Castle of dreams

Ever since I saw an old black-and-white photo on a brochure promoting historic sites around Lake County, I’d been eager to go in search of the lost gem that was the Lucerne Hotel — sometimes referred to as “The Castle.” I’d actually built it up in my mind, certain that it was hidden away at the top of a steep, winding trail, with a breathtaking view of Clear Lake below and glamorous ghosts of the 1920s and 1930s within.

From a tourism map published in February 2005

So I was a bit shocked to realize I had actually driven past the old hotel quite a few times. Rather than high up in the Bartlett Mountains, it actually sits a mere block and a half off Highway 20, the main thoroughfare along the east shore of the lake. And while The Castle may harbor its share of ghosts, the building’s history is not nearly as glamorous as you might think. In fact, this grand structure has been the scene of more education than vacation over the years.

The original vision was appropriately extravagant for the Roaring ’20s: create a destination on the lakeshore — the village of Lucerne — and an elegant, sophisticated hotel to match. Things went pretty well, until the stock market crash in 1929; from that point on, the building suffered numerous changes of ownership and identity, with the Lucerne Hotel lasting only about a year. In 2010, Marymount College moved in; but when they shut down in 2017, The Castle was left vacant yet again.

At last, hopes were reborn in 2019, when New Paradigm College announced exciting plans to take over the property and bring it back to life. Yet again fate intervened, this time in the form of Covid-19. The college shut down in mid 2020 and now is involved in a tax dispute with the county. So the old hotel sits empty once more, an abandoned Castle — beautiful and a bit mysterious, the product of ambition and great promise, and the site of so many broken dreams.

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