They say a man’s home is his castle, and that is literally true of Havencrest Castle in Savanna, Ill., 53 miles north of Moline. The historic house – first completed in 1901 and quadrupled in size over the years – is the subject of the latest WQPT documentary, “Havencrest Castle: A Very Special Place.”
A premiere screening will take place on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m., at The Savanna Times Theater, 222 W. Main St., Savanna, and is free to the public. WQPT is the Quad Cities’ PBS station.
“We are delighted to provide a sneak peek of our newest documentary to the citizens of Savanna,” producer Lora Adams said in a Monday release. “We also want to thank the folks at the Savanna Times Theater for providing the location.”
The film took much longer to complete due to COVID, she said, noting they interviewed owner Alan St. George several years ago and had hoped to finish the film that same year.
“However, it took an additional 18 months to finally get the chance to finish taping and to edit the documentary,” Adams said. The film covers the history of the house and the love story of Alan and Adrianne St. George, as they purchased the home known as Hillcrest and transformed it into Havencrest Castle.
The film will air on WQPT (channel 24.1) on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. and midnight and Dec. 12 at 5 p.m.
Following the Dec. 6 screening, there will be a question-and-answer period with artist Alan St. George (Havencrest Castle) and the filmmakers from WQPT.
The property is called a “Sanctuary of Love & Art” on its website, havencrestcastle.com.
Mr. and Mrs. St. George designed every detail over their 31 years together, without the aid of an architect or designer. “Their devotion to one another manifested itself in the brick and stone structure, with elaborate, themed rooms that transport the visitor to distant lands and long-forgotten eras,” the site says.
Alan St. George’s sculptures, paintings, and murals fill the castle, inspired by the love of his late wife, Adrianne Blue Wakefield-St. George. “This was their private sanctuary of Love & Art, a world of romantic dreams where reality & illusion merged and fairy-tale wishes came true.”
She passed away on June 1, 2006. Alan used to say, “When Adrianne entered a room, the lights and music went on, and when she left, the lights and music went out.” After a five-year period of mourning and healing, Alan’s creative inspiration returned. He completed the last of the 25 life-sized figures for the ballroom, and then made a 180-degree turn to contemporary art, producing 21 tabletop bronze and aluminum sculptures.
“Love and beauty fill every corner of this one-of-a-kind castle,” the site description says. “Visitors are left with an unforgettable experience of beauty, elegance, and fantasy embraced by a never-ending love story.”
Some Havencrest history
A modest white clapboard house was built on Greenleaf Hill in 1872 (now the Havencrest Visitors Center), by Simon Greenleaf and wife Frances Jane. In 1875, he established the Savanna Times, a weekly newspaper. In 1885, Simon Greenleaf and son, Francis, established the Savanna Journal. By the end of the year, Francis S. Greenleaf became the full owner and editor of the weekly still published today, known as the Savanna Times Journal.
In 1886, Margaret Kenney married Simon’s son, Francis, and they lived with his parents in the unassuming “Hillside,” dreaming of the day when they would have a home of their own. They chose the prime bit of land, that great lot on the crest of the hill, lot number one, as the setting for their new Queen Anne mansion.
Started in 1899 and finished in 1901, “Hillcrest” (later to become Havencrest) was one of four extravagant homes built at that time as the result of a wager between prominent businessmen, to determine which home would be the most opulent in Savanna, according to the website. All were built in the Queen Anne style, and all used the only architect in town, Lester Bowen.
Hillcrest, built of local brick and limestone brought by rail from Indiana, boasted two water closets (bathrooms), in a time and place where indoor plumbing was a rarity. In addition, Margaret had installed a marble sink with hot and cold running water in her bedroom, where commonly a large pitcher of tepid water in a bowl were the standard fixtures.
Going beyond the modern convenience of electricity throughout, the dining room boasted a Tiffany chandelier, and little lights between the oaken beams of the coffered ceiling.
Greenleaf died in 1944, and a few months later his wife, Margaret, followed him. Their four children were now scattered across the country, so the furnishings and then the house were sold (in 1945, the dining room’s Tiffany chandelier sold for only $5).
However, the three fireplaces, the beveled and stained-glass windows, formal sliding doors, ornate brass hardware, and fine woods remained to capture the hearts of another newlywed couple some 31 years later.
It was 1976, and seven owners later when Mr. and Mrs. Alan St. George purchased the Greenleaf mansion on the hill, and began their lifelong mission of expanding and decorating the home in the manner of the “American Aristocracy.” The newlyweds transformed the former Greenleaf home into what is now called Havencrest Castle, fulfilling a credo that they lived by: “Reality is for those who lack Imagination.”
“Their devotion manifested itself in a passionately creative outpouring of work and lifestyle that at times seemed to blur fantasy and reality,” the site says, noting over their three decades together, Alan and Adrianne expanded the home’s original 22 rooms to 63.
In 1972, Alan founded Facemakers, Inc., a mascot company that operated exclusively from studios in Havencrest from 1976 until 1989, when much of the production and shipping were moved to the newly acquired 800 Chicago Avenue, not far from Havencrest Castle.
The company designs and manufactures the world’s largest selection of mascots for clients that include Disney, The White House, and thousands of high schools and universities, according to the site. Havencrest remains the corporate and business heart of the company, as well as the location of Alan’s personal studios and office.
Standard tours of the home are only available in May and October. For more information, visit havencrestcastle.com.