Randy Johnston started out building a home in 2000 without knowing what the result would be. All he wanted was a place that gave him seclusion some 187 miles from Las Vegas near Death Valley.
By the time he finished more than a decade ago, what started as a 50-foot round house to deal with strong winds in the desert turned into a four-story, Gothic-style castle that has became a tourist attraction.
Now the 72-year-old Johnston wants to trade that secluded lifestyle in to travel the country in a trailer with his two dogs. He has listed his home, known as the Hard Luck Mine Castle, for $900,000. The name is for the claim where gold was mined until World War II.
Johnston owned a plumbing business in the Lake Tahoe area when he traveled to Esmeralda County in the 1980s and found the property by accident. He and his son, Randy, were driving their VW buggy through a nighttime snowstorm looking for a place to camp for the night when they pulled up alongside the cabin from out of the fog.
In the 1990s, he started traveling to the cabin, which is about 35 miles south of Goldfield and 20 miles from Death Valley’s Scotty’s Castle, just to get out of the snow of Lake Tahoe. When the cabin and its 40 acres were for sale, he bought the property in 1998 with the intention of fixing up the cabin and living in it.
Johnston checked with Esmeralda County and learned he didn’t have to obtain permits, pay fees or undergo inspections. That was enough for him to return to Lake Tahoe, sell 10 cottages he rebuilt and rented out and use the proceeds for his dream home.
“I was just going to fix up the cabin, and when I found I could do what I wanted, I decided to build a home I wanted rather than what I was told I had to build,” Johnston said. “I just started building from the ground and worked my way up, and I got this.”
Johnston said he always wanted to build his own home since he was young after helping his dad and three brothers build their own homes.
All Johnston had in mind when he started building was a round design. His experience in the cabin taught him that wood doesn’t last long in a windy desert environment. He opted instead for concrete blocks, steel and glass.
“When I started building, people came up the road and asked what I was doing, and I said I was just building a house,” Johnston said. “Everybody stared, saying this is a castle, and that’s how the name came up.”
Some media reports have portrayed it as a doomsday house, but it was never built for that, Johnston said. It’s at an elevation of 6,000 feet and built on a mountain, and it’s only meant for seclusion and quiet to get out of the city, he added.
The walls are 16 inches of concrete to handle the weight of the home, which measures 8,000 square feet over four stories. Johnston jackhammered the granite to pour the footings in 2000, laid the blocks, numbering 24,000, and fabricated the metal for the home, which has 7 tons of rebar and more than 1,000 yards of concrete. He was helped by two friends.
There are four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two kitchens.
The main entrance is on the second level and has doors and windows that look like they belong in castle with their arches and use of redwood in the door. The enclosed entryway pays homage to the “Wizard of Oz” with a labyrinth of the Yellow Brick Road and emerald in the floor to represent Emerald City.
Off to the right is what Johnston calls the great room, which was designed with pipe organs in mind. It has a 28-foot ceiling, highlighted by a rebuilt Wurlitzer organ from the 1920s. There is a second 1920s organ in the room, and it’s fitting that a musical sheet on it is from “Phantom of the Opera.”
On cold winter days when temperatures can dip below 20, there is a fireplace to warm the room. The castle has 22 propane heaters for all 22 rooms.
There is no cooling system because it rarely reaches 90, and Johnston said the cinder blocks keep it cool in the summer. The castle is powered by solar panels and wind power and has backup generators.
On the other side of the second level, there is a dining room, a kitchen and a bathroom. On the outside of the castle is a catwalk balcony.
In the center of the home is a circular stairwell that spirals against the wall and leads to the third and fourth stories. A fountain sits at the bottom of the staircase, and chandelier hangs from the ceiling above. The third level has two bedrooms and a bathroom and chamber room for the organ pipes.
Higher up the stairwell is the observatory for looking at the stars and nearby military test site. The light at the top is 62 feet above the ground.
The lower level of the home has two bedrooms, a kitchen, woodshop and theater room. Next to the home is an automotive workshop and down the hill is a miner’s cabin.
The 40 acres are covered with hillsides and desert with an unpaved road that connects to State Route 267. The place is surrounded by Bureau of Land Management acreage.
The site is suited for Jeeps and all-terrain vehicles, and Johnston said his relatives visit to take advantage of that. It’s why Johnston said he envisions the castle becoming a bed-and-breakfast.
There is no well on the site, and water is supplied to the home with a 4,000-gallon, underground tank. The sale includes mineral rights, but Johnston hasn’t pursued mining the site, according to Brian Krueger, a senior vice president with Coldwell Banker Premier Realty, the listing agent.