The Capitola City Council on Thursday released a bid to restore the new Rispin Mansion Park. For those of you who know Capitola, you’ve seen the Rispin Mansion on Wharf Road at the intersection of Clares Street. It’s just across the street from the new Capitola Library on the west bank of Sockle Creek.
You’ve probably walked past it many times and seen the aging plaster walls combined with barbed wire fences, but unsuccessfully to hide the overgrown vegetation, eucalyptus and gnarled native oaks, and The Great Gatsby era fountains the last remains. Go further and you’ll see Rispin Mansion itself, with its red shattered tile roof that looks like a mausoleum that no one particularly likes. The mansion grounds will be brought back to life by the end of 2022, including grand staircases and walkways, restored walls, sculpture gardens, native oak demonstration gardens, nature play areas, outdoor chessboard, amphitheater, monarch habitat, and many more parks facility.
The restoration of Rispin Mansion Park is designed to reflect the buildings and grounds that are part of Capitola City’s history. Reaching this point raises the question; is Rispin House’s curse finally lifted?
Many people who know the history of the Rispin Mansion believe it is cursed, causing trouble for all who try to own it. Rumor has it that the ghost lives in the mansion, so much so that it has been featured on the Ghost Hunter show. If you’re skeptical, consider this history.
Rispin Building was built in 1921 by Henry Allen Rispin. Two years ago, he bought Capitola from Katherine Cope Henderson, who inherited Capitola from her father, Frederick Hihn. Rispin did not build the mansion as a place to live, but as a showroom to attract potential investors to the Capitola site.
Shortly thereafter, Rispin was in financial trouble and abruptly disappeared from Capitola in 1929. The mansion was in foreclosure and was bought at auction by his business partner, Robert Hayes Smith. Rispin died penniless in 1947 and is believed to be buried in an unmarked grave.
Smith owned the property for many years, although he never lived there either. He himself went bankrupt and in 1940 had to sell the property to the sacrificer of St. Joseph. The mansion has been a monastery for many years, but even the nuns could not overcome the curse. They left the mansion in 1959.
In the decades since, the mansion has been abandoned and neglected. In 1985, the city of Capitola swooped in and bought the mansion and grounds for $1.35 million, about what a tiny Capitola house would cost today. Capitola used the property for SWAT team practice and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
However, the city was running out of money, so the mansion continued to deteriorate and be plagued by vandalism and graffiti. Stories of ghosts, underpasses, and secret, easy-to-talk rooms began to circulate. The latter two have been verified, but ghosts still have stories.
Capitola needed something to do with the Rispin Tower, and began approaching investors to build a boutique hotel on the site, just like Rispin himself. Almost immediately, the city was sued by a local civil protection group, concerned about the monarch butterfly’s sensitive habitat and traffic. The lawsuit was settled in 2004, resulting in conservation easements and public access easements still in place.
However, plans for a boutique hotel continue. In 2009, Capitola approved a 55-year lease to a group of developers to transform the mansion and grounds into a 25-room boutique hotel with wedding facilities. An ambitious plan was soon thwarted by more lawsuits to protect the easement, further delaying the project. The developer lost the case in court, but went ahead with construction of the hotel. In 2010, on the cusp of starting construction, a fire broke out in the mansion that destroyed much of the interior.
The developer was forced to abandon the boutique hotel and the city government terminated the lease agreement. Capitola City Council struggled for two years to figure out what to do with the Rispin Building. There is even the idea of tearing down the mansion. But the demolition cost as much as trying to preserve it, and it’s still on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result, the city spent $649,000 on structural repairs and buried the mansion in 2012. Today it sits there, time frozen.
After that tormented history, Rispin Mansion Park is finally reviving this year. So, does this mean that the curse of Rispin House has finally been lifted? hope so. However, keep in mind that only the venue is being refurbished. The mansion still exists, and Capitola currently has no funding or plans for the monumental project. There is more to be done, and more obstacles to overcome.
By the way, I keep calling this Rispin Mansion Park. However, it was recently revealed that since Rispin’s pact has a racial pact, it should not be named after him. The Capitola City Council decided last year that the property currently has no official name. So you can call it whatever you want. Perhaps, the curse still exists.
Sam Storey is the mayor of Capitola.