Stanford’s own mystery house

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Kingscote Gardens (Photo courtesy Department of Special Collections and University Archives.)

Nestled between the Faculty Club and Lomita Drive, shrouded by groomed hedges and twisted, ancient oaks, the lush lawn and flowerbeds of the Kingscote Gardens Apartments offer tranquil respite from the bustling campus. Yet few students or alumni are familiar with the accidental oasis, if they even know it exists. Opened in fall of 1917 to house visiting professors and other Stanford affiliates, the building has played host to writers, professors, students and even visiting politicians.

Family plan
When BURT ESTES HOWARD, professor of political science, died suddenly, his widow, Sarah Howard, had no means of income and three young children. Stanford President RAY LYMAN WILBUR authorized a lease to the Howard family, who managed the property and collected rent from visiting scholars. The first tenants paid $25 a month.

A photo of a pond with lily pads and the greenery surrouding it.
A pond reflecting the sky in Kingscote Gardens (Photo by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News)

Ghosts busted
In February 1931, after weeks of being unsettled by spooky noises coming from the “depths of the building,” Kingscote residents organized an investigation. Instead of a phantom suspect, they discovered two young women living in Kingscote had taken to riding the dumb waiters at night, resulting in the mysterious sounds. The Stanford Daily mused: “Whether the sorority women live in Kingscote merely to ride on dumb waiters, or whether the dumb waiters proved to be too great a temptation to the sorority women was not revealed.”

Sexcapades! (not really)
In 1974, Kingscote resident and author Charles Beardsley published his novel The Apartments. The plot unfolded in the supposedly unrelated Kumquat Gardens Apartments, where the fictional residents bore a startling resemblance to the Kingscote managers and tenants, sharing almost identical life stories, personality traits and even family members stationed overseas. The publisher’s description included this, from the book jacket: “In a swinging California apartment complex where anything went, these desperate men and women sought to fill the aching void in their lives with the pleasures of the flesh – and the apartment exploded in an orgy of dark desires and scorching shock!” Despite Beardsley’s contention that his book was entirely fictional, Kingscote residents were furious and forced the writer to move out.

Kerensky was here
Perhaps the most famous tenant was exiled Russian revolutionary Alexander Kerensky, who came to Stanford in 1955 to catalogue some of the Hoover Institution’s Russian archives and in 1965 taught a popular seminar. At the end of the course, students visited Kingscote to read their papers aloud to the stooped, nearly blind Kerensky in his humble apartment.

A handsome hangout
ROBERT HARRISON, professor of French and Italian, is a fan of the grounds at the nearly 100-year-old Kingscote. In his book Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, he noted the place’s appealing character. “Once you step into it you get a sense that you are in the quietly palpitating heart of the university and that everything somehow radiates out from here.”

 

HANNAH I.T. BROWN is an intern for Stanford magazine, where this story is published in the November/December issue.