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California: Century-old castle in Pacifica opens for public tours

For more than a century, a castle designed as a refuge from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake has stood in Pacifica, Calif. The fortress-like building with views of the ocean has turrets, towers and 24 renovated rooms that now are open once a month for tours.

Known informally as Sam’s Castle, it was built by San Francisco attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey (grandfather of former California Rep. Pete McCloskey) who wanted a place that wouldn’t tumble in a quake. The family moved in in 1908.

The castle off Highway 1 about 15 miles southwest of San Francisco changed hands several times before Sam Mazza spotted it in 1959 and bought it for $29,000, according to a timeline on the castle’s website. Mazza, who painted and restored San Francisco theaters and other buildings, kept it for 43 years and filled it with kitschy furnishings.

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“Sam Mazza’s passion for collecting led him to acquire antique furniture, a jade and black lacquer screen once owned by William Holden, stained glass windows, Tiffany lamps, delicate china and even swords,” Bridget Oates writes in the book “Sam’s Castle.” And yes, there’s a knight of armor too.

Mazza never lived there but he did entertain at the castle. He died in 2002, and the Sam Mazza Foundation took over and keeps the castle as its headquarters. Over the years, it had been many things -- a speakeasy called Chateau Lafayette during Prohibition, a U.S. Coast Guard barracks, an artist’s studio -- and even claims to have a few ghosts.

It had been used for special events in recent years, but October marked the beginning of regular tours open to the public. Oates leads visitors through what the foundation calls “a museum of gothic glory.”

Two-hour tours are scheduled for Nov. 29, Dec. 20, Jan. 18, Feb. 21 and March 8. Tickets cost $25 per person plus an online service fee.

Info: The Castle and the Sam Mazza Foundation, 900 Mirador Terrace, Pacifica.


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