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Eight Women Throughout History Who Spent It Like They Meant It in San Francisco

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Here at Racked, we're dedicating this week to the kind of fantastical shopping that most of us only get to experience in dreams (or at 80%-off sample sales). Taking a page from casino parlance, we'll be talking a lot about "whales," those big spenders who feel perfectly comfortable dropping tens of thousands of dollars every night on roulette, or, in our case, on Cartier. Welcome to Whale Week 2013.


San Francisco has a long history of money: gold, wine, railroads and more have created many a fabulously wealthy family fortune. Here, we dig into San Francisco's history to celebrate the women who have lived extremely well and taken advantage of the riches the Bay Area has to offer.

1. Lola Montez, born Marie Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland in 1821, traveled around the world throughout her short life (she died at 39) dancing for royalty and becoming mistress to the King of Bavaria as well as Franz Liszt. She lived for a time in Grass Valley, about 2 hours northwest of San Francisco. Details are scant, but we're confident her spending habits were whale worthy since she inspired the phrase: "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets."

2. Lillie Langtry was born in the Channel Islands in 1853. The stunning beauty became a successful singer and stage actress, and had a series of affairs with royalty, including the Prince of Wales, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg. She came to the United States to perform in 1881, had a relationship with a New York City millionaire with whom she began investing in thoroughbred race horses. All the while, Charles Frederick Worth, the father of haute couture, designed her costumes and dresses, as did Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) and Jacques Doucet. As her wealth grew she became increasingly extravagant, lining her lingerie with ermine, opening in a line of credit at Tiffany, and acquiring the world's largest ruby, which was eventually stolen.

And now—drumroll—for the Bay Area tie-in: In 1888, Langtry and her American millionaire each bought estates in Lake County. She first did a stint with a theater company in San Francisco, then moved with the millionaire to wine country. Though she eventually sold the estate, Langtry Farms still produces grapes and wine in Middletown, California.


3. Lotta Crabtree was born in New York in 1847, but her family soon moved to Northern California, attracted by the Gold Rush. She performed for gold prospectors at mining camps raking in $400 nightly in golden nuggets. She eventually became the wealthiest actress in America and was fond of wearing giant pearls in her hair, in her ears and around her neck. She smoked black cigars and wore large bustles. Legend says she coincidentally learned to sing and dance from her Grass Valley neighbor, Lola Montez—or it may be that Lola took credit.


4. Isadora Duncan was born in a San Francisco in 1877, and began dancing as a child. But she disliked the rules of traditional dance and gravitated to a more freeform style. She soon became known as the "mother of modern dance." She was also known for her obsession with long, flowing scarves, which tragically led to her death at the age of 50. Her neckwear became entangled in the rear wheel of the convertible Amilcar she rode in, breaking her neck. Gertrude Stein observed: "Affectations can be dangerous."


5. Dr. Lou Cool, born in the late 1800s was one of the first female dentists in the country. After assisting her dentist husband in Oakland for several years, she opened her own office at 318 Kearny Street in San Francisco, and later opened a practice in the Chronicle Building at Market and Kearny. She had a passion for gold and diamonds, which she installed in the decayed teeth of society ladies. She was known for having two perfect diamonds in her own mouth.


6. Ann Getty may be a bit more of a contemporary whale, but she deserves a place on our list because the Getty family has such a rich San Francisco history (and presence). She married San Franciscan Gordon Getty, an heir to the Getty Oil fortune, in 1964. In 1983, he was named the wealthiest person in America by Forbes, with a net worth of $2 billion. Mrs. Getty has been known to love of Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Balmain in the Oscar era. She's been spotted in Emanuel Ungaro gowns and major JAR jewels. She no longer has the patience for fittings, however. In lieu of jaunts to Paris couture houses, the family's private 727, the "Jetty," these days transports Ann Getty on international shopping trips in search of objects d'art for her interior design clients.


7. Dede Wilsey, born in 1944, is also a contemporary whale, but has had a historical impact on San Francisco. She has been called "one of the most flamboyant women to pass through San Francsico society," and the new De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park would not have been built without her: She raised $180 million to get the job done. Her great-grandfather is the founder of Dow Chemical Company, and she married dairy magnate Al Wilsey in 1969 (he died in 2002). Wilsey favors Oscar de la Renta gowns and six-figure brooches according to a controversial book called "Oh, The Glory of It All" by her stepson Sean Wilsey.


8. Danielle Steel wrote more than 100 romance novels and reportedly owns 6,000 pairs of Louboutins. She collected much couture during the many decades during which she lived in Pacific Heights (she moved to Paris in 2011). Her list of favored designers and her collection of baubles are both very large. She and Ms. Wilsey above also happen to have been married to John Traina, who died in 2011.
· How to Shop Like Danielle Steele [Racked SF]
· 13 Places in San Francisco Where You Can Spend It All [Racked SF]
· The Surprising Truth About Folks Who Splurge on Mink Eyelashes [Racked SF]