Walter Knott, Bottle House, Calico Ghost Town
About the Artist/Site
The town of Calico was settled beginning in 1881 as news of California’s largest silver strike spread. It thrived for around twelve year as over $20 million worth of silver ore was extracted from some 500 mines, including the important Silver King Mine. When the price of silver plunged – due to the frenetic pace of exploration and mining during those years – Calico began losing population, and by 1896 most of the inhabitants had moved away, leaving it a ghost town.
Walter Knott had worked as a carpenter for a short time in Calico as a young man, and his uncle John King had been one of the founding partners of the Silver King Mine. The experience of Calico stuck with him, and as he was building Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California in the 1940s, among his favorite attractions was a mock ghost town, in order to “show life as it was lived in the early days.” Knott purchased the entire town of Calico in 1951 and added it to the Knott’s Berry Farm company assets. He moved some of the original buildings to the Buena Park attraction, and then restored all but the five original buildings in Calico to look as they did in the 1880s. He also established certain tourist attractions; among other events, the town hosts a Halloween Ghost Haunt and Civil War re-enactments.
As with other bottle houses built in boomtowns, standard construction materials were typically in short supply, so alternatives were used. Because saloons and taverns were often among the earliest businesses, bottles were plentiful. However, the Bottle House in Calico was constructed much later, in 1953-54. Knott had seen and been impressed by the bottle house in Rhyolite, NV, photographed it, and used it as a model for this house, which he constructed out of 5,419 bottles. A square-shaped one-story building set into the mountain rising behind, a side façade is ornamented with the name Calico on top and a zigzag pattern of green bottles set against lighter ones along the foundation. An outlined eight-pointed star is set into another wall. As with many bottle houses, the butt ends of the bottle form the exterior surface; on the inside, the bottle necks protrude without smoothing mortar. Although at one time a wooden porch sheltered the front façade, it has since disappeared.
It is unknown whether a bottle house originally existed in the boomtown of Calico during its heyday, but as Knott knew that they had existed in mining towns, he felt it was not inappropriate to build one here. In 1966, after completing restoration, Knott deeded the whole ghost town to the County of San Bernardino, and it is now a county regional park, honored as State Historical Landmark 782. The Bottle House is currently a shop selling supplies for dog owners, so is open during normal visiting hours.
~Jo Farb Hernández
Map & Site Information
36600 Ghost Town Road
Yermo, California, 92398 us
Latitude/Longitude: 34.9509908 / -116.8651899
36600 Ghost Town Road, Yermo, California, 92398, United States
Calico Ghost Town is now a county regional park, honored as State Historical Landmark 782. The Bottle House is currently a shop selling supplies for dog owners, so is open during normal visiting hours.
Joshua Tree, California