6 of the most unusual homes in Santa Cruz County


The Bay Area is famous for having some of the most remarkable and oddly unique homes in the United States. And no place on the bay is stranger than Santa Cruz County, which has historically been home to artists, creators, and those who think outside the box. For many years our community has celebrated people for expressing themselves freely, so it’s no wonder this is present in the homes people design and build.

AT Sol Real Estate Advisors, we can’t get enough of an unusual architecture, so we looked everywhere for the most emblematic houses in the region. Some are hidden in the mountains, others close to town, but all have a story to tell. Read on to learn everything you ever wanted to know about the curves, spiers, sights and dungeons that dot our hills. There’s more to each of them than you would ever guess.

1. Spaceship House, La Selva Beach

Fast facts: Built in 1972, 700 square feet, 1 bed, 1 bath

What would it be like to live in a house without nooks and crannies? Welcome to the “Spaceship House” of La Selva Beach. An unusually sculptural building, it was built by landscape architect Mary Gordon between 1969 and 1972. The 700-square-foot white stucco curio sits amidst a colorful garden, with the rolling Pacific visible just beyond.

The distinct house has curved walls and a concrete floor – reminiscent of that of the Guggenheim Museum Frank Lloyd Wright building, if on a much smaller scale. It is warmed by the owner’s selective use of color and texture, primarily through bright pillows and knotty. Moroccan rug. While in the single loft bedroom, there are “little nooks and crannies and spaces that attract attention” – details that help abstract the modest dimensions of the room. The property also boasts generous patio space and a riot of windows which give the whole house an unusually airy feel. But we still don’t know what the owners do with their clothes.

2. Court of the Mysteries, Westside Santa Cruz

Fast facts: Built in 1946, 110 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom

The Kitchen Brothers embodied the popular saying “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” through their bizarre architectural designs and mystical inclinations more than 50 years before the slogan caught on. Kenneth Kitchen was a mason and Raymond Kitchen was a stonecutter, each with their own unique specialties. Kenneth was the underwater interference and Raymond was the construction of large domed brick chimneys.

In 1946, Kenneth Kitchen designed and built the abalone-encrusted brick temple known as the Court of Mysteries on Fair Avenue in the Westside of Santa Cruz. According to neighbors, the two brothers built at night in the light of the moon, because of their beliefs in Eastern mythology and also because neither brother obtained a building permit.

An arched entrance, known as the Gate of Prophecy, is made of carefully placed brickwork inlaid with abalone. At the top of the arch is a cement triangle decorated with a circle of abalone shells. A crescent moon sits at 12 o’clock and the sun at 6 o’clock. According to an anonymous interviewee from the book Santa Cruz Architecture Sidewalk Companion, “Kenneth believed it was possible for [these symbols] to move. When they align to a point on the axis with the [temple’s] chimney, it would signal the end of the world, or at least of the United States.

The abalones that adorn the mysterious triangle were salvaged from the waste heap of the local abalone processing plant. Through the gate is the temple: a low-ceilinged brick building, also encrusted with abalone mosaics. Building plans show that Kenneth was going to add a second story and a dome, but never did. According to one story, he was building the temple with the aim of winning the heart of a local woman. The plan didn’t work, which is perhaps why he stopped building and then disappeared without a trace.

There are many stories surrounding the Court of Mysteries, and no one knows for sure which ones are true. One story goes that, submerged in the waters of the temple’s brick well, Kenneth installed some sort of mechanism to interfere with the radio signals of German U-boats. But this building is still very mysterious.

3. Underwater House, Los Gatos Mountains

Fast facts: Built in 1973, 1,927 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

What is it like to live inside a grain silo that was used to store hops for Falstaff Brewery? Or dismantle it in San Jose, make it cross the mountains and settle near Santa Cruz? Only Harry Neal would know. He did so in 1973, transforming the old silo into a unique circular retreat complete with a koi pond, hot tub, and studio where he created bronze sculptures. Neal also added the metal tube covered with a bay window that protrudes from the master bedroom, surely responsible for the nickname of this house. Later, he asked Palo Alto architect Bill Logan, known for his abstract Pajaro Dunes, to make further improvements.

But don’t think you can waltz home and have a look. Neal built a fence to keep people and deer away from his property. You can, however, take in the views from Mountain Charlie Road the next time you take a bike ride. Let us know if you, like the cyclists and neighbors who see it every day, are okay with it being called “the submarine”.

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4. Howden Castle, Ben Lomond

Fast facts: Built in 1927, 3600 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms

If you’ve driven on Highway 9 via Ben Lomond, chances are you’ve spotted this not-so-modest castle with lots of turrets, parapets, ramparts, and more. Construction of Howden Castle began in 1927 and was completed in 1932 by Charles Howden, a Scottish-born stonemason who built it to recall the royal mansions of his native land. He fell in love with the land first, saying it offered Ben Lomond’s best fishing.

When the Howden family sold the castle to the Weatherly family, it took on the additional name “Weatherly Castle”, and Mrs. Weatherly opened it occasionally for paid guided tours.

The house appears largely original, but has been improved over the years to meet more modern tastes and needs. A feast fit for a king and queen requires modern kitchen equipment, but you’ll still find that the dining room has remained largely untouched.

5. Alba Road Castle, Ben Lomond

Fast facts: Built in 1980, 5890 square feet, 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms

How many castles are there in Ben Lomond anyway? We only know Howden and Alba Road, but send us your quotes!

Alba Road Castle is reminiscent of something you would find in a French village in the 1700s, but the truth is that it was created on an 11-acre property filled with redwood trees in the 1980s. may not be as old as it looks, it has incredible past architectural details, mostly due to the original owner, who built the house after a visit to the The Loire Valley. From the all-oak entryway, you will be led into a living room defined by its mahogany paneling and fireplace, floor-to-ceiling bookcase, raised circular stage and window seat.

As well as old-world touches, this castle has a secret theater, wine bar, and bar below the living room, but you’ll only find them if you know which wall hanging to pull.

Gordon Rudy, a former listing agent quoted in this Article SFGate 2017, said the previous owner built everything and installed the plumbing and electrical, learning these trades (woodworking too!) at local colleges over a 7 year period. As well as being a doctor and builder, the owner was a chef, which explains the double stovetops in the kitchen, but not the aquarium in the main bathroom.

6. Mushroom Dome Cabin, Aptos

And what list of quirky Santa Cruz County homes would be complete without a domed home?

Welcome to Kitty Mrache Mushroom Dome Cabina 100 square foot geodesic dome you can have fun — if you book Airbnbthe most popular rental far enough in advance. According to The bustle, nearly 6,000 people from around the world have stayed at this little cabin since it was first listed on the site in 2009. Nestled among redwoods, this Aptos retreat is cozy, lovely, and close enough to the beach and downtown of Santa Cruz. Rustic, but luxurious. The pentagon-shaped ground floor contains a fold-out futon sofa, kitchenette, and bathroom, with a travertine shower and Nature’s Head composting toilet. Upstairs you will find a double bed and enjoy stargazing through the dome. And, just beyond the shaded patio, you’ll have access to all the hiking you could want. This is the perfect place to beta test your plans to join the small house movement.

If you know of other homes that follow the motto “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”, send them to us! We will be sure to highlight them next time. We like to support the things that make Santa Cruz interesting.

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