Leidesdorff Plaza was named in honor of William Alexander Leidesdorff, a prominent early citizen of California. Sometimes referred to as the “African Founding Father of California,” Leidesdorff secured a large land grand from Mexico along the American River, and his businesses in the area helped to stabilize the Sacramento Valley.
William Alexander Leidesdorff was
born in the Virgin Islands in 1810 and became a naturalized citizen in 1834. He
started a lucrative shipping business in New Orleans but was forced to abandon
that enterprise because of the Negro Seamen Acts.
After spending several years
traveling to different parts of the world, Leidesdorff arrived in San
Francisco, which was then known as Yerba Buena, in 1841. The territory which
became California then belonged to Mexico, and Leidesdorff became a naturalized
Mexican citizen in order to secure a land grant. In 1844, he acquired the
Rancho Rio de Los Americanos, a land grant of over 35,000 acres of valuable
land along the American River.
Leidesdorff then began trying to
reestablish himself as a businessman. He owned the first steamboat to operate
on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River. He also built the first hotel in
the city as well as the first commercial shipping warehouse. In 1845, he
accepted the position of United States Vice-Consul to the Mexican Alta
California region, becoming the first African-American diplomat.
Leidesdorff was also involved in
local politics, serving as treasurer for San Francisco as well as on the first city
council and the first school board.
In 1848, a vast discovery of gold
was made on the Rancho Rio de Los Americanos. By this time, Leidesdorff was one
of the wealthiest men in the California territory, and the value of his
property increased dramatically during the Gold Rush. Leidesdorff didn’t live
to fulfill his plans for the land, however. He died in May of 1848, just about
the time that gold was discovered in the area.
Leidesdorff Plaza was dedicated