Elise S. Haas.

The appreciation of quality : oral history transcript / and related material, 1972-1979 online

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University of California Berkeley

Elise Stern Haas

Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library

Elise Stern Haas

October 20, 1990

Elise Haas Arts Patron ,
Matriarch of S.F. Family

By Da* Levy
OmmicU S*ff Wrtur

ElUe Stern Hats, patron of
the arts, civic leader and member
of the pioneering San Francisco
family that founded and still
manages Lev! Strauss and Co.,
died yesterday at Mount Zlon
Hospital. She was 96.

Mrs. Haas, the widow of Walter
A. Haas, was the first woman presi
dent of the San Francisco Museum
of Modern Art (formerly the San
Francisco Museum of Art) and
Mount Zion Hospital and Medical
Center. She was also a founder of
the San Francisco Youth Sympho
ny Association and chairman of
the Stern Grove Festival Associa
tion, which her parents establish

Mrs. Haas was born in San
Francisco In 1893, the only child of
Rosalie Meyer and Sigmund Stern.
Her father was president of Lev!
Strauss and Co. and nephew of the
company s founder, Levl Strauss,
the Bavarian immigrant who
founded the firm in 1850.

Remembered yesterday as an
elegant, civic-minded philanthro
pist. Mrs. Haas was a devoted pa
tron of the arts and culture of the
city. She was involved with the
Museum of Modern Art from its
inception in the 1930s. She served
on its women s board, the board of
trustees, and served as its chair
man from 1964 to 1966.

Under her leadership, the mu
seum solidified its financial bts*
and built up its permanent collec
tion. She was herself a painter and
sculptor and said she was commit-
ted to supporting local artists.

"You ve heard the expression
grande di.me," commented San
Francisco attorney Moses I.asky,
who served with Mrs. Haas on the
museum board. "Well, that was
what she was. She was one of those
people that make a community
proud of itself."

Mrs. Haas assumed leadership
of the museum at a time when It
was struggling financially and un
sure of its artistic and civic mis
sion, arts observers said last night

"She was a strong person with
good ideas and excellent taste,"
said Mary Keesllng, who also serv
ed as women s board president.
"I m so glad I had the chance to
have her in my life."

Mrs. Haas was for many years
associated with Mount Zlon Hospi
tal, where she served as president
from 1938 to 1940. She headed the


A memorial is scheduled next
week for Ruth Heine Dahl, presi
dent of the H**e PiaaOtCo., who.
lied IB Stencil ou October 2 tt a&

Ruth Htn was bom in SMistt
in 1899. Her father, G. 0. Heine, |
established the Heine Piano Co.,j
which operated a string of West!
Coast agencies.

She was educated at St Rose. 1
Academy in San Francisco and
Stanford University. She married
Thomas Dahl Jr. in 1923. For the
next 38 yean they resided in Ha- 1

In 19W they returned to San!
Francisco. She became president;
of the Heine Piano Co, and opera t-
ed two local decorators shops. I

Grandniece of Lavi Strauss

San Francisco League of Women s
Voters, the Visiting Nurse Associa
tion and Red Cross blood drives
during World War II.

The Haases also made signifi
cant contributions to institutions
involved in education, health, the
environment and social services.

Mrs. Haas and other members
of the family received the Alexis
de Tocqueville Society Award
from the United Way of America
in 1985. The citation said that the
Walter, and Elbe Haas Fund.
which they founded in 1952, re
flected "the family philosophy
that wealth is a responsibility and
that the sharing of it Is a way of

In 1914, Elise Stern married
Walter A. Haas, who was president
of Levi Strauss and Co. from 1928
to 1955. Under their sons, Walter
A. Hass Jr. and Peter Haas, the
company has become the world s
largest apparel manufacturer.
Walter A. Haas Jr. is also the own
er of the Oakland Athletics base
ball team. His son, Walter J. Haas,
is president and chief executive

Mrs. Haas leaves her sons,
daughter Rhoda Goldman, 10
grandchildren and 20 great-grand

A memorial service will be held
at 11 a.m. Monday at Congregation
Kmanu-El at Lake Street and Ar-
guello Boulevard In San Francisco.

The family requests that peo
ple wishing to make a memorial
donation contribute to the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art,
the Stern Grove Festival Associa
tion or Mount Zlon Hospital in San

A service will be held at the
Grace Cathedra] Chapel at 10:30
a.m. Tuesday.

