Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Rubel Casle

 Entry gate to Rubelia

We went on our first Atlas Obscura tour a couple of years ago and enjoyed it so much that we register for local trips whenever we can. On Sunday, we visited the Rubel Castle, an amazing handmade "fortress," located in the foothills of Glendora. Our tour guide was Scott Rubel, nephew of his uncle Michael, the mastermind and enduring force behind the castle.

 Though he died in 2007, Michael's name still appears
on the castle's mailbox

Built primarily of stones gathered from the surrounding area, construction of the castle began in 1968 and continued until 1984, thanks in large part to the volunteer labor of friends, neighbors, and family. Today the grounds are managed by the Glendora Historical Society, though a few historians and artists also live there. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

Monument sign at the castle's entrance

A prime example of folk architecture, the castle is an eclectic collection of buildings and mechanical artifacts assembled, over many years, by Michael Rubel. Dusty old mementos include an assortment of early 20th-century cars and ancient farm equipment, as well as a red caboose, which, at one point, was someone's home. Wooden water towers recall a time when water was pumped via a windmill, and there's even an old swing.

Red caboose in the backyard

One of the many cars Michael collected as a teenager

1940s Ford pickup used on the old Rubel farm

Stamp machine decorating one of several garages

Tim taking a swing

Old water towers and windmill

With its turrets, secret passageways, working clock tower, and bottle house, the castle looks like it belongs more on Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island than in the middle of a mid-century tract-house neighborhood. Every young child's dream home! And all made of scavenged and donated materials.

Castle exterior

Above the castle's drawbridge--the bucket was used to haul
stones to the top for building

Living quarters, looking west from interior courtyard

Looking up and east

Clock tower--clock rings on the hour
and half-hour

Large courtyard

Smaller interior courtyard 

Upper level of smaller courtyard

"Found art" objects

Lovely donated door

Narrow passageways

And even narrower balcony

Catwalks from one of the towers (yikes!!)

Bottle house exterior

And interior--bottles eerily illuminated from outside

Escape tunnel from inside the castle

Once inside the castle walls, we were amazed by all the machines and historic memorabilia the Rubels collected: artifacts from Glendora native and fan-dancer Sally Rand, route 66 items, musical instruments, electrical equipment, and more.

Old Coke machine

Machine shop

On-site bar decorations

Michael's living quarters, now a museum

Michael's former bedroom

Tim admiring ancient electrical equipment  

Huell Howser filmed Rubel's Castle twice, calling it one of his favorite Southern California landmarks. And now we know why. We highly recommend that everyone visit at least once!

Our intrepid Atlas Obscura group

Photo of Michael Rubel (on right) 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Capitol Politics

 U. S. Capitol

Now that we’re retired, Tim and I spend much of our time following national as well as local political news. Not surprisingly, the daily outrages coming out of the White House keep us plenty busy. So naturally we were intrigued when the L.A. Times announced its latest “expedition,” touring Washington D.C. with one of its political reporters. President Bill Clinton was in the midst of impeachment the last time we visited D.C., 20 years ago. Might another impeachment happen if we returned? We signed up immediately.

Our group was small: nine well-read Southern Californians who, despite political affiliation, were all as concerned about the current White House as we are. Our guide was a Times political reporter and D.C. resident. Thanks to him and his contacts, we were able to: meet with staff from the Constitutional Accountability Center, which is representing Congress in an emolument lawsuit against the White House; watch the filming of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews; eat lunch with L.A. Times editor Jackie Calmes, who is writing a book about recent Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh; have drinks with MSNBC political commentators; meet retired Congressmember Henry Waxman, who now works for his son’s lobbying firm; and tour the recently-renovated offices of the Motion Picture Association.

The true highlight, however, was touring the Capitol building, where we unexpectedly stumbled into the middle of history. After briefly visiting the Supreme Court building, we walked over to the Capitol and chatted with Senator Kamala Harris’s communications aide. Two interns then took us on a tour of the Capitol, including rides on the underground trams that take legislators from their buildings to the main part of the Capitol—typical VIP touristy stuff.

Looming over all of this, however, was the whistleblower complaint claiming that the White House used promises of military aid to extort Ukraine into investigating presidential candidate Joe Biden. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a special Democratic caucus meeting at 4PM to discuss whether or not to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. Their decision would then be publicly announced at 5PM.


It was almost 3PM when we just happened to be walking by Pelosi’s office in the Capitol. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity as somebody whispered, “There’s Schiff!” And sure enough, here came an entourage including Congressmember Adam Schiff, chair of the House intelligence committee, followed closely by Jerry Nadler, chair of the House judiciary committee. Obviously both were on their way to confer with the Speaker before the 4PM meeting.

“Oh my god,” I said to no one in particular. “It’s happening!”

Within seconds, we were surrounded by TV, radio, and newspaper reporters eagerly awaiting news. Anticipation filled the hall. We all knew the three Congressmembers were talking impeachment. I could barely breathe.

Our Times guide had arranged a 3:15PM meeting with L.A. Representative Jimmy Gómez, so we quickly made our way to another part of the building. It seemed impossible that the hundreds of happy-go-lucky tourists we passed didn’t know what was happening in Pelosi’s office. Making no predictions, Gómez was clearly distressed about the decision he would soon help make, saying that this was a sad but historic day. He then left for the 4PM meeting as his aide took us down a flight of stairs that led to the back of the building.

As we were leaving, we heard a loud cheer: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, wearing a bright orange hijab, was greeted by a small, but loud, group of pro-impeachment supporters. Exiting the building, we joined the supporters for a quick photo before walking to our van. Only then did I allow myself to cry, relieved that Congress was at last moving toward impeachment. At 5PM, we listened to Pelosi’s announcement as we drove back to the hotel. A formal inquiry was finally being launched.

 View of the Capitol from the Supreme Court building

More photos of our trip follow below.

Sightseeing Washington D.C.

 Viewing the Capitol from the Newseum

We flew into National Airport late Saturday, spent the night in Crystal City, and then took the subway into D.C. on Sunday. I forgot how futuristic the subway stations are.

 Beautiful subway stations in Washington, D.C.

 Schlepping our luggage on the subway
Arriving at our hotel early, we made our way over to the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the First Amendment and a free press. Unfortunately, the building has been sold, so this was our last chance to see it. So much for celebrating freedom of the press!

Inspiring quotes on the walls

Colorful section of the Berlin Wall

The first tour with our group was Dupont Circle, our "home" neighborhood for the week. Lots of amazing homes, many of which are now embassies or museums.

Typical Gilded Age mansion

Former Walsh-McLean mansion (1903) now
serves as the Indonesian Embassy

 Former Heurich House ((1894), now the

  Lovely row houses

After dinner at the Tabard Inn (yum!), we piled into our van for an evening tour of the Washington monuments. Even if you've seen the monuments during the day, you must return at night—absolutely spectacular.


Every state represented


Ascending the stairs

"The memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever."

Lincoln's view of the Washington Monument across The National Mall