Tom and I have been giving tours here at Scotty’s Castle for a couple of months now and we have one more month to work. I’ve written many posts about the castle and our work here. One of the most unusual things about the Castle is the unfinished portions.
In a previous post, I wrote about Albert and Bessie Johnson and about how they built the castle between 1922 and 1929. Everything was done inside the house – it was furnished and decorated by 1929 and looked very much as it does today. The only things unfinished about the castle was the landscaping – the last thing you do when you are building a house.
Albert had his workers start digging the one million gallon pool with an elaborate bridge across the middle. There were viewing windows in the tunnels under the castle and a beautiful diving area with water fountains was planned. The workers also started building several tiers of formal gardens. They built a gate and the foundations for pillars, fountains, and the different levels of the gardens. A formal entry gate with gatekeeper’s apartment was built at the entry to the property but it, too, remained unfinished.
These landscaping developments were never finished because of Albert Johnson’s fight with the government over who owned the land the house was built on. Albert had bought it, but bought it based on an 1880’s survey that had a significant error. When the government resurveyed Death Valley in 1930 to establish Death Valley National Monument, the corrected survey showed that the land Albert had purchased was a mile up the road. The Castle itself was on land that was part of the national monument.
Albert fought for his land from 1931 to 1935, when Congress finally passed a special bill that allowed him to repurchase his land. It took him two more years to purchase the land and get clear title. By this time, Albert had spent so much in fighting to get the land back that he didn’t have much left for finishing the property. Albert intended to finish – someday – when the right people and the money was in place. But World War II came along and work was further postponed. Then Bessie died in 1943 and Albert died a few years later in 1948. So the pool, the formal gardens, and the entry gate remained unfinished.
Today visitors look at the pool and wonder why the National Park Service didn’t finish it (too expensive). Or they think it must have been finished at one time and just needs repairs now. But it was always unfinished. The pool never had water in it, the gardens never flourished with flowers, and the entry gates never received the stucco covering that would finish them.
It’s a little sad when you think about it. We start something with great intentions and then circumstances and life events intervene and those things remain unfinished. The good thing for most of us is that people won’t be looking at the things we left unfinished 70 years after we die.
Is there anything that you regret leaving unfinished? Is there anything you can do about it now?