George T. Marsh & The Craze for All Things Japanese

by David M. Newcomer

George T. Marsh Storefront at 625 Market St., San Francisco © Marsh & Lancaster.

While the 1876 centennial exposition in Philadelphia is generally considered the starting point in the United States of the “craze for all things Japanese,” Frederick Holroyd Deakin and George Turner March opened Japanese import shops in San Francisco that same year at the New Palace Hotel at 2 New Montgomery St. at the corner of Market St.

Before arriving in San Francisco in 1875, Marsh had lived over four years in Japan where he worked at an import business while he lived with the family of one of the owners of the firm, J. Winstanley. During these years he learned the Japanese language, traveled the country, gained knowledge of the import business and developed local contacts.

George T. Marsh © David Newcomer

In 1880, George T. Marsh married Lucy Elvira Whiteside and they had six children. In 1887 he built his family’s ‘winter home’ on the southeast corner of Clement and 12th Avenue in San Francisco. He named his home the “ Richmond Home” after his city of birth in Richmond, Australia. Today, that name lives on as the “Richmond District” in San Francisco.

Marsh’s “Miyajima” Main House in Mill Valley © Bancroft Library

In 1890 Marsh purchased 32 acres of land in Mill Valley’s Blithedale Canyon and in 1892 built his family a Japanese-style “summer home” called Miyajima (Owl’s Nest). The estate had its own railroad station along the route of the Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway and featured a tall torii entrance a short distance up Marguerite Avenue. Unfortunately, the home sustained major fire damage in the large fire of 1899 and was finally destroyed by the fire of 1925.

Main gate of Marsh’s “Miyajima” estate, Mill Valley © Annabelle Marsh Piercy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is a brief excerpt from Mr. Newcomer’s in-depth essay on “The Important contribution of two San Franciscans to the early ‘Craze for all Things Japanese’” which is available in the Anne T. Kent California Room.

Originally published at



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