Diamond House Mansion......Part 1

DIAMOND HOUSE MANSION.....Part 1. Back in the late 1990s and ending up in the fall of 2003, the famous Diamond House mansion began to take on some very destructive deterioration. Every time I had the chance to drive through the area of the Diamond House as well as walk around the intimidating complex, it saddened me to see that it was being allowed to slowly crumble away. After studying the mountains of stories of all the mysteries that surrounded such a fabulous little stone castle, and knowing that the leader of such a fabulous people lay silently in state inside the upper parlor of that once grand home, it just killed me to sit back and do nothing but watch. I had pleaded with Lloyd Dalager and many of the House of David colony members since the mid-1990s to please allow me a tour of the complex and to try to formulate a plan to help save the structure. Those scheduled tours would continue to be canceled at the very last moment, each and every time over nearly an eight period. Later on I found out that just one of the colony members feared any outsiders entering the sleeping castle of Benjamin, thus it only took one dissension for a ruling to cancel my tour. Finally in the early fall of 2003 Lloyd asked me if I would like to take a walk through the Diamond House with him. It was a very cold and rainy November day that we grabbed his key to the back door of this mysterious place, and what I was about to see and experience I'll never forget as long as I live...!!! The place had been completely locked up and bolted down for roughly 50 years at this point, and the demise of the roof and the rest of the building were absolutely terrible. As a matter of fact on this rainy day, as we walked through this gorgeous stone mansion, the rain was falling all around us even inside the building. It became obvious to me that this deterioration created by Mother Nature had gone on for possibly a decade or more, and the building was at the point of either a full destruction or an immediate restoration. Having worked with my father Tony Siriano for roughly 20 years prior to this, working together to restore old homes into beautiful showplaces, my fear of the unknown basically did not exist. After the life-changing tour that Lloyd gave me on that rainy day, of nearly 9000 ft.² of custom stone built staircases, moving walls, rooms inside rooms, giant walk-in vaults, and so much more that I can't put into print, my mind raced as to what to do, and FAST!!! I was witnessing not only a castle here in Michigan being destroyed before my very eyes, but a castle that I had learned to love the story of for the past 25 years prior to seeing it with my own eyes! Gorgeous Victorian style furniture was being ruined, paper documents that were part of the story were laying in huge piles on the floors, left to rot away. Boxes upon boxes of valuable artifacts were eaten away from moisture, animals, and just life. For a historian, it was like witnessing mass killings before my eyes. I spoke with Lloyd that evening, immediately following arriving back to his room and the Shilo mansion, about the possibility of me taking on that gigantic restoration myself. He said that whatever I felt was necessary to just do it, and gave me the keys!! For the next 12 months my life was there at the Diamond House, gathering a team of a dozen super talented guys who were nearly as fearless as me in attacking the task at hand. We all donated our time and a massive amount of materials, and were able to get many things donated by local venders and our B.H. Lowes! We all promised the House of David that we would not invite the media inside those walls, and we kept our word. What we all saw and lived is unimaginable, and to end up with such a beautiful masterpiece was like a dream-come-true! In my next segment of this story, I'll share many more photos and tell the details of bringing this castle back to its grandeur once again!!


DIAMOND HOUSE MANSION.....Part 2. "Putting LIFE & LIGHT back into the Castle of a Dead King"........ As the daunting proposition sank into my head of trying to take on something so gigantic and something so vitally important to the history of our area, I sat in my car that afternoon just outside the Shiloh Mansion confused, excited, scared-to-death, yet knowing I was living my dream! I phoned my dad and shared with him what I had just seen and learned at the Diamond House, and most of all frantically explained to him that the water was pouring in through all of the ceilings and walls and I did not know exactly what to do first to fix it. He had been in bad health at this time, but shared with me that the only thing that I could do on this particular evening was to run out to his little shop and grab a couple of dozen 5 gallon empty buckets and get up inside the attic of the Diamond House and try to catch the rain as it poured in! So that is exactly what I did, with the help of a friend and a few flashlights we journeyed into that pitch black scary attic, which was packed full of spiderwebs so thick that you could not see your hand in front of your face! Thank God I did not have a heart condition at that time, otherwise Benjamin Purnell's body would not be the only one that had expired inside that castle!! We actually were able to do a great job of catching the rain water, as we found out early the next morning when we went back up inside that attic to find that the buckets were nearly full and the sun had come out and began to dry things out. What we did not realize that evening in the darkness, was that we were sharing the attic space with over 50 raccoons and a giant family that had probably lived inside that attic for the past 30+ years. These animals were HUGE!!! They made attempts to try to scare us out of their territory, but we were bigger and determined to get them out of that home, so we stood our ground and eventually over the next month or so we drove all of them out of the home. What we began to discover as we took the wood off of all of the windows around the entire