California

Box Canyon Castle – Love Interrupted

Growing up in Simi Valley, California I was used to the many weird and wonderful “oddities” that gave my neck of the woods its intriguing history. Most know of my town due to the proximity of Spahn Ranch, where the infamous Charles Manson and his cult of followers hung out. We were also known for Corriganville, one of Hollywood’s major filming locations for many years.

What is less known is the castle that sits on top of a hill in Box Canyon, located in nearby Chatsworth, California. Those of us who grew up in the area were curious about this medieval structure looming over a landscape that was more familiar with ranchos, the Chumash, cowboys and pioneers. For children it was a magical moment in time briefly glimpsed as the family car trundled around the turn in the road, the castle swiftly disappearing from sight.

As can be expected, the castle, like any other building with an air of mystery, has had whispers and tales of being haunted. If this is indeed true I can think of only one person who would be the most likely candidate for “ghostly” resident. Seth Charles Bryant, the original builder.

Seth Charles Bryant was born 16 May 1915 in Springfield, Massachusetts to Henry D. & Ruth (Connal) Bryant. By 1930 the family had relocated to Los Angeles, California. His father Henry was an airplane mechanic, which probably lead to the move.

Seth attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where he was active in the A Cappella Choir, the Boy’s Senior Glee Club, the Mask & Sandal Club, and participated in the Up-to-Date Grand Opera. Yearbook photos below are from 1933, his senior year.

Around 1939 Seth Bryant met, fell in love with, and married Metta Prather, but the marriage was not to last. When Seth registered for the draft of WWII he was listed as living at a separate address from his wife. On 14 November 1940 a divorce was granted. No children were born of this marriage.

I’m going to take a side-trip away from Seth, and focus on his wife Metta. I would love to see their divorce filing to see what happened between them. Why? Because Metta had a rather interesting history when it came to marriage.

At the age of 16 Metta made headlines when she eloped to Yuma, Arizona on May 16th, 1936 to marry 18 year old Jack Cornett Shuler, the son of Reverend Robert Pierce Shuler. The elopement was carried out when Jack’s parents were away on a trip to New York. This was husband #1. Considering the fiery reputation of Jack’s father, it isn’t surprising that the young couple were so covert in their actions. The American Mercury, an American magazine published from 1924 to 1981, wrote that Shuler had “built up the greatest political and social power ever wielded by a man of God since the days of Savonarola in Florence.” The Los Angeles Times described him as… ‘Fighting Bob’ operated the most controversial religious radio station of all time. Politicians feared him, criminals avoided him, newspapers deplored him, and many ministers criticized him. But the public loved him, turning Shuler into a folk hero. In 1932 Rev. Shuler ran for a Senate seat, and in 1942 he threw his hat in the ring to try for a Congressional seat. So, we can imagine that Rev. Shuler was not very happy when he returned home to his son’s newly married state.

Metta did eventually gain her divorce from Jack Shuler, and was soon “in love” again. On November 19th, 1937, Metta was again in Yuma, Arizona marrying husband #2, Charles F. Nasko, a restaurant operator and immigrant from Yugoslavia. Alas, this marriage was also to be short lasted, and by 1939 they were divorced, whereupon she quickly set her sights on our Seth and married him as husband #3! If Metta was continuously “marrying up” in order to have access to more money, she probably should have stuck with Nasko, who ended up owning and operating the well-known and successful Sportsman Club in Hanford, California.

After divorcing Seth Bryant, husband #3, Ms. Metta didn’t wait long to go on the hunt for husband #4, James V. Varia, who she married in Los Angeles on November 24th, 1941. Varia was employed by the Bakewell Manufacturing Company. This marriage lasted five years before it, too, went bust, when we find that Metta divorced James Varia on September 11th, 1946.

Marriage record for Metta and James Varia.

Finally, we come to Kenneth Burkett, who would be Metta’s fifth and last husband. Their exact date of marriage has not been found, but it was by 1948, when the Los Angeles Times mentions an auto accident that the couple were involved in. This marriage would last for thirteen years before also ending in divorce on May 23rd, 1961. Metta must have finally tired of marrying, as she died in Oregon in 1994 under the last name of her final husband.

Now we bring the story back to Seth, the builder of The Castle.

Seth was a valued employee of the United States Postal Service, and on the side he also sang at weddings, birthday gatherings and local events.

On April 15th, 1944 Seth bought a plot of land in Box Canyon from Floyd Berry, where he began to build a castle, probably more as a fun “folly” than anything else. But then Seth fell in love again and was ready to take another chance on marriage. He decided to add a roof to the structures he was building in order to make it into a proper home for the future Mrs. Bryant, with plans to include living quarters for his future mother-in-law. Sadly, the marriage never happened, and after 15 years of building his castle without completing it, Seth finally sold it and moved away. What is amazing is that he did this on a postal worker’s salary!

Seth sold his Box Canton Castle to the Larry Murray family, who in turn sold it to the Leembruggen family. Eventually the house would belong to singer, actor and model Shari Belafonte, daughter of singer-actor Harry Belafonte. Shari sold the house in 2013.

Seth Charles Bryant died in Los Angeles on 21 Nov 1969.

2 thoughts on “Box Canyon Castle – Love Interrupted

  1. Very interesting review, even to someone who wasn’t there way back then. But you never said whatever happened to it?

    One minor correction needs to be cleared up. Charles Manson and the Spahn Ranch did not bring Simi Valley to the forefront of the public’s awareness. That was bestowed to Santa Susanna and Chatsworth in 1969.

    Simi Valley became well-known virtually overnight twenty-two years later, the result of the Rodney King trial, which was held in Simi Valley. The ensuing riots in Los Angeles that followed the not-guilty verdict of the four LAPD officers charged with King’s assault woke the whole world up to this little-known place called Simi Valley. Most people couldn’t even pronounce it properly; even Californians had never heard of it.

    Jason Houston
    ________________________________

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    • The Castle is still standing. It was sold by Shari Belafonte to new owners in 2013. Simi Valley was still known as the place where Charlie and his followers went to buy food and gas 🙂 I remember the Rodney King trial. I was outside the courthouse on the final day of the trial. It was very intense!

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