The Pink Castle
When I was growing up, the Pink Castle was a common yet mysterious sight on the northern slopes of the La Cañada valley. It could be spotted occasionally as a bright glimpse of pink amongst the trees and houses of La Cañada above Foothill. But it really stood out when hiking up in the San Gabriels, particularly on the Earl Canyon Truck Road. We’d look down and there would be this bright pink full-on castle, looking like a giant medieval bottle of Pepto-Bismol. We always wondered what the story was on that oddball building.
The Castle was built in 1911 for then California Lt. Governor Albert Wallace. It was grand even by today’s La Cañada standards. Standing four stories tall and with 9,000 square feet of interior space, it was only dwarfed by the 75 acres of vineyards and orchards around it and by the majestic mountains rising almost vertical from its backyard. Modeled after the Scottish castle of millionaire Andrew Carnegie, it was an anomaly in the pre-Flintridge Cañada Valley, which then was home to mostly farmers and health-seekers. Perhaps it was inspired by the failed Gould Castle just a mile to the west. Although Wallace loved his faux-castle and considered it his escape from the corruption of Sacramento, his high society wife hated the isolation. Within just three years she convinced him to sell his elaborate dream house and move back to civilization.
The next occupant was real estate tycoon Frank Strong. Strong was a drinker, a carouser and politically connected. He had regular traveling poker parties with other well-connected rich men and politicians, including soon-to-be president Warren G. Harding. These trips included dalliances with the ladies. Soon after he bought the castle he remarried for the third time. His much younger new bride, who he had first met when she was his teenaged daughter’s best friend, was perhaps that era’s equivalent of a trophy bride. After a honeymoon in Europe, he installed her in the castle and took off on one of his drinking forays with Harding. She was naturally enraged and, so the story goes, while he was away she had the castle painted a bright pink as a form of protest.
Apparently he wasn’t too bothered by her attempt to humiliate him as the castle stayed pink. His young wife lived in the pink castle for another 40 years (it’s not clear if he did, though). When Strong died in 1953, she immediately sold the castle and land to a Glendale developer who carved up the 75 acres into home lots, and left the castle to rot, still pink, but unattended and unoccupied. It became a magnet for vandals and partiers in the ’50s and ’60s, who tore up the rich carpets and smashed out the leaded glass windows, including a massive Tiffany stained glass window. In the years after, the oddball home went through a succession of short-time owners and bank-appointed caretakers. But in 1990, it finally fell into the hands of John and Wendy Anderson who began a serious restoration of the once grand manor.
For the Andersons, the first step was to return dignity to the house and end its long reign as a laughable local eccentricity. After 70 years of pink, the castle was returned to its original sedate grey – the end of an era.
The current owners bought the house from the Andersons just a couple of years after the restoration process began, and for the last two decades have been following through with this arduous task. It’s been a labor of love for them, and they raised their family among the many massive fireplaces, marble floors, oak paneling, and secret passageways that Albert Wallace had envisioned over 100 years ago.
Although it’s no longer pink, it certainly is distinct and worth a drive-by. The castle today is alternately known as Wallace Castle and Strong Castle, and still for a few old-timers, the Pink Castle. The castle can be seen from the street at the very end of – what else? – Castle Knoll Road. As I always say – don’t bug the occupants!