THE CASTLE – CHRISTENSEN / MEIR / HARRIS / PIGNATARO
Deep in the heart of our small town of Santa Fe, Texas lies a castle.
A stately castle that conjures up thoughts of kings & queens, dungeons & dragons, Knights of the Round Table, Romeo & Juliet, alligators & draw bridges, etc.
One is only limited by their imagination. The castle has been owned by several throughout the years, and has remained a curiosity to all that do not know its history.
Mr. John Christensen was a Danish immigrant that came to the United States with barely more than, “two nickels to rub”.
He came to this country in 1891, friendless, speaking only a foreign tongue, and with assets totaling sixteen dollars ($16.00).
He went to work on the Galveston docks and saved his money. He bought a bicycle shop in 1899, and eventually became owner of the first Ford automobile dealership, John Christensen & Co., on Galveston Island.
He also owned a sporting goods house. His hobby was farming on his 70-acre tract of land in Alta Loma, Texas.
He had a brooder house, hog house, poultry house, grocery storage house, what he called an owners cottage, implement shed, store room, and lake Christensen.
Christensen became a widower in 1912, and then married Nieska Vogel in 1930. He also retired from his business in 1930, and spent most of the remaining years of his life farming.
It was said that he invited farmers from around the county to his Alta Loma farm for a demonstration of the first Ford tractor.
Upon Christensen’s death in December of 1934, he left his farm to Nieska. It was believed that soon after his death, she had the castle built.
One of the many legends was that Mrs. Christensen built the Castle to give to the Catholic Church as a retirement home for the nuns.
When she found that the church did not want the castle, she made it her home. It was written that Mrs. Christensen had a hotel that she owned at 15th street and Seawall Boulevard, and that she had it torn down to use the bricks in the building of the castle.
Another one of the many legends was that a wealthy Texan had the castle dismantled and imported from Europe and had it reassembled at its’ present location as a home for his mistress.
Even another legend is that an eccentric woman built the house to live out a childhood fantasy.
Mr. & Mrs. Frank Meir purchased the castle in 1954. Mr. Meir is said to have worked for an oil company in South America and the family was seldom at the home.
Mr. & Mrs. H. Dane Harris purchased the castle in 1966, and only kept it a short time.
Mr. & Mrs. Franco Pignataro purchased the castle in 1970.
At one point they had converted the 26-room mansion into several apartments. He installed a fence and iron gates to discourage photographers and curiosity seekers.
He installed a pool and a concrete gazebo in the front. The double front doors don stained glass windows, and the inside foyer is adorned with an elaborate stairway of highly polished wood. Chandeliers adorn the ceilings.
They imported most of their furniture from Sicily.
It was said that they planned to make it like an Italian villa in their homeland. I have heard that upon Mr. Pignataro's death the daughters now live in the mansion.
Franco was born April 3, 1929 in Catania, Sicily where he served as a Carabiniere (Royal Police) for 7 years before coming to America and settling in Santa Fe in 1954.
Franco and Domenica operated Grasso's Egg Farm for 13 years in Santa Fe on Highway 6. In 1971, they opened Franco's Real Italian Restaurant on NASA Road 1 (it is great food, by the way) which is still in operation as Franca's Real Italian Restaurant. In 1978 they opened a second restaurant in Santa Fe, followed by a third on Telephone Road in Houston and a fourth was opened in 1979 in Galveston. Mrs. Pignataro was the woman behind the man. My memory of her was that she was a very faithful and religious woman.
The castle has had many legends associated with it over the years, and has held the curiosity of passing motorists traveling along Highway 6.
Remember, you are only limited by your imagination.
The true story of the castle may never be known, but that just adds to the fascination, curiosity and intrigue of the stately Castle in our hometown of Santa Fe, Texas.
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