Stories about the creepy old mansion can’t compare to the strange-but-true eccentricities of the man that built it.

Capitola, California - For all its claims to weirdness, Santa Cruz has nothing that can compare to the creepy strange-but-true eccentricities of Capitola’s Rispin Mansion.

To look at the history of the famous old gone-to-seed eyesore, damaged by fire , is to walk a gauntlet of bizarre ironies. The rumors that the place is haunted turns out to be the least interesting part of its story.

“The actual history of it is much more intriguing than anything that has been made up about it,” said Capitola historian Carolyn Swift who may know more about the Rispin than anyone alive.

It is, for instance, named for a wealthy real-estate baron who died penniless and is buried in an unmarked “paupers” grave in San Francisco.

It is the former home of a group of hippie squatters and a convent of nuns. The nuns abandoned the place because it was too cold and too much of a curiosity to the locals.

It’s been officially vacant for half a century.

The four-story, 22-room mansion’s sad history is an eerie reflection of the sad history of the man who built it. Henry Allen Rispin, a Canadian by birth who married the daughter of a railroad tycoon, purchased the resort that is today Capitola Village in 1919, and built the ornate mansion two years later.

Rispin’s purpose was not to live there, but to use it as a show palace for those who might be interested in investing in Capitola. But, said Swift, he was a not an attentive landowner.

He neglected the water and sewage systems, and never paid for police or fire protection. Rispin slowly divested of his holdings and, 10 years later, he sold the mansion and was gone.

“He did not make friends with the locals,” said Swift. “Nobody knew anything about him.”

Swift said that many of the more outlandish rumors about Rispin - namely that he was a rum-runner in the days of prohibition and operated his illegal activities out of the mansion - may have been invented by locals irate at the landowner’s behavior.

“He fell quite a ways,” said Swift in reference to Rispin’s fortunes after he first built the Mansion. She said that Rispin was spotted just a few years later - in 1936 - asking acquaintances for money.

The Mansion fell into the hands of another Bay Area speculator, Robert Hays Smith, a former business partner of Rispin. But Smith was an absentee landowner who did nothing with the mansion either. Eventually it was sold to the Catholic order the Oblates of St. Joseph which used it as a convent until 1957.

“The nuns moved out because it was just too cold,” said Swift. “They didn’t wear shoes. They wore open-toed sandals. They had taken a vow of poverty, so they didn’t have a lot of ways to stay warm. Plus, they were upset at the fact that everyone kept looking into their windows.”

Since the convent closed, the Rispin Mansion has been an object of fascination for Capitola residents.

“It’s been a rite of teenage-hood for generations to break into the Rispin Mansion,” said Swift.

The place has been subject to everything from illegal squatting to vandalism to graffiti over the years, and it’s been the setting for many a ghost story.

However, Swift, who manages the Capitola Historical Museum, said that she had never heard a ghost story associated with the mansion until after 2000.

“I think it’s only been in the last few years that people have become increasingly interested in it in terms of the supernatural,” she said. “I’ve talked to people who flat-out insist that there are ghosts in there. Now, there have probably been a lot of bizarre things that have happened there. Who knows what the hippies did in the ‘60s? And the police had a SWAT team there doing drills. But once you open the door to stories of ghosts, then you make up just about anything.”

Images: The Rispin Mansion was built in 1921 by wealthy real-estate baron Henry Allen Rispin, who died penniless and is buried in an unmarked paupers grave in San Francisco

Author: Wallace Baine

Source -
You know you did it! It was a right of passage in my time!Henry Allen Rispin, a large Capitola land owner and businessman purchased the land the encompassed most of the City of Capitola in 1919, with plans to sell properties to Bay Area Residents for summer homes. It was this purchase and later subdivisions and sales that created Camp Capitola and established the fundamental beach cottage nature of what is now the City of Capitola. The Rispin Mansion was built in 1922, as both a residence and a site to entertain potential buyers. The Mansion consists of four stories and 22 rooms totaling approximately, 7,106 square feet, and is designed in a combination of Mission, Spanish Colonial, and Mediterranean architecture styles.

Mr. Rispin overextended himself and was forced to sell the property to Burlingame millionaire Robert Hayes Smith, in 1929. Smith suffered bankruptcy in 1936 and his Capitola holdings were liquidated. Rispin Mansion remained empty until 1941 when it was acquired by the Oblates of St. Joseph’s for use by the Order of Poor Clares. The Cloistered order of nuns added a chapel and another residential building. The nuns remained in Capitola until they moved to another site in Aptos in 1959. A group of investors then acquired the Rispin estate. In the 1960s, a caretaker lived in a residence on the property, while transients periodically occupied the mansion. Over time, the interior of the property was destroyed by vandals.