Enter If You Dare: The Preston School of Industry
Randall Benton, a staff photographer with The Sacramento Bee newspaper, shares his thoughts on photographing the Preston School of Industry in Ione, Calif.
I photographed the Preston School of Industry recently and tried to capture the building’s current state of decay, while also paying homage to its troubling past.
Now named Preston Castle, the Preston School of Industry operated as a reform school for delinquent boys from 1894 until its closure in 1960. Abandoned and long neglected, the large Romanesque Revival-styled stone mansion still looms over the town of Ione, Calif., from its hilltop perch like a creepy movie set. In its heyday, the 46,000-square-foot, 77-room mansion had a rose garden, tennis courts, swimming pool, and a library. It had 43 fireplaces with hand-carved rosewood mantels, with marble floors and sinks. The facility is a California State Historical Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sited on 13 acres, the building is now owned by the Preston Castle Foundation, which aims to rehabilitate it and convert it to a multi-purpose facility.
But for all its amenities, the place was also full of brutality, violence, mental and physical abuse. When new wards were admitted into Preston, they were stripped, heads shaved, and then submerged in a pool full of chemicals described as a “cattle dip.” Misbehaving boys were beaten, whipped or placed in solitary confinement. And until 1913, wards underwent medical surgeries conducted on them while they lay on the floor. Preston is now in the process of being restored, and the public may tour the facilities.
While photographing, I used the interesting play of light streaming into the building from its many windows and collapsing walls to illuminate the curious faces of visitors. I tried to use the few remaining furnishings to suggest the ghostly ambiance that permeates the spaces, and the countless stories of a barbaric life long gone.