The buxom, hourglass figured and 6ft tall “Big Alma” was a chain smoker, swam bare naked in her gigantic indoor pool in front of guests, guzzled martinis by the gallon and cared not what people thought of her.
At 14, she resisted her family’s push to wash other people’s clothes for a living and began to pose nude for up and coming artists in S.F. – she was the model for the Union Square statue of “Victoria: The Goddess of Victory” by Robert Aitken and for many risque paintings that hung in saloons all over town. With the money earned as a model, she enrolled herself in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art to study painting and the rest she spend on her stylish attire, blossoming into a proper belle of San Francisco.
Her stunning looks, insatiable libido and booming voice would take her far. She first attracted the affection of famous miner Charlie Anderson, whom she later successfully sued for “personal defloweration” in a breach of promise suit that made newspaper headlines. She then pursued and landed a wealthy playboy named Adolph Spreckels, 23 years her senior and heir to a vast sugar fortune. Alma‘s pet name for her “Sugar Daddy” would become enshrined in our American lexicon.
When S.F. society shunned her, she had her revenge by building a bohemian salon, entertaining world acclaimed artists, writers, celebrities, statesmen and nobility. Alma Spreckels became one of the most influential art collectors in the U.S., prominently displaying part of her collection at the 1915 world fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Rumors of her infidelities with the likes of Miss Loie Fuller, the inventor of modern dance, did not faze Alma de Bretteville Spreckels – after all, she was filthy rich. After her husband passed in 1924, she eloped to Reno and married a transvestite cowboy – who soon left her for her young niece.
In addition to a 1913 mansion, now the home of novelist Danielle Steele, and donating large portions of land to Golden Gate Park, Alma and Adolf left their mark on S.F. with the creation of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor which houses her Rodin sculptures.
She left this world in 1968, a little more colorful than how she found it.