. She claimed she could divine the value of a gold deposit just by holding a piece of quartz from it’s vein. Lane brought her a sample from his claim and she held up the rock and proclaimed “This is your fortune.” Lane was still doubtful, and hanging by a thread financially, so he consulted with 49er and mining pioneer Alvinza Hayward.


Alvinza Hayward

“Hayward was a spiritualist, whose mind was under complete subjection of a middle aged woman. She was his guide, philosopher and mining engineer…she ruined Hayward three or four times, causing him to separate from his family, and driving him from California, she alienates his friends and continues as his companion in his travels.”

– Dawson Daily News, June 29, 1905

One of the original ’49ers, Alvinza Hayward was often described as flamboyant and eccentric. Hayward had founded the “Old Eureka” mine in 1850, and obtained interest in the Comstock Lode of the 1860’s. In the 1870’s, he was one of the principle investors in the San Francisco City Gas Company, and director of the Bank of California. Hayward was an avowed Spiritualist who regularly sought the advice of the spirits. Hayward even had his own personal medium on payroll, who was also adept at divining quartz, so Lane shrewdly sent Hayward a sample in order to get a second opinion. Hayward’s medium confirmed Lane’s speculations, securing Hayward’s partnership in the process.


With the financial backing of Hayward and his partner Hobart, Lane continued his labors underground. After several years of work, he was able to pull enough out of the ground to feed his family, but not nearly enough to guarantee a return for his investors. Hayward’s partner Hobart was not a Spiritualist, and was not about to continue to invest large sums of his own money in a played out claim on the advice of a fortuneteller. Hayward’s own wife thought him a fool, and started putting property in her name so that neither the spirits, or the Spiritualists, could get their hands on them. Charles Lane and Alvinza Hayward were considered crackpots, hapless dupes at best, and their loved ones were concerned they could no longer afford to support them in their delusions.

They need not have worried. The Utica Mine turned out to be the Mother of the Mother Lode: the single largest gold producing vein in the state. From 1893 to 1895 it yielded 4 million dollars in under 30 months. For much of he 1890’s, the Utica Mine was the largest source of gold in the country. It’s total output was valued at over 16 million dollars when it closed down in 1910, which is about a billion dollars by today’s standards.


When Hayward first received the news of the Utica bonanza, he was dismayed that his partner Hobart had not only died before Hayward could be vindicated, but that he was too proud or too stubborn to reach out from beyond the grave and admit when he was wrong, and just plain mean to not reveal the location of the bonanza.

“Hobart was the balance in the triumvirate; he hated Spiritualism and when Little Eva, the Indian maid who did the prospecting for Haywards spiritualistic mine finder, told his partner where the yellow metal was to be found by the ton, he laughed, protested or cursed as the mood was upon him. Little Eva discovered the hole in the hillside near Angels, and Hayward told Hobart it was the greatest mine in the world. The latter laughed and said he wouldn’t put a dollar into it. Hobart died. Hayward’s interest account was something tremendous. His principal had gone into that discovery of Eva’s. “By God!” he cried. “I knew she was right. My man wires that the King is the biggest thing in the state. I spent half a million dollars on that property not that i wanted a mine, but just to prove my partner was wrong. He knew all the time where the vein was, but was too mean even in death to tell me.”

-Dawson Daily News June 29th, 1905 “Battle for Hayward’s Millions”

According to ledgers, Hayward and Lane’s fortuneteller charged up to a $1000 for her regular consultations and made an estimated $80,000 in finder’s fees, far more than any mining engineer or geologist could hope to make. In order to pay back the spirits for their guidance, Alvinza Hayward used his Utica gains and hired the top architects in the city, George Percy and Willis Polk, to build the tallest skyscraper in San Francisco. The Hayward Building at 400 Montgomery, now known as the Kohl Building, was Willis Polk’s first commercial commission, and the only building in the Financial District to survive the Great Earthquake. Some say that this is because it was protected by spirits, but other’s attribute it’s survival to it’s unique H-shape, metal framed windows, and  close proximity to the Merchants Exchange building which sheltered it from the flames.

“The acquisitive instinct and speculative temper fed on the inhabitants cravings for a hold on the most elusive of all winnings, a better future. With a cockeyed optimism, the residents kept their thoughts on a tomorrow that might yet bring a fortune. Even after the wane of spiritualism in the 1850’s, they searched for clues in the precognitions of especially gifted people. To the magic of the fog and mountains they added the “vision of the seer,” which supposedly flourished on a “powerful charge of human magnetism” created by “the wonderful transparency of the atmosphere,” the “mineral magnetism” of the gold deposits, and the strong passions of the Argonauts….Their treasure hunts had lured them into the urban adventure and then bound them to the cities. But instead of becoming a source for their riches, San Francisco…emerged as a source for their identity. With their dreams having vanished, the residents mellowed. They sublimated their determined chase for wealth with a resolute devotion to San Francisco…”

– Gunther Paul Barth “Instant Cities”

Hayward and Lane forged a lifelong partnership and continued to trust mediums  to guide their investment choices, but it didn’t always work to their advantage. They once sold a mining interest for next to nothing per the advice of a medium, but 400 feet later, the new owners struck gold.

“It is difficult to differentiate between Lane and Hayward when it comes to their belief in spirits. Undoubtedly it is the truth to say that they are both devout believers. To them the occult as a governing force is as important to the rise and fall of the markets, and as real. It enters into all their daily calculations.”

-Everybody’s Magazine, Vol. 5, “The Extraordinary Story of the Utica Mine”

The Utica’s treasures did not come without a price. While many prospered from the Utica mine, many more perished and met their ruin. Despite the unusually lucky find, the Utica mine quickly gained a reputation as an unlucky mine, and many miners refused to work it. Superstitious or not, no one could deny that more accidents happened at the Utica mine that at any other in Calaveras County.


Lane and Hayward, envied as two of the luckiest and wealthiest men in the world, also suffered much personal misfortune after the Utica bonanza. While overseeing construction on a claim in Alaska, (appropriately named the “Wild Goose”) Charles Lane, who didn’t make his fortune until late in life, was stricken with snow blindness, and spent his final years as a blind man. Hayward had so many of his children die that historians have speculated that his wife may have had Munchausen’s by Proxy. Whatever the cause, only two of his eight children survived until adulthood.  Lane and Hayward’s friendship did not suffer the same ill fate. As testimonial to the strength of their bond, Alvinza Hayward died in the home of Charles Lane, with Lane at his bedside.

One thing did manage to survive the rise and fall of the Wheel of Fortune however. As a lasting monument to Lane and Hayward’s legacy of unshakable faith, betting against all odds, and perseverance in the face of adversity, the Hayward Building at 400 Montgomery still stands tall.

“And so, first and last, the Utica has been a great power. The influence of it’s wonderful store of gold can be felt in many quarters near, to and far away from Angel’s. Directly and indirectly, many men have prospered because of the unearthing of it’s great wealth. The spirits did it all? Who shall say? Happy spirits if they can so control the fortunes of mortals. And happy mortals if they can get for guides such benign and far seeing spirits!”

-Everybody’s Magazine, Vol. 5, “The Extraordinary Story of the Utica Mine.”