Friday, April 25, 2014

Abandoned Places: Wolf House

Jack London was one of the first authors to decide on writing as a career. Let me re-state that. He wasn't a writer that began making a living at it; in deciding what he wanted to do (and he'd already done many different things, from oyster pirate to tramp), he chose writing as a career through which he might be able to pull himself out of poverty. Writing was his job, and that's how he treated it.

And he did become successful at it. He was one of the first fiction writers to become an international celebrity and amass a fortune through his fiction. He has several enduring classics to his name.

In 1905, at 29 years of age, he bought his true passion: Beauty Ranch. Everything he did and wrote after that point, all 11 years of it, was for the success of the ranch. Except for the part where he wasn't actually very good at managing things and tended to spend the fortune he was making as quickly as he made it. [You can read more about London's life and folly in my essay in Indie Writers Monthly: Vol. 1, Issue 2.] One of his largest investments, and one that didn't work out for him, was Wolf House.

London spent the equivalent of a couple of million dollars to build Wolf House on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen, California (not all that far from here). It was a house meant to last the ages. As London said, a house that would, barring an Act of God, stand for a thousand years. Unfortunately, that Act of God occurred just weeks before the completion date of the house, the house that took years to build: It caught fire. He was almost correct, though, the volcanic rocks he had used to build the frame of the house withstood the fire, so the shell still stands, 100 years later.

The pictures here are mine. They include pictures of Wolf House and some of the other abandoned structures from the ranch.
What Wolf House would have looked like.
There's a story behind the cacti.
The stone marks the site where London's ashes were placed. It's not clear (at least not to me (there was conflicting information)) whether his ashes were spread on the stone or if the ashes were spread on the ground and, then, the stone was placed on the spot. The stone is from Wolf House, though. Not a stone from the building but one of the ones from the building of the house.


  1. I can see why he'd have spent so much on that house - the model of it is absolutely gorgeous and perfect for a writer to live. Great job on getting all the pics yourself!

  2. It's really sad that no one actually built it again. The plans are stunning. :-(

  3. Almost looks like a moat. It's a cool structure he had planned, but several million dollars worth? Back in that day? He definitely overspent.
    Cool it's close enough for you to visit.

  4. He could not fulfill his dreams, sad.
    Surprised to see many abandoned structures like this.
    Interesting post.

  5. Wow, it's sad that fire got the place. I'm glad he went for it though. That speaks volumes about the man.

  6. That would have been a beautiful dream house for sure! I love some of Jack London's novels. Fun to know he enjoyed building houses and spending his money:)

  7. From London to Hemingway, I always find it interesting to see where writers do their writing. Neat place!

  8. A fascinating house, pity it never got finished. It's location looks good I am surprised no-one has bought the property and built onto the ruins.

  9. It does seem odd no one has rebuilt there. And I have a line in my post-apocalypticish novel about stone houses being the only ones to endure. Of course, the Welsh castles are near a thousand years old now. :)

  10. How cool that you've actually been there. It's so neat looking, like the bones of a house.

  11. makes for a great story, but I'm so sad to see that it was never finished.

    Thanks for posting this! I love this series...

  12. The best laid plans of mice and famous authors.

  13. Lexa: He had his own sleeping tower!

    Misha: Well, he died; he was the one with the vision.

    Alex C: It had a spring fed fishing pool in it. Seriously. So, you know, you could get up in the morning and catch your own fish for breakfast right in the house!

    Rajiv: He fell just short on so many of his dreams.

    Elsie: He was an interesting character.

    Jennifer: He certainly liked to spend his money.

    Mark: Actually, London did his writing anywhere and everywhere. He held himself to 1000 words a day no matter where he was.

    Jo: The property was a donated as a state park by his wife when she died.

    L.G.: And, even if it wasn't a state park, it's not really the kind of location where just anyone could decide to build. It's way out of the way even for out of the way.

    Jeanne: It is the bones, the exoskeletal bones, of the house.

    RG: It would probably make you more sad to know just how close it was to finished, because, basically, it was.

    Pat: Or not so famous ones... I suppose he did, at least, fulfill his goal of becoming the equivalent of a pop culture star.

  14. Wow. What an interesting story! When I envision a writer's retreat, it definitely looks similar to that model.

  15. Stephanie: With or without that stag room? Because it had one of those, too.

  16. What a pretty house! Though that fire bit... that's really horrible luck. I can't imagine something like that happening today and there not being at least some kind of reimbursement.

    Lovely photos!

  17. Alex H: Since it was almost certainly caused by the carelessness of some of the workmen, there would certainly be a lawsuit if that happened today.

  18. The place would have been stunning. I always liked Call of the Wild. That abandoned ranch looks very wild now.

  19. Ava: It certainly would have been a cool place to hang out.

  20. Wow, it would have been such a beautiful home. Too bad it was never rebuilt...

    The cacti garden made me giggle, though.

  21. Rebekah: It is too bad, and it would be incredibly expensive to do it today.