Knapp Castle is the ruined former mountain estate of Union Carbide executive George Owen Knapp. Knapp was one of the first citizens to open up the mountains behind Santa Barbara, California for motor vehicle use. George Owen Knapp was born in 1855 in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Knapp graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute of New York in 1876 with a degree in engineering. After Graduation he went to work at Peoples Gas, Light, and Coke in Chicago, eventually becoming president before moving on to the Union Carbide board of directors. During his 25 years at Union Carbide, Knapp became very wealthy, and after retiring he moved to Santa Barbara.

When Knapp reached Santa Barbara, it was still a small town surrounded by the vast Santa Ynez Mountains, and connected with the Santa Ynez Valley by a few small horse trails. Knapp was one of the few people that weren't satisfied by this, and in 1916 spent about five million dollars to help build a road along the ridgeline; it was then that Knapp fell in love with the view and scenery at the top of the hills. This was important, because from 1916 until 1920, Knapp began to buy up land - enough land to build four "lodges": one by Wind Cave, another by Refugio Pass, a third in the upper Santa Ynez drainage, and finally the "castle" above Painted Cave. The Castle was started in 1916 after Knapp purchased 160 acres near the Laurel Springs Ranch. Knapp wanted, in his words, "to make the tract a private mountain lodge that in natural beauty and grandeur will have few to equal it on the American continent." Knapp's new castle had seven buildings in all, carved from thick sandstone blocks. The main house had five bedrooms, a large hallway, dining room, observatory, and a room built for Knapp's other love - his pipe organ. More than twenty men were employed over the course of construction of the lodge, which wasn't finished until 1920. In addition to the main house, Knapp built a studio next to it, a workman's cottage below, a dormitory that housed six servants, and a superintendent's house in the hollow by the lower road.

Soon after Knapp finished his dream house, he discovered a series of cascades in his lower canyon to the east of the lodge, known as Lewis Falls. There he installed lighting to illuminate the falls and built a bathhouse. He even had organ music piped down from the main house.

The organ music was provided by resident organist Dion Kennedy. Occasionally concerts were held at the hilltop castle, with musicians that included Kennedy and other musicians of local and national repute, including Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer.

Today all that remains of the castle are a few stone ruins and some stone chimneys rising into the sky. In 1940, Ms. Francis Holden purchased the property, and just five weeks later it burned to the ground in the Paradise Fire. As the house burned, a close friend of Ms. Holden painted the scene until she was forced to evacuate by the Forest Service. Ms. Holden was only able to throw a few things into a bed sheet and abandon the house. Later, when her chauffeur went back to retrieve more, he made it past the road block and to the top of a hill just in time to see the house being engulfed in flames. Five days later only the observatory remained; the castle was never rebuilt because the cost was far too great. The Coyote Fire claimed the observatory in 1964, and with that the last stronghold of Knapp's beautiful American castle finally faded.

Fortunately, the beauty that Knapp saw in the site still remains, perhaps made even more beautiful by the graceful stone ruins of the house. You can stand in the center of the octagon-shaped footprint of the observatory, and view the scene that Knapp must have seen as he rose over he crest to his newly purchased property nearly a century ago.

To visit the ruins, drive up Highway 154 and turn right on East Camino Cielo. Continue for two miles (one mile past Painted Cave Road) to a prominent saddle with a locked Forest Service gate. Park there and hike the half-mile down to the driveway of the castle. At one curve, the silhouette of Knapp's Lodge comes into view.

This place is simply amazing; I have been there many times. Once at sunrise watching the world awaken as the mists burned off, the sight sent shivers down my spine. I'd be happy to help any noders who visit Santa Barbara help find if they don't think my directions are adequate.

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