One of the most unusual homes ever constructed in the beach communities of the South Bay was a home constructed entirely of driftwood by a local “hermit” on the beach at the southern end of Torrance Beach. The home was constructed by Louis C. Dart during the period from September 1919 to 1925 , according to articles published from 1920 to 1922, and was known as both the “Flotsam Castle” as well as the “Hermit’s Castle”. An early picture provided by Jerry Tomlinson, below, of a very early picture of the Castle was estimated, however, to be in approx. 1910 to 1911.
Oliver, grandfather of Jerry Tomlinson, on the left ,later to become Mayor of Redondo Beach, and the father of Jerry as a young boy to the right of Louis Dart in the center
Following is a somewhat later picture of an early version of the Florsam Castle with a balcony added:
Louis was an attorney by training who practiced in western Nebraska. After having lost his voice by too many years of “lawyering” and having suffered from kidney disease and other intestinal ailments, like many others at the time, moved to Southern California to try and regain his health. After working at several jobs at local ranchos, he went to the shoreline just south of the area known as Clifton-by-the-sea in Redondo Beach below the area later developed as Hollywood Riviera. There he found an old tent, and exhausted and deathly ill, stayed to die.
Soon after, an old Mexican woman told him that the waters of the fresh water spring at the base of the cliff bluffs had healing powers. For a month, he lived only on the spring water. He then found some wild tomatoes at the top of the bluffs and lived for quite a while only on a broth of tomatoes and snails. Over that time, he miraculously regained his health and began to build his castle from driftwood and other materials he found on the beach. The port of Redondo was very active transporting materials, some of which found their way overboard drifting to shore. Louis stated that he only spent 20 cents on nails for an emergency and that all of the other materials were delivered to him by “Neptune’s White Horses”.
Flotsam Castle in early 1920's
On Thanksgiving in 1920, a 45 foot yacht named “Genevieve” moored just offshore, and winds that night broke her moorings and dashed the yacht on the rocks on the beach. The owners of the yacht paid Louis $5 to watch over the yacht overnight and then offered numerous items to him for helping them salvage the remains of the yacht. Many of these items found their way into the castle including an old galley stove whose remains slowly washed up on the shore over a two year period.
Louis expanded the castle over the next several years finally reaching 4 stories in height. An old sign hung over the entrance reading “This building cost but little money but much work without which life affords no satisfying kick”. Another sign read “My family-outside its appetite-is not so very big-Just a brindle Thomas cat and a black-nosed guinea pig”. Over the years, the castle became popular with visitors and Louis raised money by selling soft drinks (cooled by a cooler fed by the spring), cigarettes, candy, and even started to bake and sell thousands of pies.
Flotsam Castle 1924
Several other drift-wood homes were also built south of Louis’ castle during the 1920’s, with one referred to as a "Japanese fishing shack". After abandoning the castle sometime after 1925 and moving to Riverside, the developers of the Hollywood Riviera project burned the house down in May 1930. Louis Dart died on March 3, 1932.
For more local history, go to www.southbayhistory.com
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