Contributions may be made to
the Lincoln Child Center Founda
tion, 4368 Lincoln Avenue, Oak
land. Calif. 94664; Shrinen Hospi
tal or the American Cancer Soci

George A. Scott

La Mesa


George A. Scott, a radar and;
Navy communications pioneer
who served as a navigator for pilot !
George Bush during World War II, :
died Sunday at the age of 82. . ;

Atfocta.ua fntt ,

Robert Tessier

Los Angeles

Actor Robert Tessier, whose!
baleful looks helped him portray!
tough guys and villains in such!
movies as "The Deep" and "The;
Longest Yard," died October 11 at*
the age of 56.

Known for his trademark shav-i-
ed head, Mr. Tessier s first promi-!
nent role came in 1970 with "Cry
Blood, Apache." Other film credit*
include "Hooper" and "Hard-
Times." His last picture was>
"Night-Wish." released this year.

taf laird Pntt

Fred L Hartley

Los Angeles

Fred L. Hartley, whose push
for innovation and alternative en-
ergy boosted Unocal Corp. from a-
small oil company to an interna
tional conglomerate, died yester
day after a long, unspecified ilii-
ness. He was 73.

Regional Oral History Office University of California

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California

California Jewish Community Series

Elise Stern Haas

With Introductions by
Meyer Friedman, M.D.

Henry T. Hopkins

An Interview Conducted by
Harriet Nathan
in 1972

Sponsored by the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum

Copy No. /

Copyright (?) 1979 by the Regents of the University of California and
the Trustees of the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum

TABLE OF CONTENTS - Elise Stern Haas



INTRODUCTION by Meyer Friedman, M.D. v

INTRODUCTION by Henry T. Hopkins vii


The Meyer Family
Grandfather Eugene Meyer

The Newmark Family 4

Grandmother Harriet Newmark Meyer and Her Children 5

Rosalie Meyer 6
Marriage to Sigmund Stern
The Stern Family

Residence in San Francisco 10
Birth and Mother s Illness

Christian Science 12

Mother s Music and Musical Friends 13

Mother s Accomplishments, Activities and a Gift 14


Home at Pacific and Octavia 17

Some Long-Term Friendships 19

School and Classes 20
The Earthquake Memories: San Francisco and Fair Oaks

Homes at Fair Oaks 28


Meeting Walter Haas 31

Decision and a Wedding 33

Walter, Jr. 34

The World War I Years 35

Peter 36

Galileo, Deerfield, U.S. and Harvard 38

Miss Godchaux - French and Grammar 40

The -1929 Family Trip to Europe 41

The 1939 Trip 42

Wartime and the Family 45

Peter and Jody 46

Two Generations 47


The Willis Polk House 48

The Loveliest Lot in Town 48

The Top Apartment 49

Some Eric Mendelsohn Designs 51


Birthdays 53

Sports and the Out-of-Doors 54

"Gloriana" and the Mountbattens 58

Visiting Israel 61

Aspects of Art and Music 66


Yerba Buena Club, Golden Gate International Exposition 69

The Nomura Luncheon 71

Blood Donor Service: World War II 73

Mt. Zion Hospital 76

U.C. and the Haas International Award 80

Concerts for Young People 82

Merola and the Singers Competition 84

Stern Grove and the Concerts 85

Maintaining Stern Grove 88

Proposed Center for the Performing Arts 90


Lessons in Painting and Drawing 92

Classes in Sculpture 92

Developing an Art Collection 96


Meeting Sarah and Michael Stein 101

The Matisse Portrait of Sarah 102

The Gentlemen from Gump s 102

Sketches from "Joie de Vivre" 104

"Granny Wants to Sell" 104

A Michael and Sarah Stein Memorial Collection 106

Meeting M. Matisse 106

Nate Cummings and the Portrait of Mike 108

The Elmire Incident 109

Janet Planner 111

Idea for a Show 112

Visit to Alice Toklas 115

Four Americans in Paris 117


The Kecks and Conservation 120

Hazards of Lending Paintings 121

Sidelights on Coffelt and O Keeffe 124

Reproduction of "Femme au Chapeau" 126


Some Acquisitions 128

Arranging a Visit with Moore 130

Seeing Moore s Studio and Garden 131
Moore in the U.S.


