Mt. Woodson Castle
Irene Amy Strong’s dream home standing before you came to completion in 1921. Its creation was in large part attributed to the Craftsman Movement. The home symbolizes security, permanency, and an environmental awareness that was strongly felt by Mrs. Strong and her architects. It gained popularity among California artists and intellectuals in the early decades of the twentieth century as a consummate symbol of the entire expressive Craftsman Movement.
The Woman with the Dream
Irene Amy Strong was born April 5, 1860 in Peoria, Illinois. She apparently was widowed at a young age and moved with a friend to San Francisco shortly after her husband’s death. She eventually came to Southern California because of the dry, healthy climate. By 1897 Amy was a successful dressmaker in San Diego, working and living at the Grant Building downtown. Amy also spent extended periods of time at the Hotel Del Coronado and maintained a close friendship with the Babcocks and other members of the San Diego social elite.
Mrs. Strong was actively involved in charity work, bringing underprivileged children to visit at her home. She was well-traveled, going to Europe at least once a year to buy materials for dresses she created for her upper class clientele. Mrs. Strong remained here until 1940. Over the years she had acquired additional acreage surrounding Mt. Woodson totaling about 400 acres. After six years of illness, Irene Amy Strong passed on March 9, 1950 at the age of 89.
The Building Process
In 1909, shortly after purchasing the Woodson Ranch, Mrs. Strong hired architects Emmor Brooke Weaver and John Terrell Vawter. They pitched tents on the site for their own accommodations, drew renderings and blueprints and molded ideas into structural realities. Actual construction did not begin until 1916, and the home was completed by 1921 at a cost of $50,000. The Strong home in Ramona is a synthesis of the vision of this artistic woman, the talents of her architects, and the philosophy of the Craftsman Movement.
Her crew consisted mainly of local laborers; highly trained masons, painters and carpenters were too embedded in traditional techniques and were not able to achieve the desired effect. The Craftsman ideals emphasized harmony between the individual and the environment, the intensive involvement of the artist with their materials, and the blending of the primitive with the sophisticated. The style stressed ease, simplicity, harmony, and a romantic view of both man and the past.
Builders of the period used natural elements from the earth, its wood, stone, and soils in creating structures that not only reflected the tastes and concerns of the individual owner, but achieved a harmonious balance with the surroundings. Building materials of the main house included eucalyptus, oak and redwood, rocks and flagstone, adobe, bricks and tiles, plaster, concrete and stucco. Eucalyptus was cut from stands that dotted the property. Rocks were individually hand-picked by Mrs. Strong for their shapes and colors from the slopes of Mt. Woodson. The adobe bricks that form the second story walls were made at the site from the clay soils found along the drainage. It is purported that the roof tiles came from the San Gabriel Mission. Owing to the popularity of Mission Period architecture at this time, they are more likely reproductions.
The Complete Castle
The end product was a multi-level, twenty-seven room (five bedroom, four bath), 12,000 square foot home complete with four to eight foot thick walls, a 72’x16′ living room, a sixteen foot ceiling, a sitting room, swing porch, pantry, four fireplaces, a dutch oven, dumb waiter, complete intercom system and a gasoline-engine-assisted windmill. The windmill pumped water from the springs to redwood storage tanks and the room under the windmill was used to cool meats and vegetables. In addition to the main house, four guest cottages, a house for the help, a picnic area complete with outhouse, a garage and several outbuildings were constructed. The small houses, designed for temporary shelter were board and batten redwood structures with stone fireplaces.
The finished exterior, the stone work, windmill, bricks and tiles, and arches reflect French, Dutch, Spanish and Medieval styles respectively. Roof tiles are supported on a concrete roof sustained by rock buttresses. Eaves are troughs hewn from unfinished eucalyptus trunks supported by gargoyle figures. Aztec, Greek, Roman, North American, and Oriental crafts, both originals and reproductions, decorated both the exterior and interior. All were tributes to prosperity, health, friendship and good luck. Other motifs were loosely taken from Persian, Arabic, and Oriental rug designs used in the house.