home (that had kept the light from coming inside the building for roughly 50 years) was that these animals had done a massive amount of destruction of not only House of David artifacts, but many gorgeous pieces of furniture, etc. The best part about the mansion was that the majority of it was made out of a man-made stone that the colony men had created, which still looked in nearly meant condition even after 100 years of life. As I rounded up super talented guys that I had learned of over the previous 25 years of real estate, I put together an amazing crew of craftsman that were able to do a full restoration of not only broken and bad plumbing, drywall, woodwork, electrical, heating, structure issues and windows, but also stone restoration and the ability to recreate what was now gone in many instances. During the first few weeks of our project we had many, many dumpsters full of just basically rubbish and items that were completely destroyed from all of the years of water damage. We sorted out the valuables from the trash, and put the nicer pieces of furniture into the dry basement area of the mansion, which was also near one of the entrances to one of the tunnels. We found literally hundreds of boxes of Indian artifacts that Judge Dewhirst had acquired back in the 20's and 30's and had on display at his "Indian Artifact Museum" at the Grande Vista Resort. We were told by the administrator at the colony that the majority of the Indian artifact collection was donated to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. But all of these items that we were now finding had been a part of the museum there at the Grande Vista, and luckily Tom Dewhirst felt that they were worthy of saving!! The colony members had a meeting and agreed to allow us to sell off this giant artifact collection to be able to finance the restoration of the Diamond House mansion, which we were told would cost upwards of $1 million. As the guys and myself began this long tedious project, we had two people that were working full-time and strictly marketing these items worldwide, which was a huge success and allowed us to finance this project with no outside help!! Some of the exciting finds from within those walls of the mansion were things like 1930s through 1950s vintage tin toys that were still in the boxes, which were used as gifts to the winners of Chic Bell's "Amateur Night" shows!! We were also allowed to liquidate these items which again generated a great amount of income for our project! There were many hidden rooms inside rooms, moving walls, and hidden storage areas where we discovered a massive amount of extremely important paperwork and documents relating to the history of the colony. As we made these discoveries, we took these items over to the main office at Shiloh where we allowed them to sort through and tell us what they wanted and what they did not want to keep. And of course anything that they decided not to keep I personally planned to hold onto forever!!! Amongst those truckloads of documents that we carefully and safely removed from the mansion, were many personal items of Benjamin Purnell which are now in the safe hands of the county. As we began to move our efforts to the upper floors of the mansion we were asked to take a day off while the colony emptied a huge hidden walk-in vault that we discovered in the area leading to Ben's tomb. The very next day there were hundreds of tracks in the dust covering the floors, telling us that they must have worked all night to get the vault emptied! At that time Willie Robertson walked over from the House of David Print Shop and told us all that we had brought more happiness and life into their world than anyone had done since he arrived from Scotland in 1947. He was so proud of us and our devotion, and said to do with the Diamond House as we saw fit, but to please never disturb the tomb of Benjamin which was just on the far side of the catwalk that we had just began working on. At the end of that catwalk was the entrance to private Benjamin's parlor (they called it his "Annex" where his body was embalmed and placed into a hermetically sealed glass coffin, along with a MASSIVE amount of diamonds, rubies, statues, urns, oil paintings and things the colony members had to give up upon joining the faith). This entrance had a giant steel bank vault door on it, along with wires that were attached to the front of it for security purposes. There was no way we were going to even consider touching that door, although our minds were now blown away by what he must have looked like laying in his resting place for the past 80 years!! We often heard scary and questionable noises coming from that room over the next nine months, which drove some of the help to move their work to different parts of the house. But we all LOVED what we were doing and in a years time the grand old place was now spectacular once again!! One of the greatest parts of this entire year long project was the fact that every single day for that entire time, both Lloyd Dalager and Donnie Robertson (original members from very early on) were there to share their stories with us about the Diamond House mansion as well as stories of Benjamin and his tunnels and all aspects of life there in the colony!! The grand ballroom in the 3rd floor was something to see, much less learn the stories about!! It was the place where Ben entertained his female lovers, and WOW, was it unique!! There were hidden tiny rooms that were only 4' tall where the boy colony members were taught to watch for the "authorities", and to sound a siren to warm Ben of any possible intruders!! And there were eight huge bedrooms in a big circular room that were all connected by a hallway that led to Benjamin's private sanctuary. I found many diaries from female members of the colony, that were hidden on a top shelf inside Benjamin's secret room. What I read in those diaries I promised myself never to share while the colony members were still alive.... And to this day it makes my heart race just to say that much! To be continued....


