FRESNO — Todd Friesen has turned his childhood pastime into an adult occupation.
The only child of a family raised on a ranch near this Central California city, he recalls spending "almost all of my summers" as a youth building sand castles along ditch banks.
These were not the typical muddy mounds created by most children. These were exercises in architectural fantasy modeled after pictures of medieval fortresses built by European and Asian warlords.
Career Is Born
Friesen, who has yet to see a real castle, now makes a living building them three feet high of multicolored concrete. Buyers place them in gardens, along hot tubs and pools, on rock outcroppings at beachfront cottages and even in the pool for underwater playgrounds.
"In my opinion, nothing in life except for a castle or maybe a pyramid is everlasting," Friesen says.
"I build castles like people originally did: for a place of solitude, a stronghold, something to hold your life and your most treasured thoughts forever. I couldn't ask for any more in life than a chance to do this."
As a teen-ager, Friesen began building his castles with concrete, imitating his father's own cement work on the ranch.
He wanted his fantasies to last longer than just those summers.
Two of his castles at the base of an old concrete footbridge across a creek still stand after more than a decade. Many local residents bring their children to visit, most having no idea where the tiny kingdom came from.
"It was me leaving something behind, just like other kids writing their names in wet-cement sidewalks, except my sidewalk had turrets and spires and moats."
Creating ever more fanciful castles wasn't always easy. At one point, his mother suggested he find more "grown-up things" to do. So he gave up his hobby at age 15 to "be more adult," and didn't begin again until two years ago at 22.
So far, he's sold 200 castles averaging two to three feet in height, but some as large as five feet. He also built a village with a castle at one end and a cathedral surrounded by tiny shops at the other that stretches 23 feet.
"My wife and I like to collect unusual things," said Michael Weiner of Clovis, Calif., who paid Friesen to construct the village called "Austinia" around a Jacuzzi.
Friesen's castles have names: Maltravers, Arundel, Kaiveron, Mont Chillon. Most are built on granite slabs that he digs by hand from the Sierra Nevada.
Pumps circulate water through fountains into streams that meander under bridges and form lakes. Ferns and moss give a look of antiquity. Agate stones sparkle like gems in foundation walls.
Although someday he would like to build a castle large enough to house his office, he already knows in his mind what it's like to be a nobleman.
"I've been on these winding, outside staircases with the wind blowing. At night I've sat in these gazebos.
"I've been inside, clinging to the window ledge, looking out."