Mike Rubel, builder of area castle, dies at 67
By Alison Hewitt, Staff Writer
GLENDORA - Mike Rubel, a world traveler who, along with friends and volunteers, built a river-rock and glass-bottle castle in Glendora, died this week.
Michael Clarke Rubel, 67, lived in the turreted castle made from recycled materials. A heart attack three years ago, from which he never fully recovered, forced him to give up life at "Rubel Pharm and Castle," as it was sometimes known.
He died early Monday morning surrounded by family.
As a kid, Rubel built elaborate, towering forts up to 65 feet tall that hinted at the castle to come. He became a world traveler as an adult, working as a cowboy in Australia, an explorer in South America and a clerk for the Dutch captain of a Spanish ship.
Years later, the sea captain bequeathed Rubel the fortune that allowed him to pursue his dream and build Rubelia.
Rubel poured his life into the castle and lost his health as a result, said close friend John McHann.
"He'd given his life to building the castle, basically," McHann said. "He was a very unique individual, but his uniqueness was always in a kind of kind and generous way."
Construction on the stone structure lasted more than a quarter century, from 1969 to 1986. Although hundreds of Glendorans participated, there were always concerns about the home-built castle made entirely of recycled materials.
"He had problems with the city all his life because of his building projects," said his nephew, Scott Rubel. "Even at the age of 10, they were tearing stuff down that he built."
Rubel Castle stands as a solid city landmark, cared for by the Glendora Historical Society since Rubel's heart attack.
"He was considered an icon in the town," said Jesse Tomory, vice president of the society. "It's a fascinating place and he was a fascinating man."
Rubel explained in a 1990 interview with Huell Howser that he was simply still building the forts of his childhood.
"I never grew up," he said. "That's why I'm still building castles. People who grow up don't do these things."
Bicycle wheels, champagne bottles and other bric-a-brac jut out of the walls. The aptly named train tower, clock tower, pigeon tower and Rapunzel tower soar several stories high, McHann said.
"He always said it had absolutely no function," Scott Rubel said. "It was just done for something to do and because there were too many rocks around."
Rubel was born in Glendora in 1940. His mother was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer, and his father was a pastor at the Grace Episcopal Church. They lived next to the dump, where Rubel found the materials for his early forts.
The owner of the Albourne Rancho left Rubel 22 acres in the late 1950s, complete with a orange packing house. Rubel converted the walk-in refrigerators to bedrooms, and his mother turned the warehouse into a dance hall known as the Tin Palace, Scott Rubel said. Guests included Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Alfred Hitchcock.
Rubel traveled the world then returned home and began building the castle in 1969 to escape the noise of his mother's parties, Scott Rubel said. After Rubel's failed campaign for city council, the structure was completed in the `80s, and now virtually every school child in Glendora visits it on a field trip. However, tours for the general public are not available because of a shortage of docents, McCann said.
Rubel is survived by his wife, Kaia, Kaia's daughter Susan Armstrong, his sister Dorchen Forman Van Dyke, his brother Christopher Rubel, and his nephews Scott and Clarke Rubel.
Services will be held Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, at 555 E. Mountain View Avenue, Glendora.
* Related: The Black Earth: Castle Rubelia.