Monday, September 23, 2013

Knapp's Castle

Located not far from of the subject of my last post (Chumash Painted Cave), is another one of those places that few have heard of and even fewer have actually seen. Just about 100 years ago a very wealthy industrialist named George Owen Knapp decided to build himself a little mountain retreat (on about 160 mountain top acres).  He already owned one home in the nearby town of Montecito (on a measly 100 acres). Montecito is a perennial member of the most wealthy towns (per capita) in the United States. I guess that is no surprise, because Mr. Knapp was one of the founders of Union Carbide Company. If you haven't heard of that company, you are probably very young. Over the years, I believe it has morphed into Dow Chemical Company. Don't hold that against him though, because he was a philanthropist of the first order.

Craftsmen and building materials were imported from Europe to complete Mr. Knapp's castle. Apparently, the "retreat" consisted of five bedrooms, observatory, studios, cottages, servant quarters, and a superintendent's house. Running water was provided by nearby waterfalls.  (photo credit: Unknown. In addition to seeing it many times on the Internet, it is also at 

This is what it looked like when we were there a few months ago. I'd heard that there was security on site and the property had been purchased and the ruins were going to be demolished. Is that possible? I'd also heard the county of Santa Barbara refused to issue the required permits. We had no inkling of what we would find once we got there.  I apologize in advance for the inconsistency of the photos. The sky was huge, bright and harsh. 

If you look at the two buildings to the far left of the fist photo. You will see that this stonework is all that is left of them. The whole place was destroyed in a wild fire in 1940. The Knapp family sold it to a ultra-famous German soprano Lotte Lehamm 46 days before the fire. 

There was a guy working on the property while we were there, but he didn't give us a second look. If you look at the stone work, you can see that he has been doing some repairs to the original work. It didn't look like anything was being torn down.

For those who know a little about the area, the water in the background is Lake Cachuma. The famous town of Solvang is about 12 miles beyond the lake. Solvang is a Danish community established in 1911. It is a great place to visit. For me, that means visit no more than once every 5-10 years. I say that because it never changes.  I'll shut up now and let you look at the photos.

I told her not to drive the Jeep so hard! She didn't listen!
Seriously, I have no idea why, but this jeep was sitting on the property.

This is the dirt road leading to the place. Although it is locked, there is clearly not a "no trespassing" sign to be seen. Besides, we could squeeze by the tall pole on the right.

After about 10 minutes we came to another locked gate. But read the sign! "Right To Pass Revocable By Owner."  There was another sign at the ruins that said:  "This is Private Property and Under 24-Hour Video Surveillance." It also said that they would give a reward to anyone who reported acts of vandalism.  In other words, "look around, but don't screw anything up! I have no idea who owns this place, but I love them!

George Owen Knapp
Thanks for using so much stonework George!


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  1. That stone work is wonderful and that fierce blue sky is such an awesome contrast to the texture.
    I love how you wouldn't let a gate stop you from exploring

  2. Thanks, Pat!
    Fascinating place. Be a shame to destroy it. Looks like it would make a fine attraction. Sounds like the Knapp family sold at just the right time though.

  3. What a stunning place for a mountain retreat! The ruins, by themselves, are gorgeous.

    Thanks for stopping by my Drive-By Photos blog. I haven't been posting as much there lately.


  4. wow what a fabulous place!The nature around is spectacular as the stones structures, the 3rd image is awesome, but it's difficult to choose one favorite because all pictures are great. The jeep image is excellent, thanks for the smile! :) I will check the book, thanks for the hint and Happy Happy Happy Birthday! Lots of lights to your heart!

  5. the stone arches are still beautiful. loved the walls and stairways. so sorry it was destroyed by fire! yikes!

  6. That is quite the view from up there and sure is a greatlace for a castle!

  7. What a fascinating and beautiful place, Pat!! I would love to visit there and your pics are terrific as always! What a beautiful day you had with those blue, blue skies! Thanks for sharing -- the next best thing to being there myself! Have a great week!

  8. I can't believe I've never heard of this place, and yet have probably driven within a few miles of it many times. It's so spectacular there. The stone work is stunning. I'm so glad you take these journeys. Enlightening every time!

