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.

The house passed to Dr. Belgum’s brother Bernard Belgum. In 1959 another sister, Christine Heimann, was widowed, and moved 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, or Kristine, 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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5 Responses to The White Witch

  1. You have some inaccuracies here, they include the death year of Inga, the last name of Christine, Bernard didn’t live near San Pablo Ave, it was Christine, who lived on Wilson Ave in Richmond. Great nephew of the Belgums.

    • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
      johndiestler says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to notify me. It’s been difficult to find any information on what most people thought was just urban legends. I still recall walking through the property when I was a teenager and feeling sad that it has fallen in such disrepair, mostly out of vandalism. Do you have the correct dead date for Inga, and the last name of Christine?

      • Anonymous says:

        There were 8 children, Ingeborg 1875-1951, Inge 1879-1963, Ingrid 1890-1964. I was born in 1956 and remember an aunt Inga lived on the property, as well as Ida. Christine, or Kristine was born in 1887, her last name was Heimann, died in 1971. There was a long court battle for the property in the 60’s, most of the money went to the relatives of Barnard (Barney), I was told the property was lost due to back taxes. I visited often as a child, and heard the stories of vandalism, kids turning on hoses and flooding the place. I return often and hike the area.

      • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
        johndiestler says:

        Thank you. I was born in Richmond in 1949, but I moved to San Pablo after starting school.I lived on Pine Street that ran east to west. As a child I could look East and see a hilltop that seemed like the end of my world. One summer, all of our neighborhood gang headed off to climb the mountain. We got to Alvarado Park and went up the hill from there. It was the first of many trips to the area of the Mansion.

      • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
        johndiestler says:

        I was born in Richmond in 1949, but I moved to San Pablo after starting school. I lived on Pine Street that ran east to west. As a child I could look East and see a hilltop that appeared to me to be at the end of my world. Sometime around ten years old, I led the neighborhood gang on an adventure to climb that mountain. We made it to Alvarado Park, and went up the hilltop behind the park. That was the first of many trips to the area of the mansion. Later, I heard from my older brother about the regular “hazing” of the mansion, and the stories of “the White Witch”.

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