Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 15, 2012. The Hawthornes Visit Scotty's Castle In Death Valley.

After going through the most desolate place
we've ever seen on earth 
- Death Valley -
the Hawthornes came upon a green world
in the middle of nowhere - Scotty's Castle.

Palm trees.

More green!
A park.

More palms.

In the desert!

This is Scotty's Castle, hidden in the green oasis of Grapevine Canyon in far northern Death Valley. The real name of this place is Death Valley Ranch, but it is more commonly known as Scotty's Castle.A wealthy Chicagoan, Albert Mussey Johnson, actually built the house as a vacation getaway for him and his wife, Bessie.  It was an engineer's dream home, a wealthy matron's vacation home, and a man of mystery's getaway and hideout.

The Scotty of Scotty's Castle, was Walter E. Scott.  He was born in Kentucky in 1872 and was destined to become the desert legend, Death Valley Scotty.  Scotty, the youngest of six children, learned a lot about horses from his professional horse-breeding father.  He traveled west to join his older brothers working as a cowboy while still a child.  As a teenager, he worked various jobs, including one season as a helper on a 20-mule team hauling borax in Death Valley.

By age eighteen, Scotty's talent with horses had earned him a job as a trick rider in Buffalo Bill's wild West show.  For twelve years, Scotty toured Europe and America while gaining experience as a showman.

Scotty had convinced everyone he had built the castle himself with money from his secret gold mines in Death Valley.  Although Johnson built the house, Scotty was the mystery, the entertainer, the cowboy,  and a friend to the Johnsons.  Albert Johnson was the brains and the money behind Death Valley Ranch. The two men were different as night and day.  They came from different worlds and had different visions.  But they both shared a dream.

Johnson and his wife made several trips to the area and started buying up acreage.
Johnson began buying land in Grapevine Canyon in 1915, and by 1927 had amassed more than 1500 acres. One of these parcels had been settled in the 1880s by Jacob Steininger.  By purchasing this titled land, the Johnsons had a place to stay during periodic vacations.  From a tent camp, they built three plain, box-like buildings, and eventually their villa - Death Valley Ranch - AKA  Scotty's Castle.

The Johnsons spent about $1.5 million on labor and materials on their Death Valley Ranch from 1926 to 1931. Most materials were shipped from southern California by by train to Bonnie Clare, about twenty miles from the Castle.  Some supplies were available nearby, such as feed for the horses and mules, and sand and gravel to mix with cement.

A decline in nearby mining provided a variety of experienced laborers to build the Castle.  About half of the construction workers were Timbisha Shoshone and Southern Paiute who were paid $3.50 per day.  White laborers were generally paid more but had room and board deducted from their pay.

Skilled craftsmen and artisans were brought in from Los Angeles to do everything from setting tiles to creating wood carvings and installing decorative ironwork.  The tile setters were among the highest paid employees at $11 per day.

With the impact of the Great Depression, almost everyone's wages were reduced.  Because of the remoteness and harsh desert conditions, employee turnover was high, especially among skilled workers.  Scotty often said it took three crews to work on the Castle - one coming, one going, and one working.

Albert Johnson himself was trained as an engineer.  Fascinated with technology, he was keenly interested in the latest building techniques.  This remote ranch had to be self-sufficient, but Johnson wanted it to be energy-efficient as well.  Innovations included reinforced concrete, hollow building tiles, an early type of foam insulation, and adobe-like stucco exteriors.

Johnson installed innovative hot-water and electricity systems.  Water from springs that flow at nearly 190 gallons per minute turned a waterwheel that generated direct current which was stored in batteries.  In the commercial solar hot-water system, the sun heated spring water as it flowed through copper pipe overlaid by glass panels. the solar water heater was installed behind Scotty's Castle.  The sun's energy heated water in dark pipes and glass helped trap the heat.  Heated water would rise into the storage tanks behind the panels.  Cooler water in the tank would sink to the panels to be heated by the son.  One worker said this system worked so well, it got water "hotter than you could use it."   This system was abandoned after it was rendered inoperable after a winter freeze.

 Johnson originally contacted architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design his villa,  but he rejected Wright's modernistic plan.  A Stanford classmate of Bessie's, Mat Roy Thompson, proposed a building with arches and decorative tiles.  His inspiration came from the Romanesque and California Mission style structures on the Stanford campus.  Charles A, MacNeilledge was hired to create architectural designs.  Thompson was hired to supervise construction.  Martin de Dubovay made detailed drawings of decorations and furnishings.

