OC Historic Curator Purchases Historic Seal Beach Water Tower
Many Orange County residents have seen the historic Seal Beach Water Tower from afar, but when the details of the landmark are examined more closely, it tells the story of its varied past.
The 87-foot-tall structure at 1 Anderson St. was built in 1892, and that year is etched on the front door along with the years 1940, 1985, and 2016.
“It was built by the Southern Pacific Railroad to supply water for steam engines coming from Santa Barbara to San Diego,” said Dr. Gregg DeNicola, an Orange County historical curator who recently purchased the castle. of water with his wife, Mary, for $4.5. million.
Every 10 miles or so, the trains had to be refueled with water to create steam.
“There were actually dozens built along the coast,” DeNicola said.
The year 1940 is engraved on the door to mark the year the tower was expanded to a 75,000 gallon redwood tank by Santa Fe Tank & Pipe Co. to store water for surrounding towns.
In the 1970s, the tower was considered an eyesore, infested with termites and covered in graffiti.
The city began making plans to dismantle the structure, but a local resident named George Armstrong galvanized the community to save it. Armstrong was a math professor at Long Beach City College, but before that he hauled tables at Sam’s Seafood across from the water tower.
“He tried the base, and there were pickets going up and down the street,” DeNicola said.
Armstrong was able to purchase the tower, thus saving it from demolition.
“However, he wasn’t off the hook,” DeNicola said. “As soon as the city agreed to keep it, the Coastal Commission got involved.”
Armstrong planned to turn the water tower into a home, which the Coast Commission eventually agreed to allow as long as it continued to look like a water tower.
“He hired a historic contractor to make it look like a home,” DeNicola said.
Rather than hauling equipment and using cranes for construction, the tower was dismantled from the base and made into a three-level house on the ground before being replaced. The “1985” engraved on the door signifies the year the tower reopened as a home.
In 1992, Armstrong sold the tower to Lynwood Fire Chief Jerry Wallace, who lived in the house for 11 years.
“He brought it to market four times between 1994 and 2012,” DeNicola said.
It wasn’t until 2016, the last year engraved on the door, that Wallace sold the tower to real estate investors Scott Ostlund and Barret Woods for $1.5 million. The partners restored the house and opened it for tours and vacation rentals.
So how did DeNicola become the new owner of the unusual house?
DeNicola has a longstanding commitment to preserving the history of Orange County.
He serves on the board of directors of the Laguna Beach Historical Society and started a nonprofit called the Citrus Historic and Preservation League (CHAPEL). He was also involved in the preservation and redesign of the Yorba Linda Packing Station.
“It was possibly going to be torn down and I restored it to a packing house design. It is, however, a doctor’s office,” DeNicola said. “So I have this story thing in me.”
DeNicola came across a feature article in the Wall Street Journal about the water tower, and while he knew the house well, it wasn’t on the market. Then, a few months later, he was working with a real estate agent to search for a beachfront property, and she sent him a listing for the water tower as a joke. DeNicola told the realtor he was genuinely interested.
The base of the tower houses two garages for two cars and a room that served as accommodation for a night watchman.
“When I was a kid, there were all these Vincent Price movies where you press a button and a weird door opens,” DeNicola said, waving a half-open bookcase to reveal a hallway leading to a small room.
A waterfall pays homage to the structure’s water tower past, and a bathroom is decked out in burlap and barrels.
The elevator goes up to the second floor where there is a terrace with a Jacuzzi that DeNicola keeps at 101 degrees.
The elevator then goes up to the upper level with the kitchen and living room and a terrace that wraps around the tower for 360 degree views.
“Back then, they had to be able to work around everything to work,” DeNicola said.
The level also includes a pirate-themed room with bunk beds and a skull flag.
A spiral staircase leads higher to two master bedrooms and two bathrooms with stained glass windows.
The rotunda has an aquarium at the entrance and features a bar, four televisions and a compass designed into the wood floor.
“Tourists had the impression that our beaches faced west; they really don’t because of the curve. So it’s actually south and sunset is ending,” DeNicola said, gesturing west.
DeNicola said he plans to continue to make the home available for vacation rental, when his family isn’t using it. The property has had four tenants since DeNicola acquired it.
“Summer rate is $1,400 a night with a two-night minimum,” DeNicola said.
DeNicola still has a few small repairs he wants done around the house like touch up paint. But there’s one more thing he has on his to-do list.
“I need a welder to scrape my year, 2022, in the door,” he said.
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