Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley, California is an intriguing look into the luxurious lifestyle of the wealthy during the roaring 20’s. What is even more intriguing is the story behind this classic Mission Revival style home in the midst of nowhere. It was the secluded winter hideaway for Chicago millionaires Albert and Bessie Johnson, from the 1920s and on.
Please note: Scotty’s Castle will not re-open until further notice, There was extensive flood damage several years ago and I was fortunate to visit right before that flash food. There are “Flood Recovery” tours in place, but this historic villa will not be open for regular touring until at least December 2022.
My photos in this post will give you a glimpse of Scotty’s Castle in its original state, prior to the significant damage from the flooding of 2015.
Scotty’s Castle, also known as Death Valley Ranch, first started construction in 1922 and cost between $1.5 and $2.5 million dollars. It was named after Walter Scott, “Death Valley Scotty”, who was a con man, performer, and prospector. He had originally conned Albert Johnson to invest in Scott’s Death Valley gold mine, which ended up being fraudulent. Johnson was initially angered, but he ended striking up an unlikely friendship with Walter Scott.
As with many of the wealthy from the East Coast, the Johnson’s found their health to improve when visiting the West, and decided to build a winter home where the air was dryer. They purchased land in the area and started building, but the land survey was incorrect.
Death Valley Ranch was being built on government land, and before the mistake could be resolved the stock market crashed. The Johnson’s lost a considerable amount of money, and started to let out rooms for income, as per the recommendations of Walter Scott.
The Johnsons had died without any heirs, and they hoped that the National Park Service would purchase the property. In 1970, NPS purchased Death Valley Ranch for $850,000 from the Gospel Foundation, which was the socially-oriented charity that Johnson founded in 1946, to which the Johnson’s had left the property to. Walter Scott, who was taken care of by the Gospel Foundation after Johnson’s passing died in 1954, and was buried on the hill overlooking Scotty’s Castle next to a beloved dog.
I had visited Scotty’s Castle prior to the flood, and was saddened to learn about the extensive damage. Growing up in Southern California, the Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles were my favorite. I grew up in that style of house, as well as many of my friends. There is a comfortability and beauty in this style of architecture and interior design.
To know that this historic and classic example of these styles were damaged by flooding was a blow. Apparently the damage had been quite extensive, as it will take at least seven years for Death Valley Ranch to recover. I am looking forward to seeing it re-open, and I will definitely be there when it does.
For more information, please visit Scotty’s Castle – Death Valley National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
— Photo Journal of Scotty’s Castle, prior to the flash flood of 2015 —
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