Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Visual Inspiration: Scotty's Castle, Death Valley National Park, CA

While Guy and I were in Vegas, we did an overnight trip to Death Valley again. (We went last year, but we didn't get to spend a lot of time there.) We managed to get pretty far into the park this time, and we got to tour Scotty's Castle, which was actually owned by railroad magnate Albert Johnson and his wife, Bessie. Walter Scott, known as Death Valley Scotty, was something of a shyster and a showman who convinced Johnson to invest in a gold mine in Death Valley that didn't actually exist. Even after Johnson discovered the truth, he stayed good friends with Scotty because he was so entertained by Scotty's tall tales.

In the foreground, there's an unfinished swimming pool at Scotty's Castle. Johnson got in a fight with the U.S. government regarding his property--apparently, the survey that showed the property he'd purchased for his Death Valley home was done incorrectly, and the structures you see above weren't located on the land he bought. He stopped working on the house while he was in litigation. Not long after he won the suit, his beloved wife Bessie died, so he quit spending time at the house and eventually sold it back to the U.S. to be part of the Death Valley National Park. Hence, some of the buildings and the pool are just cast-in-place concrete with no beautiful tiles, and the pool is full of sand and weeds.

Johnson and his wife were very religious and didn't want to glorify themselves with their house. Hence, they named it "Death Valley Ranch" instead of "Johnson Ranch." Because they hadn't named it, Death Valley Scotty clamined the summer home as his "castle" to the paparazzi on the West Coast. Hence, "Scotty's Castle."

Even for being built in the early 1930s, the house had a lot of modern conveniences. Johnson owned a railroad (inherited from his dad, who died in a huge train wreck in which Johnson himself was terribly injured), but he was trained as an engineer. He channeled water from a spring a mile away and ran it through a series of smaller and smaller pipes, which provided the "castle" with pressurized indoor plumbing and water to run small turbines for electricity with which to light the house. A mosaic tile waterfall in the great room (pictured above) provided evaporative cooling in the house.

The music room (shown above) includes a complete self-playing organ, like the kind that played during a silent movie. The Johnsons could push a button and play any pre-programmed song as if a small orchestra was in the room. (The organ even has a glockenspiel in it.) Scotty's Castle has an organ concert once a year to raise money to pay the organ-repair-tuner-person to come out once or twice a year to keep it playing.


Anonymous said...

I have to wonder if Scotty's Castle wasn't the basis of the 1942 film Castle In The Desert, another in the series of Charlie Chan murder mysteries, starring Sidney Toler. Doesn't sound like Scotty's Castle is off the grid, though. Fascinating "home," though!


Miss Kitty said...

Ohh, the tile around that fountain in the courtyard! [fans self]