National Register of Historic Places in Santa Cruz County
In 1919, Henry Allen Rispin, an oil baron from San Francisco, bought the entire resort town of Camp Capitola from the daughter of the late Frederick Hihn. Rispin renamed the town Capitola-by-the-Sea in the French fashion to lure San Francisco society to his planned Riviera of the New World.
Rispin built his mansion in 1921 on the right bank of Soquel Creek across from the Old Riverview neighborhood. He subdivided his property to sell residential lots where many new cottages were built. He was instrumental in the creation of the Venetian Courts, the first coastal condominium in California.
When Rispin lost his fortune in 1929, he was forced to sell the property at auction. It was purchased by Robert Hays Smith, who never lived in the mansion but sold it to the Catholic Order the Oblates of St. Joseph. The Order used it as a convent until 1957.
Rispin died penniless in 1947 and is believed to be buried in an unmarked grave.
The mansion has been vacant since the nuns left.
When the property was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, the nomination noted that vandals had stripped off or otherwise destroyed interior features and the grounds were overgrown with poison oak, weeds, berry bushes and other vegetation.
As with all deserted ruins, tales were told. Voices calling from the basement. A woman walking the top floor. Illegal activities during Prohibition. Hippie squatters in the 1960s. Secret rooms. False doors.
The city of Capitola, which has owned the property since the 1980s, made unsuccessful efforts to develop it as a commercial hotel. In 2009, the mansion was damaged by a fire. In 2011, Capitola abandoned plans for development and entombed the building by reconstructing the roof and floor and closing all openings to prevent further vandalism.
The grounds are being developed as a public park.
Adapted in from the NRHP nomination submitted in 1991 and the Santa Cruz Sentinel.