by Kristen Schoenick
photography by Kaylie Ennis
The year is 1934. Arthur Bourne, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine empire, is holding the party of a lifetime at his famed estate in Glendora, California, and you’re invited. You and your friends—decked out in silk gowns and tweed suits—head over to the Singer Mansion for the first time.
You walk through the front door and stand in awe at the massive white walls and sparkling chandeliers in the gaping foyer. A self-supporting staircase with brass finishes stands out as an architectural masterpiece.
You cross a white marble floor dotted with black accents and follow the sounds of an organ, saxophones, trumpets and drums. Arriving in the living room, you see six sets of French doors swung open to the balcony. The band you’ve heard since arriving plays in the corner. Furniture is pushed aside to make room for people partying on the grand dance floor.
Arthur Bourne approaches and suggests grabbing a drink with you and your friends in the bar downstairs. As Bourne escorts you from the living room, he points to the study and offers you a cigar. Within the study’s wood-paneled walls people chat in a haze of smoke about their plans to be masters of the world. Declining his offer, you continue down the staircase to the basement.
The room smells of booze and cigar smoke. People play poker, warm themselves at the fireplace and chat on the couch. You make your way to the bar where Bourne pours you a drink. Suddenly, realizing the booze is running low, he hits a switch on the wall and a panel pops out. You suspect he has a secret booze wall but are surprised when he opens the panel to reveal a six-inch steel door. He opens the door and your jaw drops. You knew Bourne was a party animal, but never imagined he would do anything and everything to party during Prohibition.
You follow Bourne into the mansion’s pride and joy: the speakeasy. Inside, the air is crisp, the lighting dim. Sounds echo off the steel-lined walls. You notice the drain on the floor and realize it is there in case booze must be dispensed of quickly should the law arrive.
Bourne calls a servant to get more alcohol. You watch as the servant brings booze from the carriageway and into the speakeasy as and your friends continue having the time of your life with Arthur Bourne at the Singer Mansion.
If the walls of the Singer Mansion could talk, what would they say? What have they seen? What have they heard?
“This house almost has a soul and a spirit, and I adore it down to its studs,” says novelist Kathryn Le Veque who, along with husband Rob Hogan, now owns the mansion. “There is so much work, but it is all a labor of love.”
A true gem of historic architecture built between 1932 and 1934, this property still offers a glimpse into what it might have been like to live here in the early 20th century. Designed by renowned architect Wallace Neff, there are many signature architectural styles which stand out to this day. The house has had 17 owners since Bourne sold it in the ’60s, most of whom gave it plenty of love and maintenance. Despite changing hands and several upgrades, the property has retained its period-appropriate feel.
In recent years, the Singer Mansion has undergone a variety of renovations to ensure that it remains in pristine condition. Le Veque and Hogan have worked hard to preserve the home’s original character and charm while updating the interior with modern amenities.
The estate originally spanned 44 acres and was completely enclosed, with security gate houses at the entrances. The property also had a working citrus packinghouse, as well as an eight-car garage 800 feet from the main house. It even had one of Glendora’s first schoolhouses, which still stands. In the 1880s, the one-room building housed one teacher and four students.
In the ensuing years, the original property was reduced to its current size of 1.6 acres. It still has a sizable guest house that has been meticulously maintained, and an apartment located over the current two-car carriageway. The packing house was donated to the Glendora Historical Society in 2005 by Mike Rubel, and stands adjacent to his enchanting Rubel Castle.
The exterior of the Singer Mansion is a highlight of the property, with winding paths that lead through a variety of themed gardens. The rose garden features more than 300 varieties of roses, and the Japanese garden even has its own koi pond. The garden of exotic plants showcases a variety of rare and unusual species, and fruit trees abound, providing oranges, lemons, avocados and apples. Outdoor seating is scattered throughout the gardens, including a gazebo and a patio with a fountain. And tucked away behind the guest house is a secluded swimming pool.
The interior of the mansion is every bit as impressive as the grounds. With eight bedrooms and a variety of living spaces, including a library, theater, billiards room and study, it is easy to become captivated by the uniqueness and intricacy of the mansion.
The mansion’s front doors open to a grand foyer adjacent to a formal living room complete with a fireplace. The first floor is adorned with beautiful windows that offer natural light and breathtaking views of the sprawling grounds. The kitchen has been remodeled but retains its original footprint.
The master suite is a true retreat, featuring a spacious bedroom with a fireplace, a private balcony, and an oversized bathroom with a luxurious soaking tub and separate shower. Each bedroom on the second floor has its own ensuite bathroom, built-in furniture, and views of the grounds.
Although this might just seem like “another old mansion” tucked away in a residential area of Glendora, the Singer Mansion holds many hidden treasures that make it stand out.
One of the most fascinating rooms in the mansion is the aforementioned speakeasy, built during Prohibition when bars weren’t allowed. The mansion also has an original dumbwaiter which moves through all three floors. From the China room in the basement, to the butler’s pantry on the first level and all the way up to the kitchenette on the second floor, the dumbwaiter is still in use. “With a house like this, it’s all in the details,” Le Veque says.
The Singer Mansion, with its stunning landscaping and carefully preserved interior, remains an architectural testament to the rich history and culture of a bygone area.
Rubel Castle is a unique and eccentric landmark located not far from the Singer Mansion in Glendora, California. In fact, the castle itself is built on an abandoned water reservoir next to the citrus packinghouse that was once was part of the Singer Mansion estate.
The story of Rubel Castle begins in the early 1960s when Michael Rubel purchased a 2.5-acre plot of land that included the old reservoir. Rubel, an artist, inventor and self-taught engineer, began gathering reclaimed stones, discarded railroad ties, old machinery parts, and anything else he could find to begin construction on his castle.
Over the years—and with the help of many friends—Rubel saw his castle grow in both size and complexity. The structure included multiple towers, turrets, a blacksmith shop, a drawbridge, a water tower, and even a functioning pipe organ. Each element of the castle had a story behind it, with Rubel carefully incorporating historical references and personal touches throughout the project. Around every corner are whimsical sculptures, kinetic contraptions, and even a working steam engine.
Rubel Castle has become a popular destination for school field trips, art enthusiasts, and tourists curious to explore this idiosyncratic landmark. The castle also has hosted concerts, art exhibitions and theatrical performances.
Michael Rubel passed away in 2007, but his legacy lives on through Rubel Castle. More details as well as booking information for Rubel Castle tours are available at glendorahistoricalsociety.org.