San Francisco County
JOHN A. HOOPER
The late John A. Hooper was one of the oldest bank executives in America, and was for more than a century a business and financial leader in San Francisco, where he occupied the presidency of The First National Bank and The First Federal Trust Company. He had been a resident of San Francisco for seventy-one years when he passed away on the 29th of December, 1925, at the age of eighty-seven, and had long figured prominently in lumber, shipping, realty, and banking circles.
Born in Bangor, Maine, September 25, 1838, he was a youth of fifteen years when he sailed from New York on the steamer “Northern Light” bound for Panama; crossing the Isthmus, he took passage on the steamer “Sierra Nevada,” arriving in San Francisco, April 12, 1854. Here he took up his permanent abode. Mr. Hooper was a member of the Vigilance Committee of 1856. He was one of a large family, all of whom eventually came to San Francisco to make their homes. His brothers were William H., who engaged in mining; Frank P., who was his business partner in the firm of F. P. & J. A. Hooper; Charles A., and George W., who associated themselves together in the firm of Hooper & Jennings. One sister, Mrs. W. E. Norwood, still resides in San Francisco.
In 1865 Mr. Hooper had the experience of being present in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C., when Booth fatally wounded President Lincoln. The following year he was married to Mary C. Brown of Bangor, Maine, returning with his wife very shortly to San Francisco.
John A. Hooper’s first venture was in the lumber trade. He established a company of his own; acquired a fleet of old clipper ships and, in addition to supplying lumber for many of the early-day San Francisco buildings, conducted a large trade in his commodity with foreign ports. His interests expanded to banking and property. He was a keen and shrewd dealer, and his fortune mounted. For thirty years he was a director of the First National Bank and was vice president of the Mutual Savings Bank before it was absorbed by The First National Bank in 1919. In 1823 he became president of The First National Bank, succeeding Rudolph Spreckels. Despite his years, he was one of the most active banking executives in San Francisco up to the time of his illness.
The following is an excerpt from a review of Mr. Hooper’s career which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on December 30, 1925: “John A. Hooper, president of The First National Bank, millionaire lumberman, property holder and one of the notable figures of the San Francisco business world, died yesterday at Stanford Hospital following an operation performed on December 19. Although eighty-seven years old, his death was sudden. He had rallied remarkably from the operation and was planning after the first of the year to assume the chairmanship of the board of direction of the combined Crocker and First National banks in the merger of which he had been instrumental ... In the past two years he made an immense fortune in downtown property turnovers. Three years ago he purchased the Parrott property, the famous old landmark built in the 50’s from imported Chinese stone, at Montgomery and California streets, and sold it a month ago. He also bought and sold some important Upper Market street holdings recently and owned the City of Paris property.”
Mr. Hooper was not averse to speculation at times, his associates point out, in recalling his experience with the German freighter “Walkure” during the war. This vessel had been interned by the French in Tahiti harbor in 1914, and later sunk to avoid destruction by the German Pacific fleet. A year later Mr. Hooper purchased the ship, succeeded in raising it from fifty-four feet of water, towed it to San Francisco and repaired it. On her first trip the “Walkure,” rechristened “Republic,” reimbursed Mr. Hooper for purchase and salvage costs, and subsequently he sold the vessel at a substantial profit.
Mr. Hooper is credited with initial measures toward the amalgamation of the Crocker and First National banks. Other offices he held up to the time of his death are as follows: president of the San Pedro Lumber Company; president of the Stockton Lumber Company; and president of the Merchants Exchange, and for some time was vice president of the California Cotton Mills. Other companies which he organized, serving as their president, were the Porta Costa Lumber Company, Santa Barbara Lumber Company and the Hooper Lumber Company.
Another biographer said: “He was owner, valuing this above all, of the friendship of countless men throughout California and the nation.” Mr. Hooper was one of the first directors of the Mercantile Life Insurance Company. He gave his political allegiance to the republican party and took a prominent part in all civic activities. In his passing the Golden state sustained the loss of one of its leading financiers and distinguished citizens.
To John A. Hooper and his wife were born seven children, three sons and four daughters: Albert C., Frank P., and Arthur W. Hooper; Mary M. Somers; Alice M. McKee; Jessie A. Beatty; and Jeannette S. Foote.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Byington, Lewis Francis, “History of San Francisco 3 Vols”, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1931. Vol. 2 Pages 44-47.
© 2007 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.