Sobre Vista Farms in Sonoma, California was once part of General Mariano Vallejo’s Petaluma Rancho, an expansive holding of nearly 67,000 acres near the Valley of the Moon. Around 1871, General Vallejo deeded a parcel of his estate known as “Wardlow’s Land” to M. I. Todd, a relation of Mary Todd Lincoln. The land passed into the hands of General Washington Sewall, and then shortly after to Colonel George Hooper.
It was Colonel Hooper’s wife, Maria, who gave the property its name: Sobre Vista, meaning “above” or “over-view.” During his 20 or so years on the estate, Colonel Hooper was responsible for the extensive cultivation of the property’s vineyards and orchards. Under his guidance, the temperate climate and refined soil of the region resulted in white wine and olive oil of such quality that they garnered several medals at international exhibitions of the era.
When Rudolph Spreckels, the son of sugar magnate Claus, purchased the estate from General Hooper at the turn of the century, he augmented the land with additional parcels, man-made lakes, farmhouses, a game reserve and even a barn for his racing horses. When the Great Depression struck and Rudolph lost interest in the property he had entitled “Sobre Vista Farms,” it was his sister-in-law, Alma, who assumed the deed.
Alma de Bretteville Spreckels was born in San Francisco in 1881. Born to a family of few means, Alma worked as a nude artist’s model in order to pursue her love of art at the Mark Hopkins Institute. She swiftly became well-known around town, even infamous, but it wasn’t until after posing for the Dewey Monument that she encountered her future husband, Adolph Spreckels. Twenty-four years her senior, Adolph drove the committee selection of the “triumphant bronze libertine” that would be placed in San Francisco’s Union Square. Five years later, Alma and Adolph married.
When she wasn’t throwing extravagant parties at the couple’s Pacific Heights mansion, spearheading the construction of the Legion of Honor, throwing rummage sales for Depression relief or sending post-war reports back to President Harding from Paris, Alma put substantial resources into renovating Sobre Vista. In the meager years of the early 1930’s, an “army” of construction workers were put to work to transform the estate into the “San Simeon of the North,” complete with paved roads, electricity and even a golf course. There Alma entertained boxing champion Gene Tunney, banker A. P. Giannini, and Hollywood icons like Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore. Before the property’s sale in the late 1940’s, Alma also opened up the recreation area as a rest and rehabilitation center for World War II service men.
The parcel now known as Sobre Vista Farms was deeded to Alma’s brother Alexander de Bretteville in 1934. When the property was sold to developers in the late 1940’s, Sobre Vista Farms endured as one of the largest undivided segments of the original land. Many original touches remain, including the grand iron gates to the property and the one-story, wood-framed residence. The estate came into its current ownership in 2003.
Homeowner’s Association History PDF with histories of owners, buildings, lots of images:
Alma Spreckels history
Article on Napa/Sonoma mountain vineyards: