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The Saga of Tujunga’s Weatherwolde Castle

Mike Lawler is the former

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Both Crescenta-Cañada Valley and neighboring Sunland-Tujunga have long traditions of castle building. There were several built here in our early years, about half of which still survive, notably La Cañada’s Pink Castle and Tujunga’s Blarney Castle. But the most compelling story comes from Tujunga’s Weatherwolde Castle on Commerce Avenue, which was saved from the bulldozer by the community’s outrage in 2005.

I recently heard a talk by William Malouf, current owner of Weatherwolde, and this is his history of the castle.

The castle’s origin has two stories – the legend and the fact. The legend is this: Marcel Dumas, a homesick French expatriate married to an exiled Countess wanted to install his blue-blooded wife in a chateau worthy of her noble roots. He had a Norman-style castle built for her, and named it Weatherwolde. Several years later he lost it in a dramatic high-stakes poker game.

The reality? Dumas and his wife (not a countess) were indeed born in locations with exotic French names – New Orleans and St. Louis respectively, and had the stylish castle built in Tujunga in 1928. Dumas lost the castle, not in a high-stakes poker game, but because he stopped paying taxes on the property after the crash of ’29.

By the late 1930s, the Harris family was able to pick up the property for a paltry $7,000 in back taxes. It’s at this point that reality lived up to the legend, for Mrs. Harris was the secretary to Hollywood legend David O. Selznik, producer of “Gone With The Wind.” The castle’s exotic appearance, and the amazing landscaping the Harris family installed, made the castle a magnet for celebrities of that era, and Bela Lugosi, Orson Welles and Robert Mitchum were guests at parties held there. The Harris family lovingly maintained and accented the castle until 1974, when it was bought by antique dealer Yvonne Kenward.

Kenward only had the castle for five years until 1979, but it’s from her imagination that the castle’s legend, and its name “Weatherwolde,” sprung. The name was made-up, supposedly an ancient Anglo-Saxon word for a place of shelter, but it stuck, mainly due to Kenward’s promotion of the castle and her associated antique business.

In 1979, a husband/wife duo in the entertainment industry purchased it as their third house (must be nice!) and it was in those 25 years that the house became so overgrown and hidden from view that the neighbors literally forgot it was there. In 2005 it was bought by a local developer who intended to demo it and build new homes. On a Friday, his crew cut away all the overgrowth, and broke up the extensive patios and rockwork, leaving the castle to finish off on Monday.

The neighbors were flabbergasted to find a full-on castle magically sitting on a bare lot, where a thick forest had once stood. Some in the community reacted by entering the castle and stripping it of anything of value – from stained-glass windows to plumbing fixtures to a wrought-iron spiral staircase. Others rallied to save the castle, frantically pulling together various local preservation groups and contacting news agencies. On Monday morning the sun rose to a mob of protesters in front of the house, along with several news trucks and two news helicopters. The demolition crew pulled up in their truck, took one look at the crowd, and just kept on driving. The City of L.A. rallied to the cause as well, and a stop-work order was issued. Despite the objections of the developer, the castle was declared a City Historical Landmark.

William Malouf, a local musician and home restorer, heard about the tussle and drove by to investigate. It was love at first sight, and after lengthy negotiations, he purchased the stripped castle.

What happened next was like a scene in a cheesy movie. The stolen items from the castle began to reappear, until almost everything that had been stolen was back at Weatherwolde. Nine years later, Malouf and his family have nearly completed the restoration. It’s another piece of our heritage saved from destruction – a fairy-tale ending to a fairy-tale castle.

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