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Oak Harbor man buys Port Townsend castle

Bill Massey is well known on Whidbey Island for the prolific projects of his company, Island Construction. He’s a member of the NAS Whidbey Task Force, working to keep the base off the base closure list, and property he owns in downtown Oak Harbor is being considered as the new library site.

But, Bill Massey, castle owner?

He is just that, after making the winning bid on Port Townsend’s historic Manresa Castle in an auction held last week in Port Townsend.

And it was a steal, as far as castles go. Massey’s winning bid was $2,050,000. Just over $2 million for a 43-room hotel with a million dollar — make that two million dollar — view and gourmet restaurant.

Former owner Lena Humber, who has returned to California, chose to put the 1892 Victorian castle overlooking Admiralty Inlet on the auction block instead of hiring a real estate agent.

Tuesday’s auction was run by National Auction Group. The company specializes in exclusive property across the country, auctioning it off like high-priced art. Or cattle.

It was hardly a stampede at Tuesday’s castle auction, with no one willing to match the auctioneer’s opening bid of $3 million. The auction staff worked the crowd, trying to ramp up a bidding war, but it quickly stalled out at $2 million. Massey won with his bid of just $50,000 above that.

Manresa General Manager Roger O’Connor was one of many stunned at the price.

“You can’t buy a house for that,” he said.

With its ornate Victorian theme, romantic atmosphere, and European flavor, O’Connor said there’s nothing else like it in the state.

After 12 years as the castle’s keeper, O’Connor said he would like to see the historic building brought back to its full Victorian glory.

“It could be a destination hotel,” he said.

It’s been 30 years since any major work was done, and O’Connor estimated bathroom renovations alone could run $500,000.

“The previous owner didn’t have that kind of money,” he said.

Massey takes possession in early June, but the purchase agreement allows the stately mansion to continue operating as a hotel until October.

While picturing Massey as a Lord of the Manor may be a stretch of the imagination, he said he bought the castle as an investment, and is looking at the possibility of continuing to run it as a motel, with an inn management company running the day-to-day operations.

“I’ve done business in Port Townsend for many years, and am fascinated by the history of the place,” he said. “I like old buildings and I like the opportunity to make improvements and renovate and redesign things to make them a more viable business venture.”

Massey is developing low income housing in Port Townsend.

This is not the first change in the castle’s long history. It was built in 1892 by Port Townsend’s first mayor, Charles Eisenbeis, but after he died just 10 years later, he wife remarried and moved out. The Eisenbeis Castle, modeled after those in Charles’ native Prussia, sat empty for almost 20 years.

In 1928 Jesuit priests bought it and turned the castle into Manresa Hall, a training seminary.

It wasn’t until 1968, after the Jesuits left, that the castle became a hotel. Most of the renovation work was done in the first few years of operation.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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