Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Building of the Week: The Winchester “Mystery” House , San Jose, California
From the outside, this looks just like a normal Victorian Mansion—beautifully painted and meticulously maintained. However, once inside, visitors immediately realize that the house is a peculiar labyrinth—a maze of corridors that end abruptly, staircases that hit the ceiling with no access to the next floor, doors that open into tiled walls, and worse still, doors the open onto thirty-foot drops. Architecturally bizarre, the scale of the structure is off. For example, one staircase—called the Switchback Staircase—climbs seven flights and features forty-four steps. You’d think that would lead to a great height. But, no. The staircase only rises nine feet. You see, the risers are only two inches tall.
The house was built ceaselessly for thirty-eight years from 1884 until Mrs. Winchester’s death in 1922. She insisted that work never stop. At one point, the Winchester House reached seven stories in height, however, in 1906, an earthquake destroyed that portion of the mansion. Today, it stands at a proud four stories. Why did Sarah Winchester insist that the house always be in a state of construction? Many people have some theories about that.
Mrs. Winchester was also obsessed with the number thirteen. The drains all have thirteen holes, the stained glass windows feature thirteen colored stones, coat hooks line up—thirteen in a row. She even went as far as to have an opulent antique chandelier altered so that it would have thirteen arms instead of twelve. In Mrs. Winchester’s honor, a large topiary sculpture of the number thirteen stands outside the mansion, and, on every Friday the Thirteenth, the bell in the clock tower is chimed thirteen times at 1:00 PM (13:00 hours).