DIAMOND HOUSE MANSION.......Final Chapter. With the conclusion of our year-long restoration project back in 2004 our crew of guys was feeling a massive amount of pride, excitement and gratitude towards the colony for allowing us to go in and do what we did. As we began to get close to finishing up with this masterpiece of architecture, Lloyd Dalager began to ask me daily what I would like to do with the building (minus the area of course called the Annex where Ben's body lays in state). I had met with Don Schultz Sr., Lee Mireles, and some of the guys that were helping out at my museum at the time to figure out what the absolute highest best use of the home would be. We felt that after year of being inside and around that building, that the BEST use of it would be a wonderfully planned "Walking Tour" of not only the grounds around the mansion but also for each room to display some facet of the story of the House of David. We picked rooms for telling the stories about the music in the park, a room for baseball and its history, a room for teaching about the members, one for the inventions that were created right there, and one huge entry hall for the amusement park, and of course the ballroom for the story about Benjamin, and so on. I began to formulate a fabulous plan to make this all happen, and had intentions of moving a good majority of what I had currently on display at my museum into this newly renovated castle. We were going to use the huge vaults to teach about the wealth of the colony, and the tunnel entrance to teach about the story of Al Capone and Prohibition. Don't let a mind like mine go free to create.....its never ending the possibilities!!! So once formulated and agreed upon, I approached Lloyd for his approval and he was so excited he almost literally cried that morning in his room in Shiloh as we sat to discuss all of my dreams and all of the guys ideas. I then met with Donnie Robertson (who was then living in Frank Rosetta's old house next door to the Diamond House) and he was just ecstatic!!! He and I had dinner in Lloyd's parlor that evening as we all sat and talked about and dreamed about this all happening. It was soooooo exciting, I can't even tell you the chills I got listening to those two colony men describe what "Could Be"!! They both agreed that it would be the ABSOLUTE BEST place to share the story of the House of David, and that they too would actually be right there, every single day, to greet museum guests and they would help give the tours and teach their story themselves!!! I phoned many folks that evening sharing the idea, including colony-born Charles Antonopolus, Howard Crossman (head administrator of the office back then) and many more. What a grand idea everyone had thought, and I couldn't even sleep that night from the adrenaline created from that idea!!! But what was about to happen the very next morning would change the fate of the mysterious Diamond House Mansion forever... This exciting new plan was presented to Wilma Estes at the colony office the very next morning. To me it was just a formality to present any idea to Wilma, as she always agreed if "The Boys" agreed, according to the way she was raised. But this day was different. She looked at me with a huge sad face and said to me..."Chris, I love that idea and would love to see that happen, but some very good friends of mine by the name of the Blakes have wanted to live in the Diamond House for the past 50 years and this is the very first chance that will be possible, and I've promised it to them. TOTAL SILENCE. My heart nearly stopped beating. I had no clue even how to respond to this. Massive thoughts of mountains of restoration work, time spent, our own money spent, and dreams made were all hitting the brick wall at that very moment. I pleaded with her and presented the idea in full detail, sharing with her that every single person I had shared it with absolutely LOVED the idea, including all of the other members. She would not budge. She said to me..."Chris, you know that we believe that God brings people into our lives at the times that we need them, and then he takes them away. He brought you to us to help us, and we are grateful for what you've done...". And so after feeling like I had just witnessed a massive killing, and walked over to the Diamond House where the guys were all waiting for the news, we wrapped up our tools, cleaned up the mansion, and for the past 11 years its been home to a private family and is now off limits to all of us. It really hurts my heart just sitting here remembering that morning... Fast forward to today, and once the millions of dollars arrived at the House of David colony in Benton Harbor in 2012 (after the death of the very last member of their colony in Australia) now literally MILLIONS have been spent on making the Diamond House Mansion even grander than it ever was. The place looks spectacular, no doubt about it. But to me, a humble kid that grew up working on local farms and working for every dime I have, it just became something much different. What my minds eye sees is that we could have had the last few years of both Lloyd Dalager and Donnie Robertson telling their stories to thousands of guest that COULD have visited the park and the grounds, all of us volunteers could have turned into a group ten times as big, restoring a massive amount of what was left to fall to the ground, and the book was closed, the men are now gone, the property is now fenced off and gated, only to remain private until their long awaited "Ingathering" happens.......and maybe that means NONE of us will ever see it again. I hope and pray that there will be another chapter to this story....