The Story Behind Wolf House, Jack London’s Doomed Sonoma Home

The Story Behind Wolf House, Jack London’s Doomed Sonoma Home

Featured Photo: JLPP

Jack London, what a guy! An author: Call of the Wild, White Fang and Martin Eden; an adventurer: The Klondike, Hawaii and Japan; and an activist: Socialism, atheism and journalism. He was born in 1876 and no one is yet sure who his father was. He struggled through years of working and wandering until attending UC Berkeley. Then, at the turn of the 20th century, he became a celebrity author and started making a fortune with his writings.

A vintage black-and-white photograph captures a man and woman smiling outside the historic Wolf House. The man, standing and dressed in a white shirt and tie, has his hand on his hip. The woman, seated next to him, boasts an elaborate hairstyle and wears a light-colored dress beside the building's horizontal siding.

However, tragically, fire played an ever-present role in his life. The home where he was born in 1876 went down in flames during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. One of his most memorable quotes went like this: “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.” And many maintain his very life entered a downward spiral when his long sought and beloved dream — Wolf House — was consumed in flames in 1913, just two weeks prior to its completion. Jack London died in 1916; he was only 40-years-old.

A stone structure with moss-covered, weathered bricks stands as the ancient Wolf House. Arches and small windows are built into the walls, offering an open view of stairs and more stonework leading to additional arches and greenery in the background. The scene is historic and overgrown.
Photo: Courtesy of JLPP

Wolf House was (and is) a 26-room, 15,000-square-foot, let’s be honest, mansion with nine fireplaces. Its construction involved coastal redwood timbers and volcanic boulders blasted from nearby canyons. In current dollars it would have cost $2.5 million to build; in the early 1900s, its cost was $80,000. Architect Albert Farr’s Arts and Craft design featured an 800-square-foot library and a two-story living room of nearly 1,200 sq ft. And though this was the early 1900s, the rustic design featured a water heater, refrigeration, electric lighting and a spacious wine cellar.

Panoramic view of stone ruins surrounded by lush green grass and tall trees. The moss-covered walls and chimneys indicate an old, abandoned structure, possibly the historical Wolf House. The sky is overcast, adding a somber tone to the scene.
Photo: Courtesy of JLPP

However, on the evening of August 22, 1913, the dream house was engulfed in flames. Now, only boulders and bricks remained. London and his wife Charmian were despondent; Wolf House was their dream house. Arson was suspected, but never proven. As late as 1995, a forensic investigation laid the blame on a pile kerosene rags that somehow exploded.

The still standing remains of Wolf House are now a part of the Jack London Historical State Park in the village of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. 

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