The Denslow-Morgan-Preston House

Denslow-Morgan-Preston House, 1929-1956. (Patricia Harris Noyer (photographer), Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

The Denslow-Morgan-Preston House was the last of four Mendocino homes designed by Charles Denslow. J. D. Johnson began construction in March 1889, and the 3-story mansion, located on the northeast corner of Little Lake and Williams streets, took more than a year to complete. The interior fittings were as elaborate as the exterior design. Clear, first-growth redwood was used throughout, and coved metal ceilings stamped in leaf design were ordered from New York’s Metal Ceiling Company for the parlor and dining room.

Denslow gave the home to his daughter, Cathrin Morgan, shortly before his death in September 1890, and Cathrin lived here until her death in 1925. The following year, Cathrin’s son sold the home to Dr. Russell Preston. The Beacon described the property, “This is the finest residence property in the town. None but the best material was used in its construction. The lot on which it stands comprises a whole block.”

Dr. Preston made considerable improvements, and the large house with its many bedrooms became home for teachers and nurses. In the 1982 Mendocino Medicine and Gazetteer, Eugenia Mallory remembered, “That house was just like a castle. It had three stories. They had teachers room and board there. They had nice grounds there and Dr. Preston had an aviary for birds. They had a big fish pond.”

Dr. Preston’s mansion was used as the brothel in the 1954 movie “East of Eden,” starring James Dean. At the time of filming, Dr. Preston lay dying in an upstairs chamber, but he insisted that filming continue.

Peter Paoli bought the home after Preston’s death, but a chimney fire destroyed the mansion in 1956. The site was purchased by Bill Zacha, and it is now the home of the Mendocino Art Center.

James Dean in Mendocino: The Filming of East of Eden by Bruce Levene. Over 70 photos, press stories, and the recollections of the people of Mendocino about the 1954 filming of this classic movie. 72 pages. $15.