The haunting ruins of Jack London’s dream house in Sonoma, CA.
Jack London was a journalist, author, adventurer, and a farmer. He loved the Sonoma Valley, and had planned to build a sustainable farm where he and his wife Charmain could settle. His property in the “Valley of the Moon” — as he called Sonoma Valley — became a state park in 1960 with 39 acres, a museum, London’s gravesite and the ruins of Wolf House. One day, when Charmian and Jack were riding over their property, they came upon the grave site of two pioneer children – David and Lilly Greenlaw. David had died in 1876, the year Jack London was born. Jack was quite moved by the lonely place where the children were buried and he said to Charmian that he would like to be buried in this place if he should die before her.
Jack London State Historic Park houses the London’s collection in the Happy Halls House, which wife Charmain built after Jack’s death. Most of the furniture was custom built for use in the ill-fated Wolf House, and a corner of the house is set up to preserve Jack’s writing studio as it would have looked when he died.
While the ruins are known as the Wolf House, Jack and wife Charmain London lovingly called their dream house “The Big House” or “The Castle.”
The Wolf House was 15,000 sq ft, four stories with twenty-six rooms and nine fireplaces, and designed in a mixture of Spanish, exemplified by the terracotta tile roof, and Craftsman Styles, seen in the log cabin exterior and detailed wooden interior.
The park includes over 26 miles of trails across 1400 acres including stunning vistas and the historic buildings from the time when famous Jack London called this his home.
London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a cottage on his ranch. London had been a robust man but had suffered several serious illnesses, including scurvy in the Klondike. Additionally, during travels on the Snark, he and Charmian may have picked up unspecified tropical infections. At the time of his death, he suffered from dysentery, late-stage alcoholism, and uremia; he was in extreme pain and taking morphine.
London’s ashes were buried on his property not far from the Wolf House. London’s funeral took place on November 26, 1916, attended only by close friends, relatives, and workers of the property. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated and buried next to the pioneer children, under a rock that belonged to the Wolf House. After Charmian’s death in 1955, she was also cremated and then buried with her husband in the same simple spot that her husband chose. The grave is marked by a mossy boulder.
Jack London wrote so many books about wolves and dogs that his friend George Sterling gave him the nickname “The Wolf”. So when Jack started to build his dream house in 1911, it was only fitting that people would call it “The Wolf House”. Albert Farr of San Francisco designed the house and construction began in 1911 and was nearly completed in August 1913 when it burnt to the ground.
A team of forensic ‘experts’ were rumored to have ruled the cause of the fire to be “spontaneous combustion.” Jack vowed to rebuild the Wolf House, but with an insurance policy only paying out 1/8 the amount of money already poured into the project, he died three years later having rebuilt very little.
What’s left today are the haunting remains of the London’s dream home.
The two lower stories of rock remain mostly intact, covered in moss and sprouting ferns, while the five towering chimneys built to support five fireplaces are held up by massive steel support beams.
The house was built of native materials – unpeeled redwood logs, lava boulders, blue slate and stone. The large outdoor pool was to be filled with native bass.
In his 40 years of life, he was a “bastard” child of a slum-dwelling suicidal spiritualist, a child laborer, a pirate, a tramp, a revolutionary Socialist, a racist pining for genocide, a gold-digger, a war correspondent, a millionaire, a suicidal depressive, and for a time the most popular writer in America. – Taken from “Wolf: The Lives of Jack London” by James L. Haley