The White Witch

If you grew up in the late 1950s, early 1960s you heard the stories of the White Witch of Wildcat Canyon. She lived in a haunted mansion behind Alvarado Park in Richmond, CA. There was a “speculation” highway built with the idea to develop the land during Richmond’s growth after WWII.

The driving teenagers of the area called it the Deadend Highway, there were very few roads or driveways that connected. One of the driveways was to the Tewksbury Mansion. The mansion was originally built by Richmond pioneer Dr. Jacob M. Tewksbury for his daughter, Eugenia, and her second husband William Mintzer, early President of Bank of America in Point Richmond.

In 1914 it was purchased by Dr. Hendrik Belgum, a native of Norway who had lived in Wisconsin. Dr. Belgum turned the two story mansion into a small private sanitarium, called the Grande Vista Sanitarium. It was popular with the wealthy in Piedmont and Berkeley. It was off the beaten path but still accessible for visiting families.

By the 1940s it seemed that Dr. Belgum was distancing himself from regular outside contact. He preferred the company of the few patients that he had, along with his two spinster sisters that also lived at the Sanitarium, Inga Belgum and Ida Ruth Belgum. Dr Belgum died fighting a fire that was threatening the house in 1948. Inga died in 1951.

The house passed to Dr. Belgum’s brother Bernard Belgum, who lived in Richmond near San Pablo Ave. In 1959 another sister, Christine Herman, was widowed, and moved in with Bernard from Wisconsin. Bernard tried to keep running the Sanitarium for a few years but he didn’t have a medical degree and there were fewer patients. Only Ida Ruth lived on in the mansion to help maintain the property.

Bernard died in 1963,leaving everything to Christine and Ida. Ida Ruth was a noted local artist, and led a solitary life. She died in 1964. The mansion was empty. Christine died in 1971 and during the estate sale it was discovered that the abandoned property had been vandalized and eventually burnt to the ground. The property eventually passed to the East Bay Regional Parks.

My guess is that the White Witch of Wildcat Canyon was not a witch at all, but instead, she was the last care giver of the Grande Vista Sanitarium, the artist Ida Ruth Belgum.

The Grande Vista Sanitarium

Not the White Witch. This is Kristi Belgum, Ida Belgium’s mother.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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