 MacNeilledge and de Dubovay attended to every detail of the Castle's decorations and furnishings.  Each room or group of rooms was finished and furnished according to a specific stylistic theme, such as Spanish, Mexican, Italian, or Gothic. The villa, a two-story Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival style home, became the Johnsons' winter home. 
 Specially crafted interior details were carefully blended to create distinctively styled rooms.  Before the home was completed, the stock market crashed in 1929, making it difficult for Johnson to finish construction.  After losing a considerable amount of money,  the Johnsons produced income by letting rooms out and giving tours.

Bessie Johnson died in an automobile accident on Death Valley's Towne Pass in 1943.  With no heirs, Albert set up a charitable foundation to inherit his estate.  After he died in 1948,
   the property went to the Gospel Foundation of California, which continued the Johnsons' practice of providing tours, serving meals, renting rooms, and caring for Scotty.   Facing rising maintenance costs, the Gospel Foundation of California sold Scotty's Castle and Johnson's other Grapevine Canyon holdings to the U.S. Government for $850,000 in 1970.  That was quite a bargain for a property that cost Johnson nearly $1.5 million in the 1920s to construct and furnish.  Today, Scotty's Castle is part of Death Valley National Park.  The National Park Service was only authorized to buy the land and buildings at Scotty's Castle, not the contents.  The Gospel Foundation then donated the original records and furnishings to the National Park Service, so nearly all the furnishings, curtains, clothing, and decorations in the Castle that today's visitors see are original to the site.

 Scotty died in 1954 and was buried on the hill overlooking Scotty's castle, next to a beloved dog.

Why would anyone build a mansion in Death Valley?
The answer involves a story with three main characters,
all born in 1872:
a wealthy Chicago insurance executive,
his devoutly religious wife,
and an ex-cowboy who sold shares in a phantom gold mine.
The tale of how they met, became friends,
and turned a desert camp into a castle
starts with the cowboy -
a legendary fellow known as Death Valley Scotty.

Scotty was a master storyteller.
Even today,
it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

In other words,
Scotty was the ultimate bull-shitter.

Scotty was also a showman,
a talent honed during his years with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Read: Consummate liar.

 A New York Romance
Scotty was performing in New York City in 1900
when he met and courted Ella Josephine Milius,
nee McCarthy.
Within a few months, he had married
the twenty-four year old widow and candy store clerk,
whom he called Jack.
While the couple remained married,
they were not often together.
Scotty's only child, Walter Perry Scott,
was born in 1914.

Same year as Mama Hawthorne's birth.
Young Walter saw little of his father over the years.
The Johnsons' ledger books show
that they supported Scotty's family financially.

Death Valley Gold Mine

"My mine is where the devil himself can't find it.
It's in Death Valley 
in the mountains where no man can ever go -
no man but Wallie Scott ...
I'm worth $1 million to $20 million
and it's all there in the mine.
- Walter Scott

The Deception Begins
In April 1902, Julian Gerard became the
first investor in Scotty's gold mine scheme
Gerard bought a one-third ownership of the mine
for an initial grubstake of $1500,
after he assayed ore samples Scotty provided. 
 Gerard didn't know the ore actually came from a Colorado mine
Scotty had been employed in 
during breaks from the Wild West Show.

Wheeling and Dealing 
To attract other investors, Scotty used grubstake money to promote himself.  He went on spending sprees in cities from Los Angeles to New York City.  He stayed at the best hotels, bought drinks for everyone, left gigantic tips, bragged about his gold mine, and then disappeared back into the desert.  As newspapers repeated his wild tales, he became a folk hero known as Death Valley Scotty.  As his fame grew, a mining promoter, a railroad company, and at least one reporter would help him stage publicity stunts.

The Coyote Special 
Scotty gained nationwide notoriety in 1905
- the year of Daddy Hawthorne's birth-
with secret support from a Death Valley mining promoter.  
Scotty hired a three-car Santa Fe Railroad train, dubbed the Coyote Special, that took him from Los Angeles to Chicago in a record 44 hours and 54 minutes.  "We go there so fast," Scotty said, "nobody had time to sober up."  The stunt led to a meeting with an earlier investor who would become his longtime benefactor.  His name was Albert Johnson.

A Golden Friendship
Albert Johnson led a privileged life, but found real riches in his Death Valley Ranch.
 Albert M. Johnson, unlike Scotty, was a quiet, religious man who did not smoke, swear, or drink.  Johnson grew up in a wealthy family in Oberlin, Ohio.  Upon graduating from Cornell University with an engineering degree, he joined his family's mining investment business.  After injuring his back in an 1899 train accident which killed his father, he moved to Chicago and made a fortune in the insurance business.  He and his wife, Bessie, devoted much of their time to church affairs.

