High on a hillside overlooking San Juan Capistrano, a massive gray castle rises up out of the earth like a figment from a Grimm's fairy tale.
With its steep pitched roof, fanciful turrets, imposing stone facade and towering chimneys, the castle bespeaks of medieval times, of knights on white horses and damsels in distress. One half expects to see Rapunzel reposing in one of the towers.
Dubbed the Wish Chateau after its owners, Bob and Erin Wish, the castle stands out as an extravagant example of Old World architecture imported into the very new world of Orange County: the French chateau.
Never mind that this is Southern California, not the hinterlands of France, or that the year is 1989, not 1789. To those who can afford it, a man's home truly is his castle.
In upscale neighborhoods such as Peppertree Bend in San Juan Capistrano and Nellie Gail Ranch in Laguna Hills, they're building mansions that are the stuff of storybooks.
"It's the kind of house you fantasize about when you're a child, and when you can afford the ultimate," says Marsh Burns, a real estate broker who lives and sells homes in Nellie Gail.
While most buyers of larger homes favor Mediterranean-style mansions, architects and real estate agents say an occasional client wants a home fit for a king. They want the towers, the spirals, the moldings and all the castle trimmings.
"A lot of people want something that stands out and looks different," says Susan Forrest, a real estate agent in South County who has sold several French chateaus in the Nellie Gail area.
The chateaus have proven most popular with her clients from the East Coast, where the French-country style is found only in sprawling, multimillion-dollar estates, Forrest says. In Southern California, where there are few sprawling areas left, they can buy a mini-castle in the $800,000- to $1-million range.
"I've even found a couple of tract areas in Laguna Niguel that have taken on the French Normandy look," Forrest says.
Few homes so closely resemble a storybook castle as the Wish Chateau.
"We wanted a French chateau with a castle look," Erin Wish says. "Everyone has the (Mediterranean-style) villa. This is unique. It's not the same old thing."
The 15,000-square-foot mansion has everything but a drawbridge and a moat filled with alligators (instead there are two electronically controlled security gates and mounted video cameras).
"It's fantasy land," says Duncan DeLapp, president of DeLapp Development Corp. in Laguna Hills, which built the chateau.
Those admitted through the iron gates and up the winding drive will find themselves at the door of Orange County's other magic kingdom.
Guests walk up stone steps flanked on either side by man-made ponds that surround the front and back of the castle. Once through the stone archway and double mahogany doors, they find an entryway laid with cream-colored marble and a dual staircase with hand-carved oak railings glazed and polished to look like walnut.
Atop the stairs, dangling from one of the castle domes, is a brass chandelier from which cherubs look down--a piece that once hung in the bedroom of Evita Peron. If only angels could speak.
The castle has 10 bedrooms and 13 baths, including a master suite with adjoining turret that has built-in bookshelves, a wet bar and a fireplace adorned with a marble carving of a swan. The master bath features a round Roman tub accented by Grecian columns and a shower that has a marble ledge that could comfortably seat six.
Everything here is built to epic proportions. The "great room," so named because of its size, can accommodate 200 guests for a sit-down dinner--a setting fit for King Arthur and his court. There is a fireplace large enough to stand in, a bar carved out of oak and heavy wood beams that fan out across the ceiling. The Wishes have used the room for entertaining large groups, including about 200 people who attended a black-tie Christmas party.
Hand-carved crown molding and display niches adorn the walls of each room in the Wish Chateau.
Old World trinkets have been placed throughout the house: a gilded antique clock, candelabra purchased at a Paris flea market and a medieval-style fresco by Laguna Beach artist Marianna Redwine.
The Wishes, owners and co-owners of several development companies, oversaw the development of the castle--which they believe is worth $7.5 million today--and Duncan DeLapp's company spent two years building it.
"It was quite a challenge," DeLapp says. "Not too many people know how to build a castle."
A company in Chicago designed and carved the crown moldings that border the upper walls of the rooms. A Los Angeles firm made the oak bookshelves in the library, the railings along the stairs and the master suite's oak bed, which has a swan carved into each post. The gray slate used on the castle roof had to be imported from China and took six months to reach the site.