Emily McCloskey, the young wife of attorney and Irish immigrant Henry Harrison McCloskey, had grown deathly afraid of earthquakes after the “great earthquake” of San Francisco and the subsequent fire that killed 500 people and left 220,000 homeless in 1906. She insisted that her new home, to be built on the craggy bluffs of what is now the Sharp Park District of Pacifica, California, be earthquake- and fire-proof to appease her fears.
Her husband, who worked for the Ocean Shore Land Co. and Railroad, hired renowned local architect Charles C. McDougall in 1907 to design their new home based on his wife’s strict specifications. The design solution was a fortress-like structure, modeled after Bendemier Castle in Scotland, and made of 90-pound steel-reinforced concrete blocks chiseled to look like stone. The structure would be built on a plot of solid rock off Highway 1 about 15 miles from San Francisco.
In 1908, the McCloskey family moved into the structure, although construction was not complete, and remained there until 1915, a year after Henry died. The home hosted a series of interesting owners following the McCloskeys, including Dr. Galen Richard Hickok and his son, Max, who performed illegal abortions on under-aged girls there. M.L. Hewitt used it as a restaurant and speakeasy named Chateau LaFayette.
Clarence and Annie Eakin hosted Red Cross events at the castle to raise money for the war effort. The U.S. Coast Guard used it as a communications center, followed by the O’Brien family, who used it as an art studio.
Finally, San Francisco painter and interior decorator Sam Mazza made much-needed repairs to the structure and used it to entertain and showcase his eclectic collection of objects and art from California and other locations, although he never officially resided at the castle. Mazza also hosted a number of fundraisers and community events there from 1959 to 2002, at which time he died and left the estate to the Sam Mazza Foundation, which currently uses it as its headquarters.
In 2010, members of the Sam Mazza Foundation hired masonry and concrete experts Western Specialty Contractors, formerly known as Western Waterproofing, to restore the unique castle to its original splendor. The structure incorporates views of the ocean, turrets and towers. Harsh coastal exposure to rain, wind, sun and salt over the decades had left the castle with numerous leaks and in dire need of general repairs.
An initial survey of the structure by Western revealed that it had suffered an extensive number of cracks in its concrete stones, the mortar had deteriorated due to long-term water intrusion and its steel reinforcing was severely rusted. Several years earlier, Western had been a part of the restoration team for the San Francisco Cliff House and was chosen to do the masonry and stonework for San Francisco’s North Beach Porziuncola replication project.
Western crews began the extensive Mazza Castle restoration project by first repairing or recasting any damaged cast-stone blocks and replacing concrete headers and sills with a custom-blend of three patch mixes. Crews identified and worked with six different stone patterns.
At one time, the front elevation of the castle facing the ocean was pink. Crews also found residuals of white and gray paint in different areas that had been burnt by UV rays at different rates. When making a repair, Western crews had the tedious task of replicating those colors on the repaired block so they would match the rest of the blocks in that area. Crews also replaced, reinforced and repaired mortar joints between the nonstandard-sized concrete blocks using a custom-made jointing tool, making sure to match the color variations in the mortar.
After the repairs were complete, the entire exterior was cleaned and a masonry sealer applied to protect the historic structure from the elements for the next 100 years. The entire restoration project took about six months.
Public events and tours of Mazza Castle and its 24 renovated rooms are held regularly. Some even claim the castle is haunted by ghosts. But that’s another story.
Having grown up in a family of stone masons, Tony Lieder Jr. joined Western Construction Group in 2005 and quickly worked his way up to become branch manager of the Northern California office. Contact Tony at email@example.com or (510) 875-2109, ext. 1602.
Western Specialty Contractors, founded in 1915 in St. Louis, Missouri, by Ben Many and his brother-in-law, George Bishop Sr., is commemorating its centennial this year. Originally named Western Waterproofing Co., it is now owned and operated by third-generation family members and is the nation’s largest specialty contractor in building restoration and preservation.