Johnson first invested in Scotty's gold prospecting in 1904.  After the record train trip, Johnson decided to increase his grubstake of Scotty.  Johnson's visions of gold soon evaporated, but he continued to provide food and shelter for Scotty plus an allowance for his estranged wife.  As far as anyone knows, Scotty never had a mine and never paid Johnson a dividend.

 Opposites often attract.  Walter Scott was a rough outdoorsman with little schooling.  Albert Johnson was a strait-laced, highly educated executive.  Johnson visited Scotty in 1906 and again in 1909, hoping to see his gold mine investment in the desert.  Both times Scotty avoided showing him a mine.  Johnson, however, enjoyed the desert's fresh air and solitude and had a good time riding horses and camping with Scotty.
  In each other, this unlikely pair found friendship.

Johnson was intrigued by both the romance of the Wild West and the reality of the desert landscape.  In Scotty, he found a colorful Old West character and companion.  In the desert, he found relief from his back injuries and asthma.  In Grapevine Canyon, he found an isolated place to build a home away from home, a castle in the desert.

Wrote Albert Johnson in 1905:
"Whether he [Scotty] has any mine or not
 I shall have a delightful outing
 and know I shall come out in much better health 
for Scott is a prince of good fellows and a delightful companion."

In response to a law suit from Julian Gerard, a former investor in Scotty's gold mine, Albert Johnson tallied the money he had loaned Scotty over the years.  The total came to $117,979.09 between 1904 and 1939.  Under oath in court, Albert Johnson explained his willingness to write off Scotty's debt, saying Scotty "owes a lot of money.  Why have I staked him all these years?  He repays me in laughs."
 Moonlight in the Desert
For Bessie Penniman Johnson, Death Valley was a haven of peace and spirituality.  Bessie Morris Penniman was raised in Walnut Creek, California, at Shadelands, her family's fruit and nut ranch.  Bessie left home to join the first freshman class at Stanford University.  Two years later, she transferred to Cornell University, where she met Albert Johnson.  They were married in 1896.  Like Albert, she found Death Valley to be a peaceful retreat, but she wanted a few amenities.  She ended up with a castle.

In 1932, Bessie Johnson wrote:
"Moonlight anywhere is a delight.  But there's no moonlight in the world that can compare with the moonlight in Grapevine Canyon, our desert canyon, where the Castle stands."

... the white rays of the silver moon soften the great chasms round about, and the evening star glows like a blue-white diamond...  Our movies are the moving of the breezes through the pinion trees; our dances are the dances of the stars in their courses; and our stories are Scotty's romantic reminiscences of lingering memories."

Defending Scotty
Over the years, Bessie developed a friendship with Scotty.  Bessie said he had a heart of gold and defended him from attacks.  He called her Mabel.  In her book, "Death Valley Scotty by Mabel,"  published posthumously,  she described their desert adventures and sang his praises.

Born into an upper class family, Bessie Johnson experienced many things for the first time in Death Valley.  She wrote, "The night at Granite Ridge was the first night I had ever slept out-of-doors in the Desert.  I was a sure-enough tenderfoot and little did I sleep; although Al made me a fine bed and dug hip and shoulder holes, for me, in the sand.  But O!  How lonely and desolate it all seemed."

Scotty's Retreat

First  in 1912, then again in the late 1930s and early 1940s, tax investigation and a series of law suits forced Scotty to admit the truth: he never had a gold mine and all his money (and his Castle) came from his investors.

In spite of being exposed as a liar, Scotty and Scotty's Castle continued to captivate the public's imagination.

Lower Vine Ranch
 Albert Johnson purchased another piece of land near his Death Valley Ranch.  The 1200 acre Lower Vine Ranch included springs that Johnson wanted to maintain rights to.  Partly to establish water rights, Johnson constructed a relatively modest 3-room cabin out of redwood for Scotty to live in. 

Lower Vine was Scotty's real home, but he made regular appearances at the Castle, telling stories.  Scotty discouraged visitors at his cabin, so it seems he might have relished the opportunity to escape public scrutiny occasionally.

 Hard Times and Unfinished Dreams
 Castle construction came to a halt in 1931 and left the Johnsons' plans frozen in time.
A land survey associated with the proposed Death Valley National Monument found that the land Johnson actually owned was one mile north and west of the Castle.  The ranch was officially closed to visitors during the early 1930s while Johnson resolved property ownership with the Federal Government.  Albert Johnson traveled to Washington, DC, to negotiate for property rights to Scotty's Castle - land he originally thought he owned.  Albert Johnson purchased the land for $1.25/acre, but never finished construction of  features like courtyards, the swimming pool, and two more planned buildings.

Congress passed H.R, 2476 to authorize either Walter Scott or Albert Johnson to buy the land from the National Park Service, an agency not generally allowed to sell lands under its protection.  The transaction was finalized in 1937; however, construction at Scotty's Castle never resumed.