Manuscripts and Lectures at U.C. 134

Letters for the Music Department 134


A Camera for Ansel Adams 139

Tributes Printed by the Grabhorns 139

A Book and Some Clippings 141

The Letters from Mexico 143


A Fresco for the Country Place 145

The Rivera at Stern Hall 147


Some Portraits 150

The Horse Sculpture 150



Role of the Trustee 155

Disposition of "Femme au Chapeau" 157

The Museum s Rental Gallery 158

The Children s Choice . 159

The Question of Communication 160

Searching for a Director 160

Function of a Catalogue 163

Problems of Running a Museum 166

Art Owned in the Bay Area 167

Changing Views of Art and Museums 168

Board Membership 172

The War Memorial Board of Trustees 173

Museum History and Development 174

Fund for the 70s and a Conservation Laboratory 175

Accessions 176

Boards Serving the Museum 177


The Barnes Collection 179

Norton Simon s Pictures 180

Edward G. Robinson s Collection . 180

Lurcat Tapestries at Home 182

A Tour 183




The Northern California Jewish Community Series is a collection of
oral history interviews with persons who have contributed significantly
to Jewish life and to the wider secular community. Sponsored by the
Western Jewish History Center of the Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, the
interviews have been produced by the Regional Oral History Office of The
Bancroft Library. Moses Rischin, professor of history at California State
University at San Francisco, is advisor to the series, assisted by the
Center s Advisory Committee, Norman Goliver, chairman, Harold M. Edelstein,
Seymour Fromer , Mrs. Theodore Geballe, James M. Gerstley, Douglas Goldman,
Professor James D. Hart, Louis H. Heilbron, Mrs. Leon Mandelson, Robert E.
Sinton, Frank H. Sloss, Daniel Stone, and Mrs. Matt Wahrhaftig. The series
was inaugurated in 1967.

In the oral history process, the interviewer works closely with the
memoirist in preliminary research and in setting up topics for discussion.
The interviews are informal conversations which are tape recorded, transcribed,
edited by the interviewer for continuity and clarity, checked and approved
by the interviewee, and then final- typed. The resulting manuscripts, indexed
and bound, are deposited in the Jesse E. Colman Memorial Library of the
Western Jewish History Center, The Bancroft Library, and the University
Library at the University of California at Los Angeles. By special arrange
ment copies may be deposited in other manuscript repositories holding relevant
collections. Related information may be found in earlier interviews with
Lawrence Arnstein, Amy Steinhart Braden, Adrien J. Falk, Alice Gerstle Levi-
son, Jennie Matyas, Walter Clay Lowdermilk, and Mrs. Simon J. Lubin. Untran-
scribed tapes of interviews with descendants of pioneer California Jews
conducted by Professor Robert E. Levinson are on deposit at The Bancroft
Library and the Western Jewish History Center.

The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons prominent in recent California
history. The Office is under the administrative supervision of Professor
James D. Hart, the director of The Bancroft Library.

Willa K. Baum

Department Head

Regional Oral History Office

31 May 1978

Regional Oral History Office

486 The Bancroft Library

University of California at Berkeley



Rinder, Rose (Mrs. Reuben R. ) , Music. Prayer, and Religious Leadership:
Temple Emanu-El , 1913-1969. 1971

Koshland, Lucile Heming (Mrs. Daniel E. , Sr.), Citizen Participation
in Government . 1970.

Koshland, Daniel E. , Sr. , The Principle of Sharing. 1971.

Hilborn, Walter S. , Reflections cm Legal Practice and Jewish Community
Leadership: New York and Los Angeles, 1907-1973. 1974.

Magnin, Rabbi Edgar F. , Leader and Personality. 1975.

Fleishhacker, Mortimer, and Janet Choynski (Mrs. Mortimer), Family.
Business, and the San Francisco Community. 1975.

Haas, Walter A., Sr. Civic, Philanthropic, and Business Leadership.

Haas, Elise Stern (Mrs. Walter, Sr.), The Appreciation of Quality.
1975. In process.

Salz, Helen Arnstein (Mrs. Ansley) , Sketches of An Improbable Ninety
Years . 1975.

Sinton, Edgar, Jewish and Community Service in San Francisco, A
Family Tradition. 1978.

Kuhn, Marshall H. , Marshall H. Kuhn: Catalyst and Teacher; San Francisco
Jewish and Community Leader, 1934-1978. 1978.

