Johnson and Scotty Build a Castle

Cocept drawing for Albert Johnson's Death Valley Ranch
Concept drawing for Albert Johnson's Death Valley Ranch.

Over the next ten winters, Albert Johnson often returned to Death Valley. His wife, Bessie Penniman Johnson, began to accompany him and Scotty on their desert expeditions. Mrs. Johnson suggested that they build something more comfortable for their vacations, so as to "get away from the rattlesnakes and scorpions." This idea led to the construction of the Death Valley Ranch in the 1920's

Early construction consisted of only box-like structures, which at the time were better than the canvas tents that Mrs. Johnson had been staying in. Later, after the concept plan was decided on, Death Valley Ranch began to take on some of its Spanish-Mediterranean design features.

Recognizing a good story, Scotty told everyone that he was building the two million dollar home with profits from his gold mine. When questioned by the droves of reporters who visited, Mr. Johnson agreed that Scotty owned the place, and simply said that he was "Scotty's banker." Construction was halted in 1931 when Mr. Johnson discovered that due to a surveying error, he was building his castle on federal land. The Great Depression was beginning to take hold and construction on the Castle was never restarted. Today the Castle remains as Albert left it - incomplete.


Towards the end of the Great Depression, the Johnsons retired to Hollywood and often visited the Castle, which had become a popular hotel and tourist attraction due to the fame of Death Valley Scotty. Thousands of tourists, along with Hollywood movie stars and reporters from around the country, flocked to the Castle each year to see what they thought would be the dwelling of one of the world's richest gold miners.

The Johnsons died in the 1940's, and having no heirs, willed the Castle to a charitable organization called the Gospel Foundation of California. The Foundation continued to run the Castle hotel and tours, and also took care of Scotty, who lived in the Castle the last two years of his life. He died in 1954, and was laid to rest on a hill overlooking the famous home that now bears his name.

In 1970, the Gospel Foundation sold the estate to the National Park Service, whose job is to protect and preserve the Castle for present and future generations to enjoy. Perhaps Death Valley Scotty had that in mind when he proclaimed:

"The Hall of Fame is going up. We're building a Castle that will last at least a thousand years. As long as there's men on earth, likely, these walls will stand here."


Last updated: February 28, 2015

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