Why this Silicon Valley house was built so oddly is a mystery.
Hidden off busy Interstate 280, mere miles from Googleplex and Yahoo!’s HQ, is another kind of forward-thinking plex—or at least it was when it was being built in the post-Gold Rush era: Winchester Mystery House. Sarah Pardee Winchester was the woman behind it. A native of New Haven, the socialite married William Winchester (of Winchester rifle fame) in 1862; and, when he died, inherited what amounted to a $7,000 trust-fund payout… weekly.
What to do with the cash from her angel investor? Go west and build, or so said a psychic Winchester consulted. If ever she ceased construction, said the psychic, ghosts would take her life.
Today, a 65-minute tour ushers visitors past 110 of the 160 rooms in a layout so puzzling that it illustrates just how seriously Winchester took the advice. She designed the Victorian house herself, leading a team of carpenters through 38 years of renovations, until her death in 1922. The result is eclectic: cupboards opening to walls, staircases leading to the ceiling, a window in the floor, and an interior door opening directly outside—four stories up.
But there’s beauty, too: parquet floors; walls of mahogany, rosewood, and teak; and Tiffany glass windows, one expressly designed to her specs calling for 13 colored accents, in honor of her favorite number. The number recurs in the grand ballroom, where an extra gas-lit candle is added haphazardly to the center of the German-made chandelier, for a total of 13.
Whatever made her do it, kids, ghost hunters, and architecture buffs should be satisfied by creepy tales and weird trap-like doors. There’s also a gun museum and a garden.
All images copyright Winchester Mystery House