Most casual pedestrians strolling through the San Francisco neighborhood of Bayview are unaware that there is 6-story castle tucked away behind a tall fence. In 1870, British immigrant John Hamlin Burnell was inspired to build a Norman-style castle in his adopted home of San Francisco. Burnell was able to start a brewery called Albion Porter and Ale in the basement of his castle thanks to a natural spring that pumped out 10,000 gallons of pristine water each day.
Albion Porter and Ale Brewery thrived until the Prohibition era, when the sale of alcohol was outlawed. John Hamlin Burnell converted his brewery into a bottled water facility which operated until 1947. Albion Castle served as Burnell’s personal residence until 1938, when sculptor Adrian Voisin purchased the property. Voisin added many flourishes including ornate wood carvings, Medieval-style stained glass adorned with owls and bighorn sheep, and a grand wooden throne toilet equipped with armrests and a stylish ashtray.
In the early 1960s, Albion Castle was nearly demolished so that a road could pass through the neighborhood where it stood. Fear of a nuclear attack ultimately saved Albion Castle because the powers that be decided that the spring beneath the property could serve as a valuable source of fresh water if San Francisco’s water supply was compromised by an atomic bomb.
Albion Castle has changed hands several times in recent decades. The castle’s current owner—retired police officer and real estate investor Bill Gilbert—has a special love for the property. San Francisco native Bill Gilbert says that it was his childhood dream to own Albion Castle. Gilbert currently rents the castle out for small, intimate events.
If you dream of visiting Albion Castle, perhaps you can convince Bill Gilbert that you will be a respectful, worthy patron as Albion Castle is not currently open to the public.