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McCloskey's Castle
McCloskey's Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr
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The Story Behind the Eccentric Sam's Castle in San Francisco

Picture of Deanna Morgado
Updated: 2 May 2018
Sam’s Castle in Pacifica, California only received its name after passing through many hands until being purchased by the late Sam Mazza in 1959. The estate racked up an impressive reputation long before that as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, a World War II Coast Guard Station, an underground abortion clinic, and a powerhouse for the paranormal.

Now that same 110-year-old history is preserved in the estate—which also serves as a museum and is home to The Sam Mazza Foundation. For over ten years, Sam’s Castle’s represented art and philanthropy, with millions of dollars donated to charity and the estate itself housing one of the largest dedications to world art in the state.

About 15 miles south of San Francisco, Sam’s Castle sits perched along Pacifica’s shores. It’s a rather Shakespearean-looking castle, which wouldn’t appear out of place on the playwright’s own stage 400 years ago in England. However, it wasn’t built to necessarily benefit the arts, but to ease the first owner’s fear of natural disaster. After the 1906 earthquake devastated San Francisco, attorney Henry Harrison McCloskey decided to build a home that could withstand tragedy. Two years later, McCloskey’s vision of a near-indestructible home, coupled with his desire to please his Scottish wife, who was homesick for her own castle, resulted in a 24-room compound with high towers and walls made of concrete blocks.

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McCloskey’s Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr

The first time Sam’s Castle exchanged ownership, and when the castle’s story thickened, was in 1916. Doctor Galen Richard Hickok purchased the estate but remained at his other residence in Berkeley while continuing his medical practice in San Francisco. It came across as odd to neighbors and other Pacifica townspeople until 1920, when Hickok’s illegal abortion practice was exposed. Hickok was arrested and sent to trial within a matter of months; a few minutes into his trial he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in San Quentin Prison. The castle went to Hickok’s son, Max, who landed himself a San Quentin Prison sentence just a couple years later by keeping up his father’s abortion practice at the castle.

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McCloskey’s Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr

With both illegal medical practices snuffed out, the estate was up for sale again. It was purchased by M.L. Hewitt, who turned the property into Chateau LaFayette—a restaurant frequented by the wealthy and the pristine. But Hewitt, despite his restaurant’s reputation, refused to let the nationwide alcohol ban that was two years strong stop him from serving booze to those who would pay for it. Chateau LaFayette became the front for a speakeasy, where those who knew about it could escape the Prohibition and acquire illegal alcohol. It was raided multiple times by the authorities until the speakeasy was shut down for good.

Until 1928, the castle exchanged more hands of ownership, finally falling to Clarence and Annie Eakin.

Under the Eakin’s, Sam’s Castle was able to stay clear of prison-resulting scandal. During the height of World War II, the couple leased their cliffside property to the Coast Guard. From 1942 to 1944, the 17 servicemen of Company H and their war dog companions used the estate as their communications center and barracks. Two years housing almost 20 men and their dogs proved dismal for the property, causing the Coast Guard to pay the Eakins $1,000 for damages.

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McCloskey’s Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr

The following year, Clarence Eakin unexpectedly died in a car accident. Suddenly a widow, Annie Eakin stayed in the castle for another ten years. During that time, she is said to have acquired 20 cats and many boarders, who lived in the castle to keep her company. The Eakin’s nephew and his family were left the estate, who sold it two years after Annie’s death.

Sam’s Castle found its longest-lasting owner in 1959. It had fallen to much disarray, with unkempt grounds tangled around the castle and extensive interior damages desperately needing attention. Salvatore “Sam” Mazza, a wealthy real estate investor and renowned theater painter and decorator for 20th Century Fox, saw far beyond the repairs and purchased the property for $29,000.

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McCloskey’s Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr

He used the castle as a gallery to display the vast “objects d’art” collection he’d acquired over his life. A natural lover of the eccentric, Mazza frequently threw lavish balls and parties in the castle and continued to add new pieces to ornate his castle with for years. He had a unique attraction to collecting and decorating the estate’s rooms with crowns, but his collection spanned over paintings, religious relics, guns, sculptures, and more.

Mazza’s love and care for his castle continued throughout his entire life, as did his art appreciation. After building a reputation as the art collector and humanitarian he was, Mazza’s opulent galas switched to fundraisers when he started to invite various organizations to hold charitable parties at his castle. During Sam Mazza’s 43-year ownership of the castle, it became a place that preserved history, art, and charity.

Mazza passed away at 96 in 2002, but not before he made sure that his estate would continue to be a place of giving. In October 2005, the property became known as Sam’s Castle, headquarters to the Sam Mazza Foundation. In its time, the foundation has given $6,000,000 in grants to nonprofits who are committed to bettering their communities through art as Mazza was to his.

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McCloskey’s Castle | © Bob n Renee / Flickr

Until 2011, Sam’s Castle only opened its doors to the general public twice a year for tours. Today, aside from foundation meetings and charity events, visitors can explore Sam Castle’s every month for two-hour tours and High Tea afternoons.