Thursday, November 29, 2012
The Forbidden Haunted Mansion of Spadra Ghost Town
I admit it.
I'm often irritated with the world.
I am oft filled with frustration.
And there is little I find irksome than being welcomed into some location or event where photography is verboten.
The world must be documented!
How will anyone know I was there? How will anyone who wasn't there learn what it looked like?!
A mildly acceptable compromise is being allowed to photograph the surroundings and happenings, but forbidden from publishing them.
Such was the case at the Phillips Mansion, one of the last remaining landmarks of the forgotten town of Spadra (now part of Pomona).
Fortunately my forcibly private photos - which turned out amazing, frustrating me further - remind me enough of what I saw to be able to report it here.
Built in 1875 by wealthy rancher and developer Louis Phillips in the classic haunted mansion architectural style, of fired red bricks and with gas lighting, the mansion served not only as Phillips' private home until his death in 1900, but also as the Spadra post office while Phillips was postmaster. The Southern Pacific Railroad ran through part of the property. After changing hands several times, and falling victim to vandals, Phillips Mansion was saved by The Historical Society of Pomona, who intervened in 1966 to prevent demolition and industrial redevelopment. Unfortunately, the Whittier earthquake destroyed much of their restoration, and severely damaged the landmark in 1987. Original china crashed from shelves. Walls cracked. The roof leaked.
For years, all anybody could see was the exterior.
But since that time, tremendous restoration work has been done to the interior - particularly the ground floor - with some period-appropriate furnishings and wares replacing lost originals. Phillips' Weber piano and stool from his music room survived, but wallpaper has been stripped. Mirrors hang, reflecting natural light streaming in from frosted door windows. A fixture clings to a teetering ceiling panel, which has shifted enough to leave a gaping hole above.
The banister alongside the stairs leading up to the second floor shines like new lacquer, but the stairs themselves seem to sag in the middle, where feet once padded up and down a line of carpeting which has been peeled away, leaving the wood underneath lighter, exposed.
Upstairs, the sun streams through lace curtains, even on a cloudy, rainy day. It reflects off the paper peeling off the walls. It illuminates closets with overturned bathtubs, and streams into bedrooms with dropcloth-covered chairs.
And then there's the attic: the spookiest, shadowiest part of this mansion, whose hauntings may be real or imagined, or purely an architectural aesthetic. The walls and floors are lined with plywood, giving the beams and supports plenty of room to breathe. Lamps stand unplugged by these uppermost windows. Everything appears at a strange angle, as though the mansion were truly a funhouse. A ladder leads up to the widowmaker roof.
I guess I can't blame The Historical Society of Pomona Valley. They've worked hard to restore and protect it from vandals, scavengers, looters, etc. And like any other museum, they want to encourage visitors when the house is ready for its coming out party. I'm sure they don't want to promote the damaged condition it's still currently in.
But I love the beautiful ruin of a place like that, its upper floors drawing me to their wounds and scars. I'd rather count the layers of paint like rings on a tree, rather than see them covered up with a fresh coat, no matter how historically accurate the color is.
And I'm grateful to have gotten in at all. Apparently the mansion was opened up as a haunted house a few years ago, but public access has been incredibly restricted since.
One day, it'll be ready.
And maybe one day, I can show you my photos.
Photo Essay: Where the Dead Rest in a Dead Village
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