James Clair Flood 1939-2020. A Tribute.
A member of the Cypress Lawn Cemetery Board of Directors for 31 years, “Jim” Flood passed away on February 22, 2020. He died as he lived. The avid outdoorsman suffered a heart attack after a day of downhill skiing near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. His passionate pursuit of duck hunting, horseback riding, fly fishing, and skiing took him all over California and Wyoming. He was eighty, and will be buried in the family mausoleum at Cypress Lawn, the largest in the cemetery. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Astrid Sommer Flood of San Francisco, and his three daughters Karin Flood of San Francisco, Christina Flood Kane of San Francisco, and Lisa Flood of Wilson, Wyoming.
In addition to his long and devoted service to Cypress Lawn, he was also a board member of the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, the Jackson Hole Land Trust, and the Cate School in Santa Barbara County, of which he was a graduate.
Flood Family Mausoleum
His pride and joy was the beloved Flood Building, an official city landmark, originally built by his grandfather in San Francisco as tribute to his own father, James Clair Flood, known as the “Bonanza Silver King” who made his fortune here in the 1870s. It sits in the heart of downtown at the corner of 5th and Market Streets next to the most famous cable car turnaround in The City. It is the oldest family-owned commercial building in San Francisco.
Jim began his love affair with the Flood Building later in life, and it almost didn’t happen. A graduate of Stanford in 1961, he spent two years as a Captain in Army intelligence before settling into a long, productive career as a bank executive at Wells Fargo. At age 50, his world changed dramatically. His father’s death left him with the responsibility for the Flood building and a 127 acre ranch in Santa Barbara that included the Rancho Sisquoc winery.
“It was a new start, a new business, a new everything,” recalled Flood looking back on his Well Fargo departure, where he went “from a huge big business to a small family business,” although he might have been the only person who would describe running the Flood Building with some 350 tenants in such terms. Jim was a hands-on owner who oversaw each aspect of the management. He wanted every office filled,” daughter Karin Flood said. “He took care of it like it was a member of the family.” Outside of his personal office on the 11th floor are historical photo galleries of the building and his descendants.
The classical “flatiron” 12 story building, when constructed in 1904, represented the largest structure in San Francisco. And, as it turned out, one of sturdiest – a virtual fortress covered in steel and curtain brick that survived the Great 1906 Earthquake and subsequent fires. It was created by renowned architect Albert Pissis, who also designed the Emporium, Hibernia Bank, and the original, grand Crematory/Chapel at Cypress Lawn in 1893, the first Crematory in Northern California.
The Flood Building has had an array of tenants over the years. In the early days, the Southern Pacific Railroad headquarters was located there. Famed San Francisco detective novelist Dashiell Hammett plied his trade as a Pinkerton Detective Agency gumshoe. Medical and dental office dominated the floors for a time. But in 1950, Jim’s father was about to lease the building to Woolworth’s, which had plans to demolish it and replace it with a modern three-story office and retail complex. The tenants were evicted and the wrecking ball poised, when at the last minute the historic building was spared because the federal government invoked its right of eminent domain to occupy the office spaces to manage the Korean War.
Woolworth’s continued its lease in the lower part of the building until 1996, the largest Woolworth retail space in the country. Older San Franciscans remember the store fondly.
Upon its departure, Flood wanted to return to the original look of the ground floor and retail areas that had been “modernized” in 1952. He spent $15 million on those renovations and also replaced several large archway entrances, restored the facade on the upper stories, refurbished many of the detail ornaments, and recreated the parapet. This elaborate project took over a year to complete. The “grande dame,” as it has been called, was back to her old grandeur. In the lobby, Flood placed a bust of his grandfather done by celebrated sculptor Mary Emma Flood Stebbins, his aunt.
The tenants today are a potpourri of The City, including a variety of retail stores and attorney offices to non-profits and foreign consulates. It fills a unique niche in a modern day San Francisco tech and financial skyline that caters to big companies. The Flood building’s bread and butter is 500 to 5000 square foot tenants, which makes for a large and diverse clientele.
“You just walk into another era when you walk through the lobby,” remarked the late historian Kevin Starr, the state librarian of California – a reminder of what the quaint, charming old days of San Francisco were like. And according to every description of James Flood, from his dapper dress to impeccable manners to his gregarious and down-to-earth nature, he was also cut from that same old cloth. He preserved and gave to San Francisco for all time the finest classic office building The City boasts.