5 Bay Area Castles for Romance, Mystery, and Adventure

Marthy Ross and Linda Zavoral/The Mercury News

SAN JOSE — If you can’t decide between finding your fit for an Old World castle in Scotland, France, Germany or Spain, why not try something much closer to home?

Yes, the Bay Area has castles, magnificent castles, and other unique structures built to evoke the romance and mystery of a medieval royal residence. And one was erected to perform the classic function of a castle, providing shelter and defense against enemy attack.

Here are five of the Bay Area’s most iconic castles to explore on the printed page or in real life.

Fort Point, San Francisco

On a foggy night, we thought we saw a ghost hiding among the cannons mounted on the roof of Fort Point.

While playing Union soldiers on a memorable fifth-grade night excursion, a classmate and I stood watch from midnight to 2 a.m. at the fort, built in 1861 at the south end of the Golden Gate to protect against Confederate invasion. A dark figure stood on the western bastion, gazing out across the strait to the sound of a foghorn, waves lapping against the rocks, and the thud of cars crossing the bridge above.

The character turned out to be a chaperone parent, but our brief terror is a reminder of the traditions and mysteries attached to this National Historic Site. The fort is so atmospheric that Alfred Hitchcock used it for a scene in “Vertigo,” when his haunted heroine jumps into the bay to escape her demons. Banquo’s ghost hit theaters in 2013, when a theater company used him as a stand-in for Macbeth’s Castle.

Built with 7-foot-thick brick walls to withstand a long siege, the four-tier brick-and-mortar fort fits the definition of an Old World castle. The original design even included a ditch, and Fort Point replaced the Castillo de San Joaquin, an adobe cannon battery built on the cliff by the Spanish in 1794.

Fort Point is one of many fortifications built around San Francisco Bay over two centuries to stop an attack – from the British, Russians, Japanese, Soviets or their fellow Americans. The invaders never came to Fort Point, even though a Confederate ship was only days from the Golden Gate in the summer of 1865 when its captain heard that the Confederacy had fallen.

How to take a closer look: Fort Point hours of operation vary by season (and pandemic precautions), but outdoor spaces are expected to be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday through May. Find Fort San Francisco at the end of Marine Drive, under the Golden Gate Bridge; https://www.nps.gov/fopo/.

Amorosa Castle, Calistoga

This is the castle that wine has built.

Make this wine and Dario Sattui.

The fourth-generation winemaker, who intended to construct an edifice that would honor his Italian ancestry and showcase his Castello di Amorosa wine label, found that his passion for medieval architecture knew no bounds.

Sattui had 8,000 tons of stones cut by hand and crimped individually. He imports lead glass from Italy and a million old bricks from all over Europe. He found artisans to hand carve the gargoyles. He added a drawbridge, a moat, five towers, an armory and a chapel. He filled underground chambers with wine barrels and artifacts.

“Either you do it right or people will know it’s not genuine,” he noted on the winery’s website.

After 14 years and many millions of dollars, this authentically styled 13th century Tuscan castle opened its doors to visitors in 2007. Originally designed to cover 8,500 square feet, the impressive Castello is 121,000 square feet, with 107 rooms on eight levels, four of them underground. The Great Hall is 72 feet long, with a 22 foot high ceiling.

The architectural masterpiece found its way into the news in 2020, when flames from the Glass Fire destroyed a farmhouse on the property and $5 million worth of wine that had been stored there. The majority of Sattui wine is stored in the Castello cellars and offsite.

Winery chairman Georg Salzner said at the time that in medieval times kingdoms stored flammable goods in a separate farmhouse from the main castle. Hoping to recreate Castello as authentically as possible, Sattui has done the same here, not expecting “one day it will really pay off,” Salzner said.

How to get a closer look: The chateau is open daily for tastings and tours by reservation only. 4045 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga; https://castellodiamorosa.com

Albion Castle, San Francisco

When a young Englishman named John Hamlin Burnell immigrated to San Francisco to build a brewery in 1870, he set the stage for one of the Bay Area’s most unusual yet hidden architectural treasures: Castle Albion at Hunters Point. .

Burnell chose a site above a natural underground spring, dug caves and built two stone cisterns under the hill to capture the thousands of gallons of pure cold water that accumulate in the aquamarine pools. For his home, he erected a small castle above the brewery, with a five-storey stone tower that is undoubtedly inspired by the castles back home.

