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A Friendship Formed in Chocolate
James Lick arrived in San Francisco – then known as Yerba Buena - in January, 1848 when the population was barely 1000.
Lick had acquired a modest fortune as a piano maker, fur trader and entrepreneur in Argentina, Chile and Peru in the years 1821-47. The wily Lick used that money to buy land in San Francisco, carefully calculating the logical direction of the city’s expansion, and built a fortune.
One of Lick’s friends and neighbors in Peru was a man named Domingo Ghirardelli.
Domenico (Domingo was the name he used in Peru) was born in 1817 near Genoa. He learned the confectionary trade as a young man. Like his friend James Lick he had immigrated to South America, in his case to Uruguay, then Peru where he had a successful confectionary business.
Lick had brought 600 pounds of Ghirardelli’s chocolates with him to California, which he quickly converted to cash. He urged Ghirardelli to come to California and ‘get into the chocolate business.’ Ghirardelli sailed to San Francisco but the lure of striking it rich in the gold rush diverted him for several years. In 1852 he finally did open up a “candy” store. He soon had several outlets and the business grew. In 1893, Ghirardelli and his two sons thought big and bought a city block of bay side property along North Point Street.. Ghirardelli Square still contains the old buildings that formed the core of the Ghirardelli family business for over 60 years.
James Lick was a man of many interests and talents, and was equally successful in California. In 1852-55 he built a four mill in San Jose, which was said to have produced the best flour in the West. He also imported rare and beautiful trees from all parts of the world. He built one of the Bay area’s first luxury hotels in San Francisco. He had a keen interest in science and near the end of his life he funded the Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton, near San Jose, and donated what was then the largest telescope ever made.
Eric Howard describes him as an “aloof, simple, individualistic man who cared nothing for the opinion of others.” While he had a reputation for miserliness (which he encouraged and used as a shield) he was in fact generous with his fortune, and made countless bequests to charities and educational institutions.