Jack London State Park unveils new and improved House of Happy Walls

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The House of Happy Walls at Jack London State Historic Park reopens this weekend and the revival of this museum would surely make Jack’s wife Charmian smile.

Jack London died in 1916 at age 40, and two years later Charmian built this home on the 1400-acre Beauty Ranch property where they lived, residing there until 1955 when she died at age 84. It was always her dream that the House of Happy Walls honor Jack and their lives together.

The 22 new multi-media installations now reveal their adventures and accomplishments so vividly that one leaves feeling like Jack and Charmian are friends – very inspiring friends indeed.

“In the case of my death, it is my wish that my home ‘House With Happy Walls’ is not to be lived in by anyone but a caretaker. This building and its arrangements are peculiarly an expression of myself and its ultimate purpose is that of a museum to Jack London and myself,” Charmian wrote.

London is most famous as the author of “The Call of the Wild” and 50 additional books. He was an internationally acclaimed author by the time he was 30 and his books are often still assigned reading in schools today. But he was also an adventurer, a photojournalist, and activist and an experimental farmer, rising from a poor and difficult childhood to be one of the most popular writers of his time.

He used what he referred to as “dig,” otherwise known as hard work, to continually achieve throughout his life despite setbacks. Although he ultimately succeeded, he received 650 rejection notices for his writing, some of which are display in the museum. Wolf House, the stone and redwood home he had built at Beauty Ranch at great expense burned completely in 1911 only days before he and Charmian were to move in, a huge emotional and financial blow.

Despite poor health from failing kidneys, London was still writing 1,000 words a day up until his final weeks. His ranch, where he raised prize livestock and planted 100,000 Eucalyptus seedlings in a failed attempt at fast-growing lumber (the wood twisted and split) was his greatest passion. “Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me. Heavens! I sit up nights over that ranch,” he wrote.

He and Charmian sailed the tropics in their boat the Snark, rode horseback through the hills, engaged in boxing and fencing matches and sought to always live life fully. Quotes from each of them are inscribed on the walls throughout the House of Happy Walls:

From Charmian, “The secret of finding our rainbow’s end always, I am sure, lay first and last in knowing what we wanted.”

From Jack, “It is better to stand by someone’s side than by yourself,” and “Love is the sum of all the arts, as it is the reason for their existence.”

London’s Beauty Ranch, including the House of Happy Walls, was given to the state of California by London’s nephew Irving Shepard in 1960. The House of Happy Walls served as a visitor’s center and museum and had not been updated in many years. More than 250 private donors contributed more than $1.5 million to the renovation of the museum, which a tribute sign says it is hoped visitors will be inspired to “Live like London.”

The two-story stone and wood building was refurbished and rooms that were previously closed off are now open. It has views of both Sonoma Mountain and across the Valley to the Mayacamas, stone fireplace on both floors and visitors are now allowed on the outside veranda.

“The museum is now less about artifacts and more about storytelling,” said Kristina Ellis, the park’s education manager. Photographs, videos, personal items, letters and memorabilia from their travels were made into displays, some of them interactive, that highlight Jack downstairs and Charmian upstairs. The gift shop now has newly printed copies of all 50 of London’s books for sale, as well as Charmian’s books.

“This is the only place you get all of his titles,” Ellis said.

For the reopening weekend there will be a ribbon cutting, special readings of London’s work, docents on hand to answer questions and music from Charmian’s baby grand piano will fill the rooms. It will be the kind of celebration the London’s would no doubt have enjoyed, on this land they loved so much.

“A sweet land, Mate Woman, an almighty sweet land you and I have chosen…our Valley of the Moon,” London once said to Charmian. Those who live in the Valley now would certainly agree.

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