Over the next 150 years, the brewery fell victim to Prohibition, and the castle remained largely hidden behind high walls and a tangle of gardens in an area best known for its shipyards and construction projects. lodging.

But Castle Albion has never been a secret to current owner Bill Gilbert, a former San Francisco police lieutenant turned real estate developer. The history buff grew up in Hunters Point and was enchanted every time he passed the property while patrolling the neighborhood. He bought the chateau in 2011, and he and his family have lovingly restored its woodwork, stone carvings, and medieval-inspired interiors, much of it created by a sculptor who once owned the property.

The family rents the chateau for eclectic private parties and the occasional A-lister looking for off-the-beaten-path lodging, and they might one day bottle its spring water. Like her father, Jennifer Gilbert is enchanted every time she works at the castle. “When I walk through the doors, it gets quiet,” she said. “You hear the birds in the garden, not the buses on the street or the construction, and I like to smell the wood and see the carvings. It’s like stepping into another world.”

How to take a closer look: Castle Albion isn’t open for public tours, but it’s available for overnight stays or private events, starting at $1,500, at 881 Innes Ave. in San Francisco. Take a look inside at www.thealbioncastle.com.

Sam’s Castle, Pacifica

The imposing hillside castle overlooking the town of Pacifica, with a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean just beyond, was built as a fortress.

The enemy? Mother Nature.

San Francisco railroad attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey and his wife, Emily, were so upset by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 that they never wanted to live in the city again . So they looked south to an emerging area called Salada Beach and hired architect Charles C. McDougall to build this 24-room concrete edifice, inspired by a Scottish castle, for peace of mind. (If they knew that Pacifica is in what is now called the San Andreas/San Gregorio/Pilarcitos fault zone, they certainly built it to withstand quakes.)

Members of the McCloskey family lived in their steadfast mansion for just eight years, from 1908 to 1916. After that, the castle lost its role as a refuge and became, according to historian Bridget Oates, a speakeasy of the prohibition era, an illegal doctor. abortion clinic and a U.S. Coast Guard lookout during World War II.

Left in poor condition after those Roaring Twenties, the property was saved by Sam Mazza, an interior painting and decorating contractor and art collector, in 1959. He bought the chateau for $29,000, restored it and filled it with antiques, artwork, and vintage oddities. . Although Mazza and his wife, Mary, never lived there, they entertained themselves at the castle – and he took care to secure its future.

Now known as Sam’s Castle, the structure is owned and operated by the Sam Mazza Foundation, a nonprofit arts and culture organization that offers Pacifica Historical Society tours brought to life by tales of the past.

As one docent told visitors, “There are ghosts flying around that have interesting stories to tell of their time here.”

How to take a closer look: The foundation plans to reopen the castle at 900 Mirador Terrace for tours and events in 2022. Check the website, www.sammazzafoundation.org, for updates.

Lyford Tower, Tiburon

It wouldn’t be fair to draw too many comparisons between Benjamin F. Lyford of Tiburon and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, whose turreted fortress Neuschwanstein inspired Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” castle.

Lyford was not a “mad king”. Yet the Civil War surgeon and inventor shared Ludwig’s fondness for fairytale castles, as well as the Victorian ambition to be a master builder. After Lyford pioneered embalming techniques at his San Francisco practice, he branched out into real estate development, thanks to his wife Hilarita Reed, who inherited 9,000 acres of prime land along the Tiburon peninsula.

In 1889, he built his “castle”, a two-story Romanesque tower overlooking Angel Island. The circular tower was to serve as an office and gateway to “Hygeia”, its utopian spa resort and residential community for people who wanted to enjoy the peninsula’s magnificent landscapes, temperate climate and lack of ” elements which stunt growth and ultimately destroy life,” according to an 1895 pamphlet. Lyford’s Hygeia also promised design and hygienic innovations such as toilets and its own sewage system.

Alas, Hygeia never happened, as Lyford imposed too many design and lifestyle restrictions on future owners. The Lyford heirs eventually sold the property, but the name is still attached to the tower and a nearby cove that features cliffside residences with sweeping views and private yacht ramps. Lyford’s Victorian mansion can also be seen at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary, a few miles up the peninsula.

How to get a closer look: The outdoor tower, at 2034 Paradise Drive, is still open to the public. But since parking near the tower is virtually non-existent, visitors should park in downtown Tiburon or near Shoreline Park and walk around.

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