Mausoleum and surroundings offer touching glimpse of the founders and the values they shared
Jane and Leland Stanford and their only child, Leland Jr., cherished country life on their 8,000-acre Palo Alto Stock Farm. Transformation into a world-class university has given much of their land a new face.
Yet the trees, gardens and monuments near their former homesite remain after more than a century as the Stanford Arboretum and Mausoleum. They resonate with signs of the Stanford family both before Leland Jr.’s death and after – a family of three that valued enterprise, discovery and nature, then a family of two led by grief to found a university promoting those values.
They also reveal Stanford University’s origin in a working ranch and farm whose lands, through careful stewardship, continue to shape and sustain university endeavors.
At his country home, Leland Sr. relaxed from his duties as president of the Central Pacific Railroad by breeding trotting horses, planting trees and sponsoring side ventures including early motion-picture research. He built a winery on today’s Welch Road, now the retail and office complex called The Stanford Barn. Jane Stanford ran the close-knit household and endowed kindergartens and other charities.
The Stanfords lived in a house that had come with the property, situated across Sand Hill Road north of today’s Stanford West staff housing. They chose the parklike grounds around today’s Mausoleum to build a new home suitable to their position and tastes.
They started by laying out a botanical garden, incorporating cactus and succulents brought via Leland Stanford’s railroad from the Southwest. This Arizona Garden remains today, a short walk from Stanford Health Care buildings but screened by venerable trees.
They also began an Arboretum south of their homesite, on both sides of what would become Palm Drive.
But the new home was not to be. In 1884, Leland Jr. died of typhoid at the age of 15. The elder Stanfords, wrenched by grief, remade their plans for their life and their land. They hired Frederick Law Olmstead to plot the university campus.
As these new plans unfolded, the site near the Arizona Garden became a resting place for eternity.
Leland, Jane and Leland Jr. now rest in a marble and granite Mausoleum there, built by Jane Stanford in 1889 and guarded by four marble sphinxes. A stickler for female representation but also for propriety, she moved the female sphinxes from front to back after she found their buxom nudity “not pleasing.”
Jane Stanford died in 1905. Her home was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake. What remained became a property manager’s residence and then a children’s convalescent home whose upkeep was a favorite philanthropy of Stanford student groups. It was torn down in 1965 to make way for the precursor to today’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
The area around the Mausoleum and Arboretum remains historic and relaxing, and still reveals glimpses of the Stanfords’ lives and thoughts.
Restored in the 1990s by volunteers, the Arizona Garden reflects the 19th-century drive to expand knowledge by collecting and organizing objects. Leland Jr. showed the same drive in his boyhood artifact collections, which after his death formed the nucleus of what is today the Cantor Arts Center.
Some of the oldest and most distinctive of the university’s 43,000 trees stand in the Arboretum. Valued trees continue to be moved here under the university’s Tree Transplantation Program, Some specimens are native, like the coast live oaks. Others planted by Jane Stanford and others express Victorian symbolism. Around the Mausoleum, they include specimens often associated with heaven, victory, peace and mourning, such as myrtles, cedars and palms.
In a statue commissioned by Jane Stanford that flanks the Mausoleum, Leland Jr. comforts his grieving parents with a motto expressing the new university’s values: “Dedicated to Science and the Good of Humanity.”
Nearby is the Angel of Grief, a 1901 memorial to Henry Clay Lathrop, one of Jane Stanford’s brothers.
Stanford students, beneficiaries of the family’s legacy, honor the founders with traditions that have included wreath-laying at the crypt on Founders’ Day and a Mausoleum Party on Halloween.