Albion Castle

San Francisco, California (CA)

Albion Castle may be a hidden treasure to us, but it also has a hidden treasure of its own!

Discover Albion Castle

Constructed over 140 years ago in 1870 by John Hamlin Burnell, an English immigrant, Albion Castle became the site for his brewery, the Albion Porter & Ale Brewery.

Created from cargo ship ballast stones, the castle’s tower overlooks two remarkable 200-ft wide stone cisterns, each capable of capturing 8,000 to 10,000 gallons of spring water per day. When Prohibition forced the closure of Burnell's brewery in 1919, the spring water was bottle and sold instead.

Despite being 140 years old, it is often overlooked by many San Franciscans. Even as residents drive by it daily, on Innes Avenue in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighbourhood, few are aware of its existence.

Albion Castle 3
- Brett Lider

The Origins of Albion Castle

In 1870, aged just 21, John Hamlyn Burnell, inspired by the thriving beer culture of San Francisco, which had over 800 saloons, saw an opportunity to carve his niche in the industry. His vision materialised in the form of Albion Castle, built atop a hillside, the castle was reminiscent of Burnell's English heritage, with a distinctive tower reminiscent of Norman forts.

What truly set Albion Castle apart was its hidden treasure—an underground aquifer that flowed with pure, cold spring water. This natural wonder, the only one of its kind in the entire city, was a blessing for Burnell's brewing goals. With access to pristine water, Burnell established the Albion Ale & Porter Brewery at the castle, from here he sent out his product to quench the thirst of San Francisco's residents.

Albion Castle
- Todd Lappin

Burnell’s Brewing Legacy

The Albion Ale & Porter Brewery at Albion Castle quickly gained a good reputation for its exceptional beer. However, the onset of Prohibition in 1919, forced the brewery to shut its doors. Yet, ever the entrepreneur, Burnell transformed the facility into the Albion Water Company, bottling and selling drinking water sourced from the underground springs.

In the 1960s, the castle faced demolition in 1961 to make way for the construction of a highway. It was only spared because of the springs' potential as a vital water source in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1998, the castle's fortunes took yet another turn as it was acquired by artist Eric Higgs. Over the years, it served as an occasional party venue, art studio, and residence until 2005 when it was sold at auction for $2.1 million dollars.

Albion Castle 2
- Todd Lappin

Modern Albion Castle: Who is Bill Gilbert?

Today, the castle holds promise as a single-family home, with 1436 square feet of living space and a modern kitchen. The current owner, retired police officer and real estate investor Bill Gilbert, has a deep-seated affection for the castle. For Bill Gilbert, Albion Castle represents more than just a piece of real estate; it's his childhood dream come to life.

A native of San Francisco, Gilbert had dreamt of owning Albion Castle since he was a child. Now, as the proud proprietor, he has spared no expense in restoring the tunnels, and other areas of the castle. Teaming up with interior designer Ellice Condon of Velvet & Green, Gilbert wished to preserve the castle's authenticity, while updating it. Condon's vision answered his plea taking inspiration from castle aesthetics, with paint shades like "Dragon's Breath," "Apparition," and "Cloud Cover".

Albion Castle 4
- Dale Cruse

Under his ownership, Albion Castle has come to host small, intimate events but there are plans to make it into a wedding venue. With interest from restaurateurs, event hosts, and brewers, the Albion Castle is always poised to embark on a new chapter.

While the castle is not currently open to the public, its doors may open for those who share Gilbert's passion for its history and architecture. Visitors yearning to experience the allure of Albion Castle can perhaps persuade Gilbert of their genuine appreciation and maybe he will return that gesture with a private tour!

Albion Castle 1
- Todd Lappin

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our San Francisco Scavenger Hunts- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of San Francisco and beyond!


What you need to know

Albion Castle
881 Innes Ave, San Francisco, CA 94124
37.731506, -122.375580
Tips before you visit