There are two reasons to build your house in the dead of night illuminated only by a small lantern and the moon.
Reason one: You are a believer in Eastern mythology and Occult spiritualism building a mysterious and cryptic brick building modeled on a Hindi temple and covered in five-pointed stars and arcane patterns. The light of the moon bathes the structure in unseen power, forging a connection to planes of existence beyond space and time.
Reason two: You are a bricklayer from Pennsylvania working in Santa Cruz in the 1930s and you would rather not deal with inspectors or building permits.
These reasons are not mutually exclusive.
Built by Kenneth Kitchen, who also went by Claire, Clarke and Clarence, the abandoned house at 519 Fair Ave is known by all in the area as the “Court of Mysteries.” It is unclear if the builder Kenneth Kitchen ever called it by that name. Kenneth and his brother Raymond were a bricklayer and a mason respectively, and they built numerous homes around Santa Cruz. They worked together, though they are rumored to have quarreled often and were seen fist-fighting in the streets of Santa Cruz on more than one occasion.
After a decade of building homes, Kenneth bought his own property in then-sleepy Santa Cruz, raised goats on it (and sold their dairy products) and began building his unusual home. Kenneth is said to have hauled all the bricks himself in the back of a fancy car, and built the home modeled after a Yogi temple. Today it is particularly the gateway with its two towers and archway which inspires so much curiosity.
Known as the “Gate of Prophesy” it once held windows through which the sun would stream, and which were lit at night. Though the windows are long gone it still holds a mysterious triangular relief, which some believe is meant to align with the temple’s chimney, before a great catastrophe or even apocalypse. The well house on the property, described as crypt-like, was also once surrounded by four minarets which were smashed by sledge hammer in the 1990s. There are tales that the house, now empty except for a coating of graffiti, once held shells decorated with astrological symbols. There are hidden symbols and messages on the outside and inside of the main building in addition to the well building and on the main entrance, such as triangles and morse-code style dashes and dots.
Even stranger is the story that during WWII, Kenneth erected a “submarine stopping device,” in his yard – not a particularly crazy idea, since 10 ships on the coast of Santa Cruz were attacked by Japanese submarines and six people killed – built out of a large metal wheel with the electronics held in the well house. According to one source (an unnamed interviewee in the oft-cited The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture), the device actually worked and caused problems for the US Navy.
Kenneth left Santa Cruz in 1957, and his path after that is lost to history. Local historians have traced all of his relatives, but after 1957, Kenneth, aka Claire, Clarke and Clarence Kitchen vanished from historical record. After his disappearance the house was briefly turned into a Greek Church earning the nickname the “Unorthodox Chapel.” It has been abandoned since the 1990s. Kenneth is said to have died three separate times, which may have contributed to his fascination with occult sciences, symbology and numerology.
While the home is the subject of many rumors, the truth is little is known about exactly why Kenneth built it in the way he did. He was said to have learned his trade during WWI in Turkey so there is speculation that he also picked up some Eastern and Occult religious ideas while he was there. (If he was there at all.)
Regardless, today the “Court of Mysteries” stands out from its suburban neighbors, giving generation after generation of curious Santa Cruz teenagers a starting place for tall tales and mystic revelations.
Update February 2016: This historic landmark property was purchased. The new owners are working with the city of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Historic Preservation Committee to develop a personal family compound and restore and repair the landmark artifacts. The new owners are an artist and a writer who are looking forward to returning to Santa Cruz and making this unique property their primary residence.
Update September 2017: There is now a caretaker living on site at the property, and engaged in some repairs. He confirmed that the property now belongs to a small local development company that is hoping to restore the building and add a second story the the main building. He suspects the brothers built at least one level beneath the ground floor, and that they are working with structural architects and engineers to determine the best method to handle the restoration and excavation, with a target of late 2018 to physically start the work.
Know Before You Go
This is a "drive by" type of visit. There is no public access to the property but plenty of street parking if you want to stand on the sidewalk to view it. If you go by during the day, you may be able to speak with the caretaker, who lives on the premises.