By Mabel Plaskett
On the very edge of a high table land overlooking the sea on the south of Lime Kiln Canyon stands a massive stone chimney. It is visible to motorists driving along the Cabrillo highway and many have wondered how this towering monument came to be in this inaccessible area. This site is high above the coast road and the trails leading to it have long been over grown.
In 1925 Joe Barbree sold 35 acres of coast land to a German from Los Angeles by the name of Victor Girard. This man was a shrewd promoter – the town of Girard in southern California is one of his successful enterprises, but he was not looking for a place where he could find privacy and freedom away from his busy and hectic city life. So he set about having a mansion built in rustic style using the natural resources as far as possible, but adding every conceivable comfort and convenience. Cost was not considered and he spent a small fortune building up an empire which ironically was to last less than a decade.
The house was built of redwood poles, cut in the nearby canyon. Redwood poles (young saplings) were also used in making furniture for the place. Settees, chairs, lounges, and benches were made by inter-weaving the saplings. Luxurious cushions made them comfortable.
Bob Bruce, well-known King City contractor was at first in charge of the operation. Later Girard brought in contractors from Los Angeles who completed the fabulous mansion.
Everything was packed in by trail. There was a rough road from Jolon to a place at the foot of the Nacimiento grade called “The Corrals” and from this point everything was packed in by horse or mule. Girard hired professional packers from Colorado who were expert in the art as they had packed supplies into the mines in the Colorado mountains. They packed among other things, one mile of two-inch pipe for the irrigation system. Water was piped from a mountain spring some distance away.
A plate glass window 8×14 feet was packed in over the trail in this fashion. A sled was fitted with long runners set close together as the trail was narrow. The well crated window was loaded on the sled with a man on either side to steady it and another man went ahead leading the mule. They arrived safely with the precious cargo only to have it cracked by the heat of the great fire place near which it had been set. However, it was set in place with two smaller windows on each side, giving a magnificent view of the sea.
The fire place was of no small dimensions being large enough to barbecue a whole beef at one time. Eighty tons of native stones were packed mule back up the steep trail of Lime Kiln Canyon to go into the construction of the fire place, patios and rock walls which were a feature of the place.
Mervyn Merritt and Jim Stanley (who was himself a skilled packer) packed a stone over the trail of Girards by balancing a bale of hay on one side of the mule and the stone on the other. Mervyn Merritt did the electrical wiring and engineered the installation of a unique electrical refrigeration system which included a cold room where whole carcasses could be hung.
Girard had no respect for game laws and would order his men to kill a deer at any time he wanted fresh meat in season or out.
One occasion he was taking venison home to Los Angeles, out of season, and found the game warden waiting at The Corrals on his arrival there. Asked if he had venison in his possession he denied it indignantly and ordered his men to unpack the mules and load the wagon. At this point the warden’s dog ran over to the packs lying on the ground and began sniffing suspiciously, where upon the game warden ordered the pack opened and there were two fine haunches of fresh deer meat. Girard was hauled into court to pay a stiff fine.
Girard liked comfort and after his first jolting ride up the Nacimiento River by spring wagon he had a Model T Ford converted to a horse drawn vehicle in which to make the trip. Incidentally this rocky road crossed Nacimiento River 52 times in eight miles.
He had a morbid fear of his horse falling on the rugged trail plunging him into the canyons below, so he had a trick saddle made with special stirrups designed so they would release when turned to a certain degree allowing him to free himself quickly if his horse should happen to stumble.
When Girard came to the coast he made the trip in style, bringing along an entire staff of servants, including a chauffeur and a secretary.
The first caretaker of the Girard place was Jim Stanley of Bryson country. He left in 1927 and Mr. and Mrs. Albert Sans, who were newlyweds at the time, took over the job. They stayed until 1930 when Mr. and Mrs. Morrall Ahlstrom became caretakers. Both of these couples enjoyed their stay. They liked the coast and its people and were part of it. Before Girard came for his sojourns here he would send word ahead to have everything in readiness and horses and pack mules at The Corrals on the day of arrival.
When he, with his entourage, rode into sight on the trail down the mountain it was a fantastic sight – curiously enough nearly every one along the coast would happen to ride by that day.
The caretaker lived in a smaller house near the big one. One day in 1933 while he was clearing land and burning brush a south wind sprang up carrying sparks to the big house and in spite of valiant efforts to save it, the pretentious dwelling burned to the ground, leaving the giant chimney standing starkly, a grim reminder of the mighty effort that went into one man’s futile dreams of establishing a private domain.
Mabel Sans Plaskett was born in Coralitas near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountain area of California. Her father Edward Robert Sans ran a saw mill near Pacific Valley, along the Nacimiento – Ferguson road to the coast at Highway One. It was there she met Edward Abbott Plaskett, her husband. Mabel wrote about the coast and the pioneers of the 19th and 20th Centuries.