Ruins of Jack London's Wolf House

The House That Jack Built

Photo of Wolf House on fire

Everyone agreed that rock and concrete, massive beams and redwood logs with the bark on, were practically fireproof unless ignited in a dozen places, owing to the quadrangular construction and cement partitions. Nevertheless, three nights later, August 22, the entire inflammable part of the high stone shell was destroyed. I was awakened by voices from Jack's porch. Tiptoeing out, I saw Eliza, by his bedside, point in the direction of the Wolf House half a mile away, where flames and smoke rose straight into the windless, star-drifted sky.

Source: London, Charmian. The Book of Jack London (Century 1921).

Photos of Wolf House Ruins

red marble gifPhoto 1 – Reflection Poolred marble gifPhoto 5 – Exterior Front View
red marble gifPhoto 2 – Chimneys & Fireplacesred marble gifPhoto 6 – Walls & Arches
red marble gifPhoto 3 – Chimney & Fireplacered marble gifPhoto 7 – Walls & Arches
red marble gifPhoto 4 – Interior of Ruinsred marble gifPhoto 8 – Courtyard & Pool

It took more than two years to build Wolf House. By August 1913, London had spent approximately $80,000 (pre World War I dollars). At the height of construction, some 30 workers were employed on the house. Just days before Jack and Charmian were ready to move into their new home, a fire of unknown origin gutted the house, leaving only the rock walls and chimneys.

"Why don't you cry, or get excited, or something, you two?" asked a neighbor. "You don't seem to realize what's happened to you!"

"What's the use?" Jack repeated his thought. "It won't rebuild the house. ... Though it can be rebuilt!" he swore cheerfully, purpose in his eye.

Yes, Jack laughed and bouyed up the spirits of the Ranch while his dream castle ascended in lurid smoke that hot August night. But when at four in the dawn, the tension relaxed, and uppermost in his mind loomed the wicked, cruel, senseless destruction of the only home he had ever made for himself, he lay in my pitying arms and shook like a child. After a few moments he stilled, and said:

"It isn't the money loss ... though that is grave enough just at this time. The main hurt comes from the wanton despoiling of so much beauty."

Source: London, Charmian The Book of Jack London (Century 1921)

Was Wolf House arson or accident??
The fire . . . was it set deliberately? Through the years many stories have grown up about the fire. The building superintendent, Mr. Forni, believed it was a simple case of spontaneous combustion started by oily rags carelessly thrown in a corner by one of the workmen. According to Forni, the men were wiping everything down with turpentine. It is also logical to assume that they were using linseed oil. The workmen were careless, for they too believed the building to be fireproof. Despite Forni's pleading, they were throwing their oily rags on the floor to be used again the next day. Only there was no next day this time.
Source: Kingman, Russ. A Pictorial Biography of Jack London (Crown 1979).
Note: A team of ten experts in fire investigation headed by Bob Anderson, a retired San Jose State University professor and California forensic expert, met in Glen Ellen in May 1995 and spent four days going through the Wolf House ruins and as a result of this investigation, it was concluded that a very high probability existed that the Wolf House fire was accidental and caused by spontaneous combustion; substantiating the building superintendent, Mr. Forni's claim of oily rags being the cause.

Read an article by author of many books on Western history, Dale L. Walker Wolf House Burning

London Trivia
Where was Jack London born?
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