Lost California: Lake Elsinore

By Michael Satterfield

Saying the name Lake Elsinore or The Inland Empire to most Southern Californians generates a smirk and some deprecating statement about drugs or gang violence… both issues that have obviously been eradicated in utter utopias like Santa Ana and Los Angeles. To many on the West Side (of Los Angeles), the Inland Empire is envisioned as some faraway backwater with hill people battling in some Mad Max kind of lifestyle. But, Lake Elsinore is just one 40-mile mountain road away from Orange County’s most elite communities and was once a hotspot for California's rich and famous. It is also full of unique and outstanding architecture from the late 1880s-1940s.

Lake Elsinore Naval Academy in the 1930s
Naval Academy Today 

The city of Lake Elsinore is named after the Danish city in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the 1920’s the lake became popular with Southern California’s elite many of them purchasing vacation homes in the area, being far enough away from Los Angeles but still within a day’s drive or a short flight on a seaplane.

The Country Club Heights district was known for its opulent “Castles” including the Bredlau Castle, built in 1926. The home was 9,000 square feet including hidden rooms used during Prohibition. Aimee Semple McPherson, a well-known evangelist of the 1920s and ’30s lived in "Aimee’s Castle". The 5,000 square foot Moorish Revival is rumored to be owned by actor Johnny Depp, however, we cannot confirm or deny that speculation.

Another building from that golden era of architecture is the Elsinore Naval and Military School, the Spanish Style mansion was built in 1923 as a luxury hotel and resort, sitting on over 40 acres with hundreds of feet of private beach it was an ideal resort. The hotel went bankrupt in 1933, leading to the sale to a Major Glen Conklin who turned it into a military academy. The school quickly became one of the most sought-after schools in the country the school was popular with the movie stars and business elite in Los Angeles that would drop their sons off for a well-rounded and disciplined education.

The Clevelin Country Club sometime in the 1930's
Today the dirt has overgrown the tennis and racket ball courts, the pool is full of garbage, a fence surrounds the property to the water’s edge with large no trespassing signs, attempting to keep the vandals from defacing or burning it down. A real fear, as an in 2001 the Clevelin Country Club was burned to the ground by an arsonist.