Related information may be found in other Regional Oral History Office
interviews: Lawrence Arnstein, Amy Steinhart Braden, Adrien J. Falk,
Alice Gerstle Levison (Mrs. J.B.), Jennie Matyas, Walter Clay Lowdermilk,
Mrs. Simon J. Lubin, Harold L. Zellerbach; Bay Area Foundation History
series; The Peta.luma Jewish Community series (interviews conducted by
Kenneth Kann) ; California Women Political Leaders series Ann Eliaser,
Elinor Raas Heller, Carmen Warschaw, Rosalind Wyman; Dr. Rubin Lewis,
(chest surgeon); James D. Hart (fine printing); Maynard Jocelyn (wine
technology); Ruth Hart (volunteer leader). Untranscribed tapes of
interviews with descendants of pioneer California Jews conducted by
Professor Robert E. Levinson are on deposit in The Bancroft Library
and the Western Jewish History Center.



Beauty and quality have been, quite unconsciously, the guidelines that
shaped my attraction to people and to material things. Integrity needs no
mention; it is all-important. My lovely mother was the spiritual and physical
embodiment of these three attributes. She had an enormous influence on my
life too much, reallyand it took me years after my marriage to "get out
from under" and be my own individual self. It was years, too, when I was
really "grown-up" to get to know and appreciate my father. I had always loved
him dearly, as he did me, but though he indulged me whenever he was allowed to,
he left my upbringing entirely to my mother. He was in almost every way her
opposite: short in stature, jolly, outgoing, fun-loving, gay and lovable.
Mother was sweet and loving tooand very thoughtful of people but so regal
in bearing that she was somewhat intimidating, and she had no sense of humor,
which Dad had in abundance.

I am not of the gregarious type. I have had few really intimate friends
in my life, but these have meant more to me than I can express. I loved them
dearly. I grew up, an only child, in a large, formal house, never allowed to
go out unaccompanied and later, never to have a date alone with a boy nor stay
overnight with a friend except my then "best friend," Marian Walter (Sinton).
My only "boy-girl" date was to go to a U.C. -Stanford trackmeet with Walter Haas,
my constant dinner partner after I had made my debut in 1912 - and you all know
the result of that.

Being by nature and inheritance a "loner," you can imagine the adjustment
I had to make when I married into the enormous, tumultuous Koshland clan, to
some of whom I later became very close. They were never happy without constant
companionship. I used to think they couldn t even take a bath without company.

I am a great believer in the benefit of having good genes, and in this,
Dad and I have been most fortunate. I don t think I have spoken much about
our marriage. I think two people could not have more different tastes and
interests. I have always particularly wished that Walter could enjoy music
with me, but he hates every note, whether it be jazz or symphony. To my great
surprise, only two days ago he said to me, "I m really sorry that I was never
taught more about music and the things you enjoy. All that went to my dear
sister Ruth." For how many years this had been my wish, too."

On my part, I learned to fish because Walter loved it, and I soon learned
to love it too, not do it too badly, and enjoy the beautiful wild country.it
took us to, although sleeping on the ground was not the pleasantest experience
for me. Being in the wilds was a wonderful experience I had never had before.

You all know your father well, but I want to tell those who come after,
what an extraordinary man he was. He has a brilliant mind, a great compassion
for people, the sweetest nature I know, and our joy together could not have been
surpassed, however different we are.


It has taken me a long time to write this so-called memoir - over three
years, I think - so you will find discrepancies in dates and details, but it
will give you an idea of the life of a girl without brothers and sisters, but
with a few very choice friends, whose life up to this moment (February 1977)
has been as happy a one as I can possibly imagine.

In the meantime, some of the grandchildren have married and have children
of their own, so we are now great-grandparents, which is really impressive.
I hope and pray that the lives of all of them may be as happy as ours has been.
The world and its standards have changed a great deal, but I can see no change
of that sort in our descendents.

This autobiography which you, my children, wanted has taken a long time.
Harriet Nathan has been more than helpful and I cannot be grateful enough for
her patience. I must admit it has been fun, too, to have long-past things
come to the surface. I have probably left out a great deal, but anyhow,
things can become too long.

I have enjoyed doing it and I hope you will enjoy reading it. With all
my love ,

Your Mother


Most knowledgeable physicians in the United States recognize that the
Mount Zion Hospital and Medical Center is one of the nation s top dozen com
munity medical centers. This is because the quality of compassionate care this
hospital affords its patients; the distinguished attending, house officer and
nursing staff it possesses; the profusion of superb diagnostic and therapeutic
modalities it harbors and last, but far from least, the research it sustains,
make such recognition an inescapable fact.

