“The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame. Across Sonoma Mountain wisps of sea fog are stealing. The afternoon sun smoulders in the drowsy sky. I have everything to make me glad I am alive. I am filled with dreams and mysteries. I am all sun and air and sparkle. I am vitalized, organic.”
– Jack London
The Call of the Wild
One of the hidden gems of the Napa/Sonoma wine county in Northern California is the Wolf House. Surrounded by walnut and Eucalyptus groves, is one of the most remarkable modern ruins, that of Jack London’s home. Visiting the home is a great side trip from visiting the wineries of the Napa valley. I grew up in Northern California. Visiting the Wolf House was kind of an annual pilgrimage for me.
Jack London was one of the great American authors, his work includes: Call of the Wild, White Fang, as well as the short stories “To Build a Fire“, “An Odyssey of the North”, and “Love of Life”. He told of the rugged individual against the impossible. One of my favorite of his works is the little known “The People of the Abyss” (1903) which highlights the deplorable working conditions of turn of the century London.
The Wolf House
“Jack and his second wife Charmian’s dream home was planned even before their marriage. Actual work on it began April 1911. Albert Farr of San Francisco was the architect who transferred Jack’s ideas into blueprints. For earthquake protection, the building was put on a huge floating slab large enough to support a forty-story building. Redwood trees, fully clothed in their own bark, deep chocolate-maroon volcanic rocks, blue slate, boulders and cement were chosen for primary building materials. The roof was of Spanish tile and came from the N. Clark and Sons Pottery, built on the old Davenport place in Alameda. Large redwood trees, with the bark still intact, formed the carriage entrance, the pergolas, and porches. The rafters were of rough-hewn, natural logs. Tree trunks in the gables and balconies were interlaced with fruit twigs for a beautiful effect.”
“Wolf House was not a castle in any sense of the term, though Jack and others referred to it as that. It was big, unpretentious, open, natural, and inviting, just like its builder. It was designed as a busy author’s workshop, and as a home big enough for the many needs of the Londons, and for the entertainment of their friends.
Jack’s workshop was to be 19 by 40 feet with a library of the same size directly under it on the second floor, connected by a spiral staircase. Here he would have room to work and house his huge library. At the time his books were stored inaccessibly in every building on the ranch. The work area was completely secluded from the rest of the house. High on the fourth floor and directly above Charmian’s apartment Jack’s sleeping quarters perched like an eagle’s nest.
The 18 by 58 foot living room was two stories high with rough redwood balconies extending three-fourths of the way around. A huge stone fireplace and open ceiling rafters made a cozy nook of the huge room. One large alcove in the room was designed for Charmian’s beautiful Steinway grand.
Wolf House had its own hot water, laundry, heating, electric lighting, vacuum and refrigerating plants, a milk room, storeroom, root cellar, and wine cellar.” http://www.jacklondons.net/house.html
In the Area
Once you finish exploring the ruins and the visitor center, take a short hike…roughly a half a mile on the Wolf House Trail leading from the parking lot. Along the trail is a tall pine tree enclosed by a picket fence. It is here you will find two wood hewn markers-marking two pioneer children’s graves: “little Lilly and Little David”. London’s ashes were spread over the small knoll in the distance.
“It should be thought of, that house, in relation to Jack, not a mansion, but a big cabin, a lofty lodge, a hospitable teepee, where he…could stretch and beam upon you and me and all the world that gathered by his log fires.”
– Charmian Kittredge London
From the south, take Highway 101 or Interstate 80 to Highway 37, toward Sonoma; go north on Highway 12/121 to Sonoma. From there, take Highway 12 north eight miles to Madrone Road; turn left. After a mile, turn right on Arnold Drive; after two miles, turn left on London Ranch Road, which ends at the park. From the north, from Highway 101 in Santa Rosa, go east 15 miles on Highway 12 to the Glen Ellen turnoff onto Arnold Drive. After one mile on Arnold Drive turn right onto London Ranch Road.