Impressive Sam’s Castle welcomes visitors 

click to enlarge History abounds in Sam’s Castle, a 107-year-old structure on a hillside on Pacifica. - COURTESY SAM MAZZA FOUNDATION
  • COURTESY SAM MAZZA FOUNDATION
  • History abounds in Sam’s Castle, a 107-year-old structure on a hillside on Pacifica.
Until recently, visitors needed an invitation to go to Sam’s Castle, an imposing structure with parapets perched on a promontory above Pacifica’s Sharp Park.

Known through the decades as McCloskey’s Castle, Castle of Mystery, Chateau LaFayette, and, for the last 50 years, as Sam’s Castle, the building now is the subject of monthly tours presented by the Sam Mazza Foundation.

They are led by the vivacious and knowledgable Bridget Oates, a Pacifica historian and author of “Sam’s Castle,” a 2011 book with nearly 200 historical photographs. In the book, Oates documents the castle’s rich and checkered history, including its use as a residence, speakeasy, abortion clinic, signaling station for rum running, and U.S. Coast Guard lookout during World War II. During the tour, she tells stories of love affairs, police raids, ghost sightings and rumors of bodies buried in the garden.

Henry Harrison McCloskey (a San Francisco attorney and grandfather of former congressman Pete McCloskey), unnerved by destruction caused by the 1906 earthquake and fire, bought the property in 1907.

He hired architect Charles MacDougal to design an earthquake and fire-proof home to assuage the fears of his wife Emily McCloskey. In 1908, the family moved into the castle, even though construction was not complete.

In 1959, Sam Mazza, a painting contractor, purchased the “pile of bricks” (as he called it) for $29,000, rescuing it from severe disrepair. A colorful, funny character, Mazza flew a “Sam’s White Elephant” flag from the roof and whimsically added white balls (actually toilet floats painted white) to the top of each turret.

Reflecting its various owners and uses, the castle interior is decidedly eclectic, with furnishings from theaters, antiques owned by Hollywood stars, marble statuary and jeweled chandeliers. And no castle could be considered complete without a throne and a suit of armor as part of its wonderfully kitschy décor.

The tour begins and concludes on a large patio, which boasts panoramic views of the community and the coastline. Refreshments, including cheese and crackers (and sometimes cupcakes), come from local purveyors. Beth Lemke, owner of “A Grape in the Fog,” a wine bar down the road, provides libations.

IF YOU GO

Sam’s Castle tours

Presented by Sam Mazza Foundation

When: 1, 3 and 5 p.m. March 8

Where: 900 Mirador Terrace, Pacifica

Tickets: $25

Contact: www.sammazzafoundation.org, www.brownpapertickets.com

Note: The Pacific Historical Society offers a different tour on May 30-31 and June 6-7. For details, visit www.pacificahistory.org.

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Jim Van Buskirk

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