But just four decades ago, this same hospital was a relatively tiny, rather
understaffed and under-equipped neighborhood sort of institution which was run
as an ordinary run-of-the-mill hospital. What then made this parochial hospital
soar to its contemporary national esteem? Perhaps many forces have been at work
but as an interested witness of the scene throughout these same forty nascent
years, I believe the initial, and certainly the most seminal forces seeming to
enhance the caliber of this hospital were those initiated by Elise Haas when
she assumed the presidency of the Mount Zion Hospital and Medical Center in

From the very outset, Elise Haas distinguished herself from all her
predecessors. First, she dared to believe that a hospital was not a place of
business but was above all a prime symbol of a community s spirtual concern and
compassion for its fellow members. And Elise Haas never allowed any hospital
financial report, whether it was favorable or unfavorable to obliterate this
concept. It was this same belief that probably inspired her to found a full-
time psychiatry department at the hospital. Strange as it may seem now, this
was a, rather revolutionary development four decades ago.

Elise Haas also differed from her predecessors by daring to dream that the
hospital she took over might some day become a distinguished medical center of
national repute. But for this to happen, she sensed that medical research
must serve as an indispensable leavening agent for such a development. She
accordingly, with total intrepidity, proceeded to install research as a going
concern at the hospital. So when she retired as president of the hospital in
1940, she left it possessing an institute for heart research and laboratories
in which dozens of other individual investigators were able to conduct research
in cancer, edocrinology , surgery, neurology and psychiatry. She had accom
plished this feat almost singlehandedly because at that time there wasn t a
single federal dollar available for medical research.

Mount Zion Hospital and Medical Center then in its contemporary acquisition


of national esteem has made Elise Haas s dream come true. But this dream has
materialized only because she had the vision, the courage and the unswerving
determination and drive to make that dream evolve from fantasy to fact. I
have known few, very few, Americans whose past contains such a stellar
accomplishment .

Meyer Friedman, M.D.
Director Emeritus
Harold Brunn Institute
Mount Zion Hospital and

Medical Center
San Francisco

January 1979



One would wish that Elise Stern Haas would take more time away from her
self-imposed family and philanthropic duties to pursue her own creative develop
ment as a sculptor. If the small, existing body of work was larger, more
definitive, one wouldn t need words to identify the personality traits which
describe this remarkable woman.

She would insist that her modest sculptures are those of an amateur but
I would insist that they are not amateurish. They are based on a solid know
ledge and understanding of art and cultural history and reflect a respect
for the process of creating, its mystery, and its discipline, which only a
real artist intuitively comprehends. They, as their maker, exude a nice
feeling for simplicity of form, a reserved dignity and human warmth.

It is true that Elise Haas was early blessed with the opportunity to
travel and to study the work of European masters but it is also true that she
was drawn to the artists of her own era, the modernists Matisse, Braque and
Picasso, rather than those of earlier times. She was also blessed with the
opportunity to acquire loved objects which were to her taste, many of which
have, with the patina of time, turned out to be masterworks of the first order.
Her esthetic affinities drew her toward the painting and sculpture of Matisse
but her "eye" continued to expand to include Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth,
Jean Arp , Andre Masson, Marino Marini, and even reached out to support younger
artists from the Bay Area such as Mark Adams and Bruce Beasley.

Fortunately for the many rather than the few, her cultural interests
spilled over into the public arena where her name has become almost synonymous
with the evolution and development of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
She served for many years on the Women s Board, later became a museum trustee,
and eventually served as its President. Even today she rarely misses a meeting.
Over the years her contributions have been many but her foresightedness is best
exemplified by two events: her efforts, with friends, to establish the first
museum endowment fund which has now tripled in size and her single-handed
development and support of the museum painting conservation laboratory which
has become one of the best in the nation.

Simplicity, dignity, human warmth and a woman s determination which pre
dates any movement characterize the life and the art of Elise Stern Haas.

Henry T. Hopkins

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
January 1979

VI 11





The Haas s family residence in San Francisco, at 2100 Pacific
Avenue, usually in the library.

Interview I
Interview II
Interview III
Interview IV
Interview V
Interview VI
Interview VII

February 17, 1972
February 25, 1972
March 3, 1972
March 17, 1972
March 24, 1972
March 31, 1972
April 7, 1972

After transcription, the pages were lightly edited and submitted to
Mrs. Haas for her review and approval. A skilled writer and editor,

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Online LibraryElise S. HaasThe appreciation of quality : oral history transcript / and related material, 1972-1979 → online text (page 1 of 20)