Menlo Park California
A former female resident is drawn back to stay because she loves children.
Her father also visits because he loves the idea of a school being here.
The immense 22-room James Coleman Mansion is also known as the Peninsula School, a private school with 250 students (19 students in each class). Since 1925 they enrolled preschool-8th grade students. They are racially integrated, rate in the top 20% among private California schools, offer scholarships, and are a wonderful model for public schools to follow.
According to the school’s website: “Peninsula’s mission has been to provide a child-centered, education community that promotes the development of the whole child. Teachers and parents work together to foster creativity, independence, joy of learning, personal responsibility, and self-esteem as well as academic excellence. Furthermore, The school’s goals are to help children build a positive self-image; to help children grow in all areas: perceptually, intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically; and to nourish children’s natural creativity and desire to learn through a wide variety of experiences.”
“At Peninsula, we cultivate and celebrate intellectual curiosity and a love of learning. Our non-competitive environment supports student collaboration, positive risk taking, creativity, and intrinsic motivation. Rather than striving to be an “A” or “B” student, students grow to see learning as a treasured opportunity and a lifelong, personal journey.”
What a beautiful place to house a school! The structure is a magnificent Italianate mansion, originally meant for the upper crust of San Francisco society. Wow! 100,000 dollars went along way back in the 1880s! It was built to showcase wealth and be a place for extravagant parties. Money was no option. Tom and I went to visit this large property, and were blown away by its grandness, size and beauty. The pictures we had seen didn’t do it justice. It was a lot of fun to photograph!
The expansive front yard has a large play area that includes a grove of about 12 large oak trees. A long driveway connects the street to the school grounds and the Peninsula School. The school makes great use of its property, providing students with many opportunities to learn by creating, doing, and experiencing.
The school website, pastheritage.com, has a webpage written by Margaret Feuer that does a thorough job describing all the bells and whistles that were designed for the original owners. Some of the original information probably came for the NRHP registration form that is not offered all the time to the general public. This website must have some clout.
“The lumber alone cost a fortune as the house is double walled and has abundant architectural detail. Although symmetrical in design, it has an interesting array of curves and angles. The corners of the building feature quoins, giving an impression of permanence and strength. This effect is accentuated by wide, beveled redwood siding on the first floor, which becomes narrow clapboard on the more ornate second story.Twenty fluted Corinthian columns support the curved twenty–foot wide verandah which encompasses the front and sides. Above the columns is a row of classical dentil molding, and the columns rest on intricate paneled bases.”
“The porch balustrade is wood with cast iron insets in a floral design. The upper story has a low–pitched, hipped roof with projecting eaves supported by carved corbels. The imposing cornice has a running flower pattern interspersed with square, raised medallions. The architrave area below is decorated with raised circles in square medallions. An arched broken pediment intercepts the roof line at its center.”
“One of the most remarkable features is the highly decorative fenestration. Tall, pedimented windows on the first floor are accompanied by second floor arched windows ensconced in layers of arched molding. All the windows have scrolled keystones and flanking pilasters. Centered among the windows on the second floor, is a faux palladium–like “window” with an elaborate shell pattern. The second floor windows look out on a large Renaissance balustraded balcony formed by the verandah roof. The Coleman mansion, like 15% of Italianate houses, originally had a seigniorial tower but it was removed in a remodel.”
Inside design included “a sweeping staircase, gleaming hardwood floors, high ceilings, marble, crystal chandeliers, and paneled doors and wainscot.”
When it became a private school, the mansion structure was remodeled and added to in order to adopt to being a school. There are some structures on the grounds, as well as additions made to the main mansion building; all done in the style of the original structure, or blending in as to not be an eye sore. Care was taken!
The beginning of the Robert Coleman Mansion began with the The Bonanza firm, a wildly successful corporation that made a fortune in the mining business, a partnership made up of James Graham Fair, James C Flood and Robert Doyle and Ireland-born William S. O’Brien. “The four dealt in mining stocks and operated silver mines on the Comstock Lode, and in 1873 discovered the great orebody known as the “Big Bonanza” in the Consolidated Virginia and California Mine, more than 1,200 feet deep, which yielded in March of that year as much as $632 per ton, and in 1877 nearly $190,000,000 altogether.”
Needless to say, they were among the social elite of San Francisco. They invested some of their money into valuable land and other promising opportunities. They started the Bank of Nevada in California. The Menlo Oaks area was owned by James C. Flood and Robert Doyle. Flood built his glorious Linden Towers, described as being “opulent”, on the land he owned. The wealthy folk of San Francisco had their showcase mansions where they parties and entertained on the peninsula.
William S. O’Brien had a sister, Maria O’Brien Coleman. Her son, James Valentine Coleman, who was a San Mateo County Assemblyman and trained as a lawyer ,was betrothed to socialite Carmelita Parrott Nuttall, the granddaughter of a wealthy San Francisco banker, John Parrott.
Maria wanted to give her son and his new bride a glorious present. She asked her brother if she could buy 165 acres of land in Menlo Oaks from Flood and Doyle. After doing so, she hired the talented architect and designer who built Flood’s Linden Towers, Augustus Laver. Laver combined the classical Italian Renaissance style with the contemporary “picturesque aesthetics” which made the mansion classical yet modern for the time. It was a popular gift among the wealthy elite to build your adult children their own houses.
The twenty-two room mansion took two years to build, but it was a vey impressive home that Carmelita and James just loved. It was also the perfect place to host lavish parties for the San Franciscan elite.
However, James and Carmelita didn’t get to move in at all because of a tragedy. At 5:00 am, a loaded revolver discharged and killed Carmelita. Because of his social standing, he escaped police suspicion, and Carmelita’s death was ruled an accident. Despite this, there were rumors that James was hard to live with, and their marriage had been a rocky one. Carmelita also had some issues according to what her sprit has shared with the living.
