When I was in high school my good friend Dana and I were absolutely obsessed with a real life haunted house located close to where we lived. Every Friday afternoon like clockwork the two of us would make an after-school pilgrimage to the abandoned house known as the Carolands Mansion before stopping by a local cafe for our ubiquitous weekly frozen lattes. I have no idea why the two of us were so obsessed with this particular mansion and, in fact, I asked Dana today what it was that started our obsession and she couldn’t remember, either. LOL Whatever the reason, ever Friday afternoon without fail Dana and I would make our weekly visit to the abandoned property and drive around the perimeter once or twice for a little looksie. So this weekend when I went up north to attend my friend Nat’s annual weekend-before-Halloween murder mystery party I asked her to drive me by the house so I could do some stalking.
I hadn’t driven by the Carolands in over a decade and I was absolutely shocked to see how much the mansion had changed. The once abandoned house had been purchased and refurbished in my absence and it is no longer the haunted house of my high school memories. It was so strange to see the once dilapidated and spooky property post-facelift and I almost didn’t recognize the place. Gone are the broken, boarded-up windows, the yellowing, dead lawn and the decaying, overgrown foliage. But even after a complete remodel, the house has definitely retained some of its spookiness. I am not sure if it is the sheer size of the mansion (68,000 square feet makes it the largest enclosed space in a private house in the entire United States – it’s even bigger than the Spelling Chateau!) or its tragic history that evokes a creepy feeling. But either way, the house has a haunted feel to it, so it fits in perfectly with my Haunted Hollywood theme.
The Carolands Mansion was built from 1914 to 1916 for Harriet Pullman Carolan, heir to a vast railroad fortune. Harriet, a true diva of her day, had the chateau built on a 544 acre parcel of land at the highest elevation point possible so that she could literally “look down on the Hearsts”. LOL The home was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by French architect Ernest Sanson for a cost of $3,000,000 (and we’re talking 1914 money!). The mansion stands at over eighty feet tall and boasts almost one hundred rooms, including 25 servants quarters, a flower arranging room, and even a secret floor hidden in between the second and third levels. In 1950 a Countess named Lillian Remillard Dandini purchased the home from Harriet and lived in it for the next 23 years. Upon her death she bequeathed the home to the City of Hillsborough, hoping it would become a cultural center. The city, however, could not afford the upkeep on the massive property, and after several subsequent owners, the home fell into serious disrepair and was left vacant and abandoned. During the Roosevelt Administration and again during the Kennedy Administration the US government considered purchasing the home and making it the “White House of the West”, but both times plans fell through. After decades of abandonment and neglect, Franklin Templeton heir Charles Johnson purchased the home in 1998 and spent the next few years and many millions of dollars restoring it to its former grandeur. But no face lift can fully erase the mansion’s tragic history.
When I was a little girl, my uncle used to tell me stories about visiting the Carolands with his high school buddies late at night and getting tours from the security guards hired to guard the home. Back then it was commonplace for area high schoolers to grab a six pack, hop the chain link fence surrounding the property, and slip a security guard a $20 for an interior tour of the mansion. Everyone did it. But that all changed one tragic night in 1985 when two teen-aged girls getting a tour of the mansion were raped and stabbed by a security guard named David Allen Raley. After torturing them for hours in the mansion, he put them in the trunk of his car and drove to his parents house where he ate a meal and played a game of monopoly with his family. He then dumped the two girls in a ravine and left them for dead. But one of the girls managed to crawl out of the ravine on her hands and knees and flagged down a passerby who rescued her and her friend. Sadly, though, while the girl survived, her friend later passed away on an operating room table. The case became very famous in the sleepy town of San Mateo where I grew up. I am not sure why the case garnered so much attention – perhaps because the crime was so heinous, or maybe because there was a survivor, or because the house had long carried the reputation of being haunted or perhaps most likely because up until that point it had been so common for teenagers to use the Carolands grounds as their high school hang out. It literally could have happened to anyone. Whatever the reason, the murders remain a stain on the memory of the once beautiful mansion.
Although not a true filming location, the house did appear in the 1992 pornographic film entitled All American Girls. The mansion was also the subject of the 2006 award winning documentary film entitled Three Woman and a Chateau. A book named Carolands was also written about the property. Although currently a private residence, the Carolands is sometimes opened up for events and fund raisers. The Republican National Commitee hosted an event there in January of this year and George W. Bush was in attendance. The Carolands is truly a marvel of a home and I highly recommend stalking this real life haunted house. Seeing it in person, it’s almost unbelievable how big it is.
Side note – while flying home from SF, who should be on our plane but actress/model Mariel Heminway. I snapped a quick pic of her in baggage claim, but it did not come out very well! I would so make a terrible paparazzi! LOL 🙂
Until next time, Happy Stalking! 🙂
Stalk It: The Carolands Mansion is located at 565 Remilard Drive in Hillsborough. After seeing the front of the mansion, follow Remillard to Ralston Avenue and make a right. Make another right on Craig’s Road and follow it past the bend for a nice view of the back of the house.