Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

The Decay of the Famous La Crescenta Castle

Last week I wrote about the fantastic castle built by the wealthy Gould family at the top of what is now Ocean View back in the 1890s. When the castle was finished in 1892, it was absolutely fabulous, furnished in the most expensive furniture of the time, with lavish drapery and tapestries. A fireplace in each room blazed during the winter months and guests could stroll in the gardens that wound through the 185 acres overlooking the Los Angeles basin and the Pacific beyond. Elaborate parties were thrown there for rich East Coast visitors who spent their winters in the grand Pasadena hotels, and it was considered an adventure to take a carriage ride out into the wilds of La Crescenta to visit the famous castle.

But the good times were to be fleeting for the Gould family. After just a few years in the castle, an over-ambitious Mr. Gould took a huge gamble with the family fortune. He tried to corner the market in raisins, borrowing on his many properties to buy all available stocks of raisins with the ultimate goal of hoarding and driving the prices up. But that was a risky proposition and for Gould it failed miserably. His returns were pennies on the dollar, and the vast fortune was gone in a heartbeat. He sold all his property in the north to cover the debts, saving his precious castle for last. He sold the deed to the castle to an old friend who allowed the Goulds to stay on.

Besides financial ruin, there was physical decay in the castle itself. When May Gould had designed the castle, she insisted on European authenticity in its construction. Despite the protests of the construction foreman, May insisted the hardwood floors be laid directly on the ground as she had seen in Spain. In no time at all the floors rotted and buckled. She also insisted on lead roofs as were used on medieval castles in colder climates. In the hot California sun the lead roofs melted, letting rain in, which further ruined the floors, causing them to completely rot away –  just about the time the money ran out.

With floors gone and roof leaking, they had to move into the caretaker’s cottage. Gould found that he still owned the water rights to his property and sold it to farmers in La Cañada for quick cash. With no water to the property, the fruit trees and gardens dried up, and the family was finally forced to move in with relatives up north.

The castle now stood abandoned and overgrown, somewhat creepy and forlorn. Local kids played there and various families rented the caretaker’s cottage over the years. According to local lore several movies were filmed there, but I haven’t yet stumbled across them. The castle was now an oddity on the landscape.

The old castle stood well into the 1950s when its acreage was finally subdivided and the old castle was demolished, its finely cut stones bulldozed into a nearby canyon. As the wrecking crew moved in, someone snapped a sad last photo of the footprints of the three Gould children preserved in cement from the 1890s.

And what remains of the castle today? Castle Road and Rock Castle Road are named for the castle, and there’s a vacant lot at the intersection of Ocean View and Castle that has a couple ancient olive trees that may have been part of the castle’s orchards. If you turn off Ocean View onto Canalda, look up to your left and you’ll spot a giant umbrella shaped Italian Stone Pine that was part of the castle’s exotic landscaping.

The actual site of the castle ironically was never built on, and the pad stands empty today between Canalda and Fairhurst Drive. I’ve climbed up there and found a few cleanly cut stones that were part of the castle and they’re in my yard now. Each time I look at them I think of the Gould family’s dream that went bad, another drama played out in our colorful history.