Tourists Provide the Gold 
The Great Depression depleted a large part of the Johnsons' fortune.  After reopening the ranch, the Johnsons offset some costs by providing tours, curios, meals, and lodging.  In the tourists, Scotty soon found an audience for his wild tales.  By the late 1930s, there was a steady stream of curious strangers. The Johnsons hired employees to take care of the property, cook, and even to conduct tours.

I took a few pictures of the outside areas
before our tour began.

Our guide summoned our tour party
by ringing the bell.

Here's the never-finished swimming pool.

The bell tower.

Talented artisans came to the site to work on the Castle's unusual architectural and decorative features.  They spent countless hours refining a layered stucco technique to give the exterior an aged adobe appearance.

The Hawthornes are taking the guided living history tour
of Scotty's castle.
Our guide is Mindy, dressed in period clothing.

Death Valley Ranch.

The living room.

Talented artisans and craftsmen pieced together intricately tiled turrets and floors, created antiqued iron railings and fixtures, and carved designs in redwood beams, wall panels, and doorways.  Hand-wrought iron fixtures appear throughout the Castle.  Master craftsmen made hinges, handles, balcony and stair railings, gates, latches for doors and windows, plus intricate wall sconces and chandeliers.

My picture is not upside down.
The guns are.

This is Scotty's bedroom in the Castle.
A mountain lion, barrel cacti, and a bighorn sheep
are carved into the headboard.

Actually, Scotty never slept here.
When bored with his guests at the castle,
he would retreat to this room,
and then sneak out the back door to his own place.

There was a huge picture of Buffalo Bill,
the man who had fired Scotty from his show.
No wonder Scotty wouldn't sleep here.

This is outside Scotty's "bedroom."
Notice the device on the wall.
This was put here by Johnson to humor Scotty.
Scotty's imagination came up with grand stories
about people trying to rob him in the middle of the night,
to steal all the gold he had.
He would imagine a pair of men outside his bedroom,
one at the door and one at the window,
ready to enter his bedroom and steal his gold.
On the inside of the room,
behind this device,
was a hole.
The device served as a "shot-splitter"
for Scotty's shotgun.
With one shot,
he could take out both of his "robbers."
Scotty had quite the imagination,
and Johnson humored him by installing the "shot-splitter."

The sun room.

Tiled water features were installed throughout
for cooling the interiors.

Rugged redwood beams, ceiling planks, and wall panels were burned, brushed, and stained to give them an aged appearance.  In some rooms, floral and abstract designs reflecting different themes were carved in the wood.

Scotty even had a story for the design of the plate.
It was left outside in the hot sun -
sun so hot, it curled up the edge of the plate.
This also served a function-
to keep a gentleman's tie from falling into the plate.

The dinnerware was specially designed
 with a "J" and "S"
for Johnson and Scott,
"D.V. R." for Death Valley Ranch,
and a Latin phrase, "suis viribus polens,"
  meaning "by our perseverance we will succeed."

I don't know about you, 
but my GAYDAR is pinging off the charts.

Most tables, chairs, and other furnishings were designed and built in a Los Angeles workshop that Johnson created to outfit the Castle.  Some of the antiques were purchased in Spain, Italy, and Mexico.

Ceramic tile was a prominent feature in the Castle -
so much so that the Castle has been called a monument to the tile industry.  A few tiles came from Spain but most were made in Glendale near Los Angeles.  Some tiles were specifically designed for the Castle.

These wall sconces demonstrate the craftsmanship
and unique custom features
which appear throughout the Castle.

Bessie's bedroom,
where she could read and write.

This is one of the rooms that would later be rented out.

For $24 in 1952-1953, 
one could stay overnight in the Johson suite,
get breakfast, and be entertained by Scotty.

 Portuguese chest.
15th century.

Colorful tile patterns in the bathroom
in the Johnsons' bedroom suite.

Stained glass in the second floor music room.

This is the large music room
on the second floor.
This is the entertainment center
of the entire castle.
 It features a rare theater organ
with more than 1000 pipes concealed behind the screen.

Notice how the tile patterns, ironwork,
and carved wood complement each other.


The Hawthornes bid adieu to Scotty's castle
and head to Vegas.

Dust devil in the desert.

I don't know where these girls or the patrons come from
since there's nothing around for MILES.


Anonymous said...

I never knew that place existed. It's really beautiful, but I cannot imagine living in Death Valley under any circumstances.
Thanks for all the photos.

Lea said...

Beautiful home, very odd location!

Rosie Hawthorne said...

NMOAC and Lea, I can't imagine living in this place. How does one get FOOD??!!?? How does one even write a grocery list? I couldn't wrap my mind around it.