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Bulldozer Unveils Castle in the Woods, and Controversy

Times Staff Writer

Like the prince hacking through the brambles to rescue Sleeping Beauty, a modern bulldozer sliced through dense brush and oaks to reach a stone castle in Sunland-Tujunga.

Now the fancifully feudal-style home called Weatherwolde stands exposed to the controversy raging around it. While community activists fight to save the 77-year-old building and give it landmark status, the developer wants to raze it and put three or four new homes there.

For more than three-quarters of a century, the French-Normandy-style mini-castle has stood snugly insulated by oak trees and heavy foliage, hidden away in the foothills of Angeles National Forest.

“It was truly an enchanted castle,” said Mary Lou Pozzo, librarian and former president of the Little Landers Historical Society, a group named for a small utopian colony that flourished briefly about a century ago.

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“Cement deer statues stood on each side of the entranceway and garden statuary of mushrooms and elves stood in the gardens,” she said. “There was a real magical quality with the dense trees and all, and now it looks quite naked.”

Pozzo grew up in the area and knew about the castle, but many of the neighbors had forgotten or never knew. When the developer bared the building, old-time neighbors rediscovered it and began to protest. Then the historical society took notice.

“We’re trying to be more proactive than reactive,” Pozzo said.

The developer sees things differently. “I think they are a day late and a dollar short,” Scott Anderson said. “The previous owner lived here almost 30 years, and they [preservationists] didn’t bother to do anything about it then. This isn’t even the original structure; it was modified drastically.... It’s a little far-fetched to claim this as a historical monument.”

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But there’s no denying its charm. The three-story, 10-room house includes a turret, a fleur-de-lis on the chimney and a spiral staircase.

And then there’s the mystery factor. None of the castle’s owners has welcomed neighbors inside -- not even members of the historical society. Much of its provenance is fortified by curiosity and rumor.

The castle was built in 1928 by engineer and architect George J. Fosdyke, who constructed a number of Southland schools and prisons. The historical society owns an etching of the castle signed with the single name “Dumas,” which has only confounded local historians. Old-time etchings were sometimes signed by the architect, not an artist.

Neighbors tell tales of a wealthy sheik who built the castle for his daughters. Others say a group of Cuban refugees used the castle as a hide-out.

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Two of its verified owners were William and Yvonne Kenward, who lived there nearly a dozen years beginning in 1968. He worked for a bread company before becoming a liquor salesman, and he was handy with carpentry. She was an eccentric artist whose paintings were often displayed at the Laguna Arts Festival. The couple bought and restored three successive “castle” homes in the foothills, and Yvonne Kenward filled each of them with treasured antiques.

The Kenwards knew the place attracted attention, and many passersby came knocking for a closer look.

“Many ask, but not very many get inside,” Yvonne Kenward said in a 1977 Times interview.

According to Yvonne Kenward’s account, Weatherwolde -- an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “snug within from the weather,” was built for a French count who had moved to Tujunga in the late 1920s to recuperate from a respiratory ailment. (Many tuberculosis sanitariums were built in the foothills.)

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“But the countess was never happy here, even with her many parties,” Yvonne Kenward said in The Times interview. “Not too long after they moved in, she threw a party, and she was either pushed or fell or jumped from an upstairs window. She was found on the courtyard below with her head crushed.”

Nothing about such a couple, nor such a death, appeared in The Times back then. Undisputed facts don’t jibe with that story, either.

“I think Mrs. Kenward lived in a world of fantasy,” Pozzo said. “The names of Jack and Dixie Ann Harris are on the 1927 building permit.” The Harrises sold the property to the Kenwards in the 1960s.

Yvonne Kenward said in 1977 that the count sold the property to a Dutch couple who disappeared without a trace soon after they moved in. The bank repossessed the house, and the couple who bought it apparently complained that it was haunted by voices with “thick Dutch accents,” she said.

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Kenward also said she could trace her roots back to barons and kings, including King Henry II, Alfred the Great and King Cedric of Wessex. She said her husband, an Englishman, came “from the English village of Wivelsfield, in Sussex, which was built by the Normans.... His family held the postmastership of the thatched-roofed village for 350 years.”

(Such a parish exists, primarily in East Sussex. The settlement dates from the Celts, according to the parish council.)

In various interviews, she added that some of her furniture was more than 1,000 years old and that she had inherited pieces from her family in Kilkenny Castle in Ireland. Among the pieces Times writers observed -- at all three of her castles -- were a French birdcage with a stuffed songbird that warbled when a handle was cranked, hand-carved royal thrones and a 300-year-old French pewter relief picture.

She said the couple came to the United States after World War II and began restoring old houses. By 1951, she said, they were living in Altadena with their 170-pound German shepherd named Baron von Zeiglerhoff, which was once owned by Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

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Goering, she said, disliked the dog and sent him to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He didn’t stay there long, she said; at the end of the war an American officer found him at a kennel. When Lt. Robert Ward rescued Baron, she said, he was still wearing ID tags and a gold swastika clasp. Just how the Kenwards came to own the dog, she didn’t say.

In the 1950s, the Kenwards began restoring old houses in Burbank, La Crescenta and Monrovia before upgrading to mini-castles. They lived in three of them in the Sunland-Tujunga area in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“My father called me a princess and said I should live in a castle,” Kenward said in a 1964 Times interview. At the time, she was living in Tujunga’s Blarney Castle (a scaled-down version of Ireland’s Blarney Castle), which still stands on Tujunga Canyon Boulevard. “As I grew up, the idea became fixed in my mind. Now I have proved that one can make a dream come true, even on a modest income.”

(The current owners of Blarney Castle recently applied for historic and cultural landmark status for that building, said Lloyd Hitt, president of Sunland-Tujunga’s Little Landers Historical Society.)

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By the mid- to late 1960s, the Kenwards were living in a German-style castle in Sunland that was in the path of the planned Foothill Freeway. She waged a years-long battle to save the place, garnering a good deal of publicity. During TV interviews, she denounced Caltrans workers as “barbarians.”

“I remember seeing her parade up and down Sunland Boulevard all by herself, carrying a sign protesting the freeway,” Hitt said. “She was quite a character.”

The Kenwards lost their battle and accepted the state’s $40,000 offer, which they used to purchase Weatherwolde.

During their 11 years in Weatherwolde, Kenward decorated it with a 16th century English tester-bed (a frame extending from the headboard over the bed frame); a spinning wheel; and a prayer clock with a 3-foot brass pendulum. Gold forks and spoons that she said had belonged to a Russian czar sat in hand-carved drawers.

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The Kenwards sold the castle in 1979 and moved to Washington state. Yvonne Kenward died in 2003, at age 87. If her husband is still alive, his whereabouts are unknown.

On Sept. 21, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to grant cultural landmark status to Weatherwolde castle -- a key step in efforts to save it.

In the meantime, the developer’s bulldozer is on hold.


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