This chateau, sometimes referred to as “The Castle,” began as a guest house owned by Janet Sharon Newlands Johnston. Johnston was perhaps the closest thing to Nevada royalty, as the granddaughter of U.S. Senator William Sharon and the second of three daughters of U.S. Senator Francis G. Newlands.
In 1903, Janet Newlands married William Bernard Johnston, a physician from Washington, D.C. who was also long recognized as an art critic. Janet had inherited a great deal of land on California Avenue from her father’s estate, and the Johnstons dedicated the park at Newlands Circle to the City in the 1920s and helped subsidize the lowering of its power wires underground to preserve the view.
In later years, Janet Johnston was the president of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, retiring from that position in 1954. She passed away in 1965 at the age of 89 in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where her daughter, son-in-law and their extended family lived.
The house has had a complicated history of occupation. Less than two years after the house’s construction in 1930, the Johnstons moved into the Nixon Mansion at 631 California Avenue, which they had purchased in the 1920s, and reportedly sold their new chateau to William and Dorothy Caffrey. In 1938, it was described as the home of the Comstock silver baron John Mackay’s granddaughter Katherine Mackay O’Brien, and her husband, Robert Z. Hawkins, a prominent attorney.
After a series of property transfers, Pat O’Bryan bought the chateau from John Iliescu in 1979. O’Bryan’s daughter Shannon moved into the house in the 1990s, and together with her husband, Damien O’Keefe, cultivated the slice of property along Keystone Avenue with a whimsical mix of artwork, furniture, knickknacks, and landscaping they named “DudyVille,” after their nickname for their youngest son.
This grand, 6,555-square-foot house was originally described as containing twelve rooms, including four bedrooms and six bathrooms, three kitchens, and four fireplaces. Architect Daniel Kirkhuff, who did design work for Mrs. Johnston when her family owned the Palace Hotel in San Francisco where she was born, designed it in the French Eclectic style. Johnston also hired Kirkhuff to design the French Chateau-style houses along Newlands Circle.