In 1864, William C. Ralston, a native Ohioan, acquired more than 14 acres in Belmont. He built an elegant mansion at the site, living there with his family. This country estate contained wheel shaped chandeliers, doors that swung both ways, hand-etched glass panels, hand-crafted European furnishings, many ballroom mirrors, silver fixtures such as doornails and railings, spacious gardens, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a greenhouse, and a carriage house and stable. He had a dairy built. Weekends were spent at the mansion where Ralston entertained his fellow San Franciscans. Some ofhis guests included: President Rutherford B. Hayes, General Sherman, Admiral Farragut, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and most of the famous artists of the period. His mansion, called "Belmont", became known as the White House of the West. It's now known as Ralston Hall, and is located on the site of the College of Notre Dame.
Ralston's generosity extended beyond hospitalities at his country estate. He donated much money to San Francisco charities while requiring that his name not be mentioned. Similarly, he declined the Southern Pacific Railroad's offer to have a town in San Joaquin Valley named after him. The town was named Modesto.
Ralston was a many of many interests. He was knowledgeable about horses, boatyards, sawmills, shipping, and banking. A visionary, he founded the Bank of California. For a time, the Bank of California was the most prestigious bank in the west.
Ralston died in 1875, the day after the Bank of California closed its doors due to solvency issues. The circumstances surrounding his death made it unclear as to whether or not he died from natural causes. In any case, the vast majority of his property was turned over to his associate from the Bank of California, William Sharon.