Unique history preserved at the Rubel Castle through off-beat architecture

Sarah Van Buskirk

Snug up against the foothills, in the middle of suburban neighborhoods, the cobblestone Rubel Castle, operated by the Glendora Historical Society, continues to carry on one man’s dream of never growing up by offering tours.

 The tours educate those about the out of the ordinary history that is so deeply rooted within the property, deriving from the late Michael Rubel’s legacy. 

Located on 844 N. Live Oak Ave. in Glendora, the castle’s history started in 1959 but the  grounds have a much greater past. According to the Glendora Historical Society, the Rubel Castle Historic District was once a territory of the Indigenous Tongva, Kizh and Gabrieliño Nations.

As a child, Rubel’s father died and his mother felt as if she could not help raise Rubel and his siblings. With that, Rubel raised himself in the 1930s and grew up running around two and a half acre-long orange orchards owned by Arthur Bourne, co-founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, prior to Rubel’s ownership. Rubel would make forts out of the dead orange trees that left openings throughout the groves. His love for making forts, like any child, blossomed into a reality. 

During the 1950s, the development of track homes began in the area and the orange trees were torn down. Rubel told Bourne how much he had loved the orchards during his childhood and asked if he could have them. Easy enough, Bourne said yes and gave Rubel the plot of land along with a two million gallon reservoir that was in the middle of it all.

With the help of Rubel’s many friends from the surrounding colleges, they created the castle monument that got listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Through the main entrance gate, there are chickens to greet the farm-like environment that the remaining citrus trees and community garden hold. Vintage ‘Sunkist Grower’ signs are scattered along the property with many other matured artifacts like rusted trucks, tractors, wheelbarrows, pitchforks, pots, and metal works with intricate designs. 

Across from the medieval drawbridge that grants access into the inner workings of the castle is where the community garden, cemetery, and train caboose reside.

The large red caboose was a gift to Rubel. The original owner lived in San Dimas and the city thought it was unsightly and wished to get rid of it so Rubel, again, asked if he could have it and just like that it was his. 

There are 10 people that live on the property and pay $1,200 a month for rent which includes free utilities to the Glendora Historical Society. The residents are allowed to host guests in the caboose for three nights at a time. With a quick walk through the train, a guest book to the left sits on one of the tables with signatures dating back to 1998. 

Kiera Vermillion, senior at Glendora High School who was on the tour for her senior project, said she was fascinated by the fact that people live in the castle.

“I learned that Michael was a really ambitious man and made a lot of cool things for the people around him,” Vermillion said.

Hospitality at the Rubel Castle has not yet faded as 85-year-old tour guide Richard Macy has been preserving the stories of the Rubel Castle for over 30 years. He shared memories he had with Rubel as they were good friends. Macy’s youthful spirit created a fun and engaging atmosphere during the tour and at times he could not finish a story about Rubel due to laughter. 

Macy said that almost everything that makes up the castle was gifted to Rubel and said Rubel felt lucky and grateful for it. 

“He never had to buy anything,” Macy said. “And since he passed, a lot of the wealthy people in town give us hundred thousand grants so we have replaced all the gas lines, electricity, and put a sewer line in, so we’ve been lucky too.”

After learning about the outskirts of the castle, the tour made headway towards a small door frame leading into a cooler underground room that Rubel called his “dungeon.” It was originally a place to store food for the tenants in the past. However, today it is used as a game room for the residents which includes a pool table, 8-bit pinball machine, and an Atari. It also has a dumbwaiter, a small freight elevator that would carry food, that still operates and Macy said he would ride it as a child.

The dumbwaiter leads up to the next story which is the kitchen, still used today by residents where they gather to throw parties. 

Belle Phillips, a Glendora resident who was on the tour with her husband, came to the castle as a date idea for the two of them while learning about the antiquity of their town.

“My favorite part was the knights at the round table in the kitchen, all the stumps with the leather on them,” Phillips said. “I like how it’s so put together but it didn’t have any real plans, it just became this denomination of cool things and cool place to gather.”

Parties are also a tradition that the Rubel Castle has continued on as Rubel’s mother and himself would throw great parties on the property. 

Lots of global inspiration has made its way to the castle and on many parts of the castle’s six-feet thick exterior, there are random trinkets integrated throughout the cobblestone. Glass bottles from all of the parties thrown gave an Italian catacomb vibe to the castle and were working concurrently with the cobblestone to aid the infrastructure. From gloves to bicycle wheels, atypical objects fused within the walls added a funky flare in remembrance of Rubel’s personality. 

Inspiration stemming from Big Ben in London, which Rubel saw in person, allowed him to create a similar large clock that hangs up next to the fire-roasted blacksmith’s area. The clock ticks its long metal spokes in relation to two historic bell towers that ring on the hour with a whistle at noon. These bell towers are led by spiral staircases that aesthetically work well with the ancient European feel the castle gives off. 

At the end of the tour, the gift shop was opened and displayed merchandise ranging from postcards to pins to coffee mugs in support of the Rubel Castle and Glendora Historical Society. Within the same room of the gift shop are bedroom quarters that exhibit antique pieces that were once functioning in the castle.

To top it all off, the tour exited through an escape route that was one of the priorities when Rubel was building the structure because every castle needs an escape route. 

Aidan Campbell, freshman at Citrus College, who was on the tour, looked up fun things to do near him and the Rubel Castle was number one on the list.

“Whether you live in Glendora or not, it is a cool place to visit because it is a piece of its history and not a lot of these places are around anymore,” Campbell said.

To schedule a tour at Rubel Castle, visit glendorahistoricalsociety.org/castle/castle-tour.

Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at sarah.vanbuskirk@laverne.edu.

Sarah Van Buskirk is a senior journalism major with a concentration in print and online journalism. She is the Spring 2024 editorial director for the Campus Times and has recently served as editor-in-chief, sports editor and staff writer. She is also currently a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine, and a staff writer for La Verne Magazine.

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