  9. Such a crying shame when these amazing places are lost to time, or wildfires, or just the elements.

  10. My hats off to people who let those of us who are curious to investigate without fear of arrest.

    The stonework is recently pointed and in good shape, not consistent with demolition. Cool site!

  11. what a cool find Pat!!! Did you know about it ahead of time and seek it out?

  12. Very cool. I think I've seen this off the side of the road when Ben and I used to take the "back way" up to Solvang years ago.

  13. You are a genius at finding these places where most of us have never been...just keep adding to my list of 'wish I could visit ...wish I were younger ..wish I had more time'....still maybe someday we will get back to California. Wonderful spot; love how it is posted that way.

  14. Mynx - I would liked that sky better if there were some scattered clouds in it. At the moment, I thought it was kind of harsh. A gate with a no trespassing sign on it slows me down, one with nothing on it, is like an invitation.

    Alex - My pleasure Alex! You aren't kidding. Talk about selling at just the right time.

    thirtysevenandcounting - It is very rugged there, but also beautiful. It was my pleasure to stop by.

    Cezar and Leia - It sure is! I don't totally agree about the photos, but thanks so much! Thanks for the Birthday wishes!

    TexWisGirl - Well, I guess if it wasn't destroyed, I wasn't likely to get an invitation to take photos!

    Brian - It is a great view! Not exactly an easy place to get to either. I image it was MUCH harder a hundred years ago.

  15. You really outdid yourself here! What an awesome find and bit of storytelling. The photos are excellent; great color, vistas, and compositions. What a sense of majesty! I hope if anyone else decides to build, they will honor those gorgeous historic stone ruins and incorporate them into any new architecture.

  16. Sylvia - It was and still is a beautiful place. The sky was blue blue blue, but it was also harsh, bright and blinding! Thanks for the nice words Sylvia.

    Robin A - If you've driven up the back road highway (154), rather than the 101 out of Santa Barbara, then you were pretty close to it. I'm glad we take these trips also. We took that route coming home today.

    Ms. A - Yep! To me, it is worse when people just let the old places sit there and rot. It's history, for crying out loud!

    Wayne - My hat is also off! Yep! I saw that and thought it was a good thing.

    TheChieftess - I did know about it beforehand. I LIVE to find out about these things.

    Kay - I assume you are talking about taking the 154 route over the San Marcos Pass. Although, you came within several miles of the place, I'm pretty sure you didn't see it. Unless you turned off onto a forest service road. The 154 is close to a lot of historic places that most people don't know about. I hope you can check it and the Painted Cave out on the same day.

    Sallie - Thanks so much Sallie! I've been called a lot of things, but genius isn't usually one of them. Next time you come down that way, I'll give you some tips.

    Stickup Artist - Thanks so much my friend! It was a pretty cool place. Also, thanks for the compliments on the photos, but I'm not fond of this group at all. I should try to tweak down the contrast a bit. The sky was burning bright. Next time, I'd like to get up there first thing in the morning, or late afternoon and get some great light. Based on what the worker there was doing, I'm thinking there going to try and keep it looking close to what it does now.

  17. Hard to believe a spot this pretty has been sitting empty since 1940. Here's hoping it remains so for a lot longer.

    I very much appreciate your modern-day archeology. A favorite stop on my morning blog-roll tour.

  18. What an amazing view and stone is so colorful. Hopefully it will remain there forever. Thanks for sharing the info and awesomeness, Pat.

  19. Gorgeous stonework.
    Too bad more of it didn't survive.

  20. Wonderful pictures, and that's a great view. You're brave to have journeyed there, despite the warning signs.

    I'm excited about Alex's book too.

    Be well, Pat.

  21. The Geezers - Thanks so much! I appreciate it. It looks like they are trying to make sure it lasts.

    Pam - Thanks Pam! My pleasure.

    Gingerspark - I agree with you! I'm interested to see what they do to the place.

    Rawknrobyn - Thanks Robyn! No bravery required. There is another way to get up there. There is a trail that comes up the mountain from very close to where we were camped. It goes very close to the place. That's how I found out about it. I get a lot of info from hiking websites.

  22. I love the sense of mystery here!

    Were there ghosts?

  23. Great work...Love the shots of the stone doorway/arch/fireplace?

  24. So interesting and beautiful. Sad it will be demolished. Looks like a great adventure.

  25. Jenny - I saw no ghosts! But then, we were there during mid-day. Speaking of ghosts, did you get my additional comment on your caboose post from a couple of months ago? I had heard about a haunted caboose that people were allowed to spend the night in. I was just wondering...

    Dalmdad - Thanks! I believe at one time they were large windows.

    Laura - Thanks Laura! I don't think they are going to demolish them now. I hope anyway...

  26. Those ruins are awesome. I would love to spend a day exploring. It's the kind of thing that gives inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing the pictures!

  27. Fantastic shots Patty - and a fascinating story. Very sad really, all that work now lost. A family's memories, experiences all meaningless it seems. What a waste. Too hard to restore I guess but what could have been...

    God, how long you guys been travelling now? Is it a year? More? A lot of people do that here too - take a year off, buy a caravan or 4WD and drive around the country. My grandparents did it twice. No doubt Ill do it too one day. Awesome memories youve created for yourselves. Maybe be nice to do a post on the other side of the coin, as in, how you guys are living, where your staying, eating etc. I'd be interested!

  28. Such a stunning setting for a retreat... sad that it fell into disuse like that!
    I love exploring ruins and you have shown these so well Pat :-)

  29. What a potpourri of stonework. It is really impressive...and the views so lovely. I know you all had to have had a wonderful day exploring the remains. genie

  30. My parents' retirement home is in Vandenburg Village on a golf course about 10 miles from Solvang. It's mine now as they both died and my brother asked me to buy him out. I love that area. Technically they are in Lompoc but I absolutely love the cyn leading to Lompoc off 101 (can't think of the name right now) and Los Olivos and Santa Ynez etc etc. I would like to move back. We've talked about Ojai as it's an artist colony and would benefit my husband. Not sure it's affordable any longer. What is?

  31. TS Hendrik - I could have spent more time there myself. He had 160 acres and I'm pretty sure they took advantage of that by not hauling out their trash. I'm betting it's there somewhere, but I didn't want to take advantage of their hospitality. Thanks Tim!

    Anthony - This estate was one of several, so I'm pretty sure they have more memories than most. This spot is located in MAJOR wildfire country. I'm sure they considered that fact before building.

    We mix it up Anthony. Home for a short while and then out again as soon as cabin fever sets in. That usually only takes about 10 days. We will be heading out very soon. I've thought posting about the "living" part of what we do, but I hardly have time for this. I'll give it some more thought. Thanks Anthony!

  32. Nat - It is in a beautiful spot. Not the easiest place to get to though. Especially when you're driving a Model A! Thanks Nat!

    Genie - I agree about the stonework. Now I'm thinking that those arches weren't windows but maybe part of a patio. We did enjoy it!

    California Girl - I agree with you about the beauty of the area. I also love the little towns in that area. We just passed through the area on Monday. We were in the Ocean/Pismo area for a week and instead of taking 101 to Santa Barbara, we stuck to the 1. There isn't much on it, but it is beautiful. I like the town of Guadalupe. The entire town is so very old and still being used. Then Orcutt (also old). When we spend time around the Santa Ynez Valley, we use Paradise Rd (you know it? By the big bridge) and take it back into the Los Padres NF. I LOVE the central coast area. So have you though about living in Vandenberg Village?

  33. Such a beautiful area!! So sad that it burned down. I hope they preserve it and don't take it out...

  34. How have I missed this? Well, I haven't missed it really, thanks to you. But I do want to see it up close and personal. Thank you!

  35. Yes, some nice pictures! I like these beautiful ruins, excellent framing!

  36. Nice stone work, it must have been a beautiful place. Have you seen the "castle" above Austin, NV?

  37. Wonderful shots of castle ruins. I am sure it would have been grand structure when intact.

  38. I can imagine the room looking out those huge, arched windows: opulent luxury overlooking the valley below. I bet it was peaceful way up there, surrounded by 160 acres of nothing else.

  39. Lovely photos. The stonework is so gorgeous!

  40. How do you find these places? I suspect you would find some otherwise unknown location in my garden!

    Nice set of pictures - Jeeps can get anywhere!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne.

  41. ohhhhh, pat, i'd love to go there! great place to spend a day. that stone work is fantastic. love castles/castle ruins.

    have a great weekend~:))

  42. I haven't visited for awhile but it's always fun to join you on your travels.

    This is very interesting. I don't get to Santa Barbara very often in that it doesn't seem to promote camping, but I did get up to what I think might be that lake. One that had campgrounds around it. I'd love to see this structure.

  43. Pat, love your photos... and your sense of adventure! It's always an experience of full immersion when I swing by your spot... and get a glimpse of what's going on in your world. Thanks for sharing...

    Hope you're enjoying your weekend!


  44. Baby Sister - Based on what they are doing right now, it looks like they are stabilizing it. That's a good thing!

    altadenahiker - My pleasure! It's not too late! Let me know when you are going. I'll send you exact directions.

    Leovi - Thanks Leovi! It is a beautiful area.

    sage - It still is! I went there when I was a kid. It's on my list of things to see.

    Rajesh - Thanks Rajesh! I wish I had seen it back then.

    Rosemary - I hear you! It looks like they guy is making a little amphitheater that looks out that way, through the arches.

  45. Ladyfi - Thanks so much! I agree about the stonework.

    Stewart - Thanks Stewart! I find them with blind luck and a lot of research.

    Betty Manousos - I'm sure you would enjoy it and take some great photos!

    Pasadena Adjacent - Thanks for visiting! It is Lake Cachuma and it does have campgrounds around it. Also, about half way between this place (Knapp's Castle) and the lake there is a TON of Los Padres National Forest campgrounds. That is where we are usually camped. Off of Paradise road (if you remember it).

    Nevine - Hi Nevine! I appreciate the nice words. Right now, my world is home. We've been here less than a week and I'm already getting cabin fever. thanks again!

  46. Amazingly cool! It's great that you were able to explore this place. I love the photos.

  47. looks magnificent, Pat, even in ruins! Love castles and old fortresses!

  48. James - Thanks James! A few clouds in the sky would have helped the photos.

    DEZMOND - Thanks! I also love them. Old is good...

  49. I love looking around ruins like that. It's certainly a lovely area, I can see why somebody would build a retreat up there. Great photos of it!

  50. I cannot believe someone would tear down that place. It seems like a historical monument or something should be erected there.

    Fantastic scenery and view. Even though your state may fall into the ocean some have some great places to share with us.

    Thanks Pat.

  51. Al - I also love it. He had his choice of views. Either this one, or the ocean. Thanks Al!

    Chuck - I agree and it looks like they aren't going to. It is one of our favorite areas. California may indeed fall into the ocean someday. If it doesn't burn up first! Speaking of falling into the ocean, come by tomorrow...

  52. WOW! A landowner who understands how irresistible ruins are to photographers. I like your photos very much!.

  53. Interesting story and it really looks like a beautiful place. Greetings.

  54. EG Camera Girl - Yeah! I really appreciate that there some of them out there. Thanks so much!

    Japy - Hello Japy! It is a really beautiful place. Hope you are doing well!

  55. I think about it all the time. My parents' condo is very nice, it's one of those "patio homes" with a huge front lawn, trees, single story, open floor plan. The condo association has kept everything up. My husband thinks he'd die of boredom in VV & Lompoc. We'd prefer Ojai or SLO but they are more expensive. I don't know what we'll end up doing. As long as I have the wonderful job I have, we're not going anywhere.

  56. California Girl - Lompoc is a bit isolated, but it's a great centralized spot. There is so much around it. My only problem with SLO and Ojai is the heat. It gets so hot in both those places. I hear you about the job.

  57. I am almost speechless from this one. The views up there are phenomenal.

    Whoever builds up there is a lucky lucky person! Although the ruins are pretty amazing just the way they are.

  58. I showed your award-winning Jeep photo to my husband and he started following your posts, looking at all the pictures. (He was born and raised in California.) You now have an enthusiastic new fan.

  59. Kato Pandorah's Box - I felt the same way. It is in a perfect spot, but I'd be worried about wildfires. This is a prime fire area.

    Karen - Thanks to both of you! I really do appreciate it. What part of California is he from Karen?
    Thanks again.


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