Monday, January 17, 2011

Captain William “Bill” Leale (1846-1918) - Ship Captain; Owner of Historic Home

Leale home, grave marker and ferry

Captain William “Bill” Leale was born on the Isle of Guernsey in 1846. He came to San Francisco in April 1866 where he was hired as a deckhand on the river steamer Reform. He became the master of the steamer Pioneer within six years and commanded a number of other vessels.

In 1880 he purchased the steamer Caroline and the tugboat Frolic. By the 1890s he was the captain of the bay ferries for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

In 1883, he bought a home that had been built in 1853 at 2475 Pacific Avenue in San Francisco. He added a bracketed false front and built a small house in the backyard, which he fitted to resemble a pilot house. Historical records indicate that the house is one of the oldest in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of Pacific Heights.

The house has become famous in recent years as the home of Susie Tompkins, who has hosted some of the most prominent Democrats in America, including President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, future President Barack Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.


Chris Pattillo, FASLA said...


The Frolic was the name of a ship that wrecked on the coast near Point Arena. This must be a different boat.

Interesting post.


Anonymous said...

Hello, Michael.
Interesting article: thank you. A little correction, though:
It was not William George Leale, but his brother, Captain John Leale (1850-1933), who bought 2475 Pacific Avenue in 1883. John was also a very famous ferry-boat captain in his day. After his wife Lily died in 1915, William went to live with John, his wife Fannie, and their two daughters at 2475 Pacific Avenue.
William's career took quite a blow in 1903 when he was found guilty of taking a bribe in exchange for an appointment to the position of pilot. Here's a link to the San Francisco Call:;words=William+Leale?date1=1899&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=&date2=1904&proxtext=william+leale&y=15&x=13&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=0

Nan J. said...

Captain William Leale (Bill) went on to be the ferry boat captain who went to and from Alcatraz, with prisoners, staff, mail and food.