The story in the newspaper told this sad tale. “Carmelita had been wounded while unpacking her husband’s valise, from which fell a loaded revolver in such a manner as to send one of the balls into her tender body. The cruel missile entered near the centre of the abdomen and ranged upwards and to the left from a point just below the seventh rib. The hemorrhage was internal, and the physicians were powerless.”
One wonders why Carmelita was unpacking her husband’s valise at 5:00 am.
James never moved into their mansion. He may have rented it out to other groups who wanted an event place. In 1905, he finally brought himself to sell the mansion and its acreage to a developer, Livingston Jenks. Livingston subdivided the vast acreage into individual property lots, creating the Menlo Oaks neighborhood. People bought the lots, and built summer homes or hunting cabins, The mansion became a rental. The killer 1906 San Francisco earthquake leveled many buildings, including the dormitories of the seminarians who were studying at Saint Patricks Church, located not far from the Coleman Mansion.
During their stay in the mansion. a woman killed herself by throwing herself down one of the steep stairways. Perhaps she was a former girlfriend of one of the seminarians. Or perhaps she was a pregnant woman who worked there.
From 1909 to 1924, it is said that various people owned/rented the mansion for short periods of time. In 1925, humanitarians Frank and Josephine Duveneck, and their group, rented the mansion and 10 acres for $100 a month. They started the Peninsula School here. In 1929, they bought the mansion outright and ten acres for $26,500, which provided a strong, permanent foundation for Peninsula School. They didn’t know that the spirit of Carmelita Coleman also came with the sale. For 1924, this was boatload of money, but a far cry from the 100,000 dollars it took to build it. Somewhere along the way it lost its value. Perhaps, being so huge was a handicap at this point.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
People who in life are excited about upcoming events and look forward to them, can be restless and disappointed when they die suddenly. They may try to stay and participate as much as they can, trying to make up for what was taken from them, and are not ready to leave this world just yet.
Carmelita was looking forward to living in this glorious mansion, and having a family, even if her husband was difficult. When she was killed by a bullet, all her dreams for this world were dashed. So, she has chosen to spend her afterlife in her mansion, and is enjoying the children who come to this school, which is the closest opportunity she has to having a family.
Spirits who are pleased with the way the living are using their special building, sometimes like to visit and enjoy what they are doing there.
The spirits of Carmelita and her father like to visit to see what is going on in the school.
Adultery or perceived adultery often causes pain, jealousy and sometimes murder.
Some think that James Coleman’s statement about his wife’s death was suspicious. One theory is that he found out about his wife’s infidelity and got so mad that he pulled the gun out. Perhaps he was only threatening to shoot her, and the gun went off accidentally.
Guilt about difficult decisions or misbehavior resulting in sorrowful consequences can cause more guilt. According to a seance done at the Peninsula School, Carmelita made a big confession of her own secret pleasures.
The Spirit of Carmelita
Described as being a thin woman who appears shimmering green.
She likes to use the attic area as her private space, as it isn’t used much by the living.
There are 50 years of stories told by children and adults who speak of seeing the apparition of a thin woman dressed in green, of shimmering lights, and of unexplained footsteps, which have continued to this day.
A former director thinks this resident ghost likes the children and staff, and is a kindly presence in the school, as she likes to appear a lot and has never hurt anybody.
Teacher Starr’s Experiences
At a sleep-in at the school, a whole class of children and their teacher, Starr, saw a green, see-through woman who was looking at them and studying them for five minutes. All twenty children drew pictures later of a green, shimmering woman.
Starr also met her on another instance while alone in a pitch dark hallway. Upon seeing her, he turned on the light. She didn’t disappear, so Starr and the green lady ghost just studied each other for a time.
In front of his awe-struck friends, a student ran right through the green lady ghost when she suddenly appeared to them.
At the end of the 8th grade, students write down their aspirations and visit the attic, to share them with the spirit of Carmelita.
Most Probably so! The spirit of Carmelita cannot rest because she felt she died too early, depriving her of her dreams and leaving her with guilt about the causes of her own sudden death. So she makes the best of it, being the friendly spirit who loves children, watching what they do in school and overseeing her lovely mansion that she didn’t get to live in while in this world.
Her father, Robert Nuttail, likes to visit and catch up with his daughter and enjoy seeing what projects the children are working on. This spirit doesn’t want to believe that his fine son-in law James killed his daughter or that she was unfaithful.
A San Francisco medium, Macelle Brown, together with fifty people, held a seance at the school. Talking through the medium, the green lady confirmed the common knowledge that she was indeed Carmelita Coleman, and told them the unknown story of her unhappy marriage, her lover, her very jealous husband, and her claim that she was murdered.
However, a surprise presence, claiming to be Carmelita’s father, R. Nuttail, communicated through the medium that Carmelita’s claims were “hog wash”. He set everyone straight on the point that it was actually his money, not Coleman’s, that was used to build this mansion, which is now their school. Thus, he had the right to be there. R. Nuttail further explained that from time to time, he likes to “visit” the school to watch the students and their school activities.
920 Peninsula Way
Menlo Park, California 94025
The James Coleman Mansion, now known as The Peninsula School is located on ten acres of land smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. This large square of land has 4 streets along its perimeter” Peninsula Way, Berkeley Avenue, Menlo Oaks Drive and Colby Avenue. The school’s driveway entrance is off Peninsula Way.
- www.pastheritage.org, by Margaret Feuer, 2014
- “THE LATE W. S. O’BRIEN”, The New York Times, New York, New York, May 12, 1878
- Photograph © peninsulaschool.org
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr