George Jackson, 73, has never been to England. He’s never been to Europe. But he has lived in a castle, where the walls are hung with swords. The rooms are decorated with coats of armor and Medieval-looking tapestries suspended above carved antique furniture. And the castle’s outer stone towers are surrounded by a grass-filled moat. He could pull up the drawbridge whenever he needed to.
“It’s quite defensible,” Jackson said of his home perched above the mountain community of Oak Glen. “It’s a real castle.”
He should know. He built it, brick by brick.
The stone walls are actually split-face irregularly surfaced concrete blocks. The same material was used to construct the wall that curves its way around the castle yard, and the small turrets on either side of each of the three gated entrances, the main one of which sits at the end of a narrow winding road.
“Legend has it, it was started 1187 AD,” Jackson joked, referring to the 12th century style Norman design, with round towers on each corner.
In reality, the foundation was laid in 1987. It took Jackson 15 years of work — evenings and weekends — before it was ready for habitation. After 10 years of being king of his domain, he moved to Florida.
That was in 2012. He’s still trying to sell the castle.
He put it on the market six years ago, when he was still living here, for $4 million.
“We had an offer at $3.2 million five years ago,” said Jackson’s realtor J.R. Allgower.
But Jackson thought he could do better. So he waited. And waited.
Recently, he dropped the price for the four-story, 4,200-square-foot home and the seven-acre parcel it sits on to a little under $1 million. It’s currently in escrow, but Allgower said he’s not completely confident the sale will go through. It’s not easy to sell a castle, he said. People love to come and look at it. They take pictures, they rent it out for weddings. But to live there? It takes a certain kind of person.
Jackson’s isn’t the only castle in Southern California. There are several others. But his may be the only one that was handbuilt pretty much by one man. When he set out to build his own home, he said he knew he didn’t want a traditional structure.
“I just wanted to do something that was different, you know?” he said. “I figured if I built a castle, nobody could tell me I did it wrong. I took some architectural classes at La Sierra (University). The first (castle) design I drew was like 100,000 square feet. The engineer said, ‘Do you have any idea what that would cost?’”
One can hardly blame Jackson for getting carried away. He’d been inspired by Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. He said he even met with officials at the Florida resort, who warned him about copyright infringement before connecting him with the firm that designed the castle. The firm offered to provide him with reference material.
“They sent me one set of reproductions of the blueprints of the castle,” he said. “I don’t think they thought I’d probably ever get it built.”
They didn’t know the tenacity Jackson had. He worked evenings when he got home from his job as a lab tech at Kaiser Hospital in Fontana. He gave his weekends over to construction. When he needed help, he’d call on friends. Mostly, he worked alone, he said.
“Twenty to 30 blocks a day,” he said. “That’ll do it.”
Among the features he incorporated is a spiral stair case that curls its way up the southeast tower. The handrail is a heavy chain, held in place by loops that are anchored to the wall. Numerous helmets of armor serve as shades for electric lights. In one alcove sits an antique settle or bench with hand-carved armored figures standing at attention. Jackson said he thinks it came from Scotland. He bought it from Mr. Beasley’s, a Riverside antique store. That’s also where he found a stained glass window that depicts St. Anthony.
“It’s got some very fine detail that I didn’t even notice,” he said of the window. “His rosary has a (memento mori) skull. I don’t know the significance of the Catholic things, but Catholic people really went goo-goo over it. I had several people ask me if they could light a candle in front of it and say a prayer and I said sure. I even gave them the candle.”
He probably didn’t have to go far. There are wrought iron candle holders on the castle walls, and a round table with high-backed carved wooden chairs.
“Practically all the stuff I got came from Mr. Beasley’s,” Jackson said. “I got to know the owner pretty well. He’d call me up and say, ‘I’ve got something here for the castle.’”
Other things, such as the tapestries and swords came from eBay and mail-order sites. If there is any history behind the items, Jackson knows little of it. He seems to have been more interested in their effect in creating an Arthurian feel to the place. He even kept a loaded crossbow.
“I did shoot a bear off the front porch one time,” he said. The bolt he shot from an open window “didn’t hurt him much. It just bounced off and made him mad.”
Jackson was generally more hospitable to human guests. The castle was often filled with large parties, he said. In addition to holding his own gatherings, he regularly rented the place out on weekends for weddings and birthday parties.
“We had wonderful Halloween parties there,” he said. “We had around 350 people at our biggest Halloween party. Christmas parties were kind of nice there. I had a little theater organ in the hall that I played.”
In fact, Jackson said, playing the organ, which still sits in the main hall, is his fondest memory of living in the castle.
“Probably playing the organ in the great hall was as much fun as I had doing anything,” he said.
That may only be because building officials took away maybe the only thing that could have provided more enjoyment: his trap door.
“At the top of the first floor, I had a trap door that would dump you into a dungeon below,” he said. “The building inspector had a fit. He made me take it out.”
It wasn’t the only disappointment Jackson had with the castle. His project, he said, cost him his marriage at the time.
“She wanted to live in an apartment in Redlands,” he said. “I wanted a place out in the woods.”
He has since remarried.
He and his current wife, Carmen, found a place in his hometown of Lake City, Fla., a few years ago. Not having to maintain a castle, George said, is better for his health. But he does miss being king.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said.
Southern California has a smattering of royal castles.
Magic Castle, Hollywood
Built in 1908 as a private residence, the Victorian style home with castle-like accents went through iterations as a multi-family home, a rest home and apartments before being bought by television writer Milt Larson in 1960. The renovated Magic Castle opened in 1962 and has been the home of the Academy of Magical Arts ever since.
Sand Castle, Sunset Beach
This 7,500-square-foot, six-bedroom home was built in 1997. Currently on the market for $78.7 million, the sales listing says the interior design includes teak, mahogany and white oak woodwork and a semi-floating granite spiral staircase.
Gaytonia Castle, Long Beach
Built by developer George Gayton in 1930, the building was originally an upscale hotel-style apartment building for naval officers. The Norma-revival building still functions as an apartment building and is listed as a Long Beach Cultural Heritage Landmark.
Castle Green, Pasadena
Today, Castle Green is a 50-apartment complex. When it opened in 1899, as an annex to Hotel Green, it was a resort that catered to East Coast tourists, especially those escaping the chill of winter. It was built by Col. George G. Green and features a combination of Moorish Colonial and Spanish architecture.
Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland
Undoubtedly Southern California’s most famous castle, Disneyland’s centerpiece was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. It was part of the original park when Disneyland opened in 1955. Each of the subsequent castles built at Disney theme parks has its own unique design.