Editor's note: One year ago two people died following incidents at the Spreckels mansion. Public fascination continued for weeks afterward, peaking in September as the cases were determined to have been a suicide and an accident, not crimes. This week, Patch revisits the deaths of Rebecca Zahau and Max Shacknai in pieces about the storied home connected to them, an upcoming book and Zahau's loved ones, who continue to maintain she did not kill herself.
The seaside mansion is in a state of flux. Work on the 12,750-square-foot residence is expected to continue through year's end. A proposal to renovate the home's exterior in a nod to its original architect didn't fly.
So with the old roof replaced by new tile, it remains, unmistakably, the Spreckels mansion, the stately oceanfront compound that for a time last summer became known not for its storied history, but for the tragedies that took place on its grounds.
A year ago Wednesday a six-year-old boy fell inside the mansion, suffering injuries that would ultimately kill him. Two days later, a woman was found dead, naked and bound, in the courtyard to the rear of the multi-million dollar home.
To the curious outside Coronado, the deaths served as their introduction to the Spreckels mansion, as satellite trucks camped on Ocean Boulevard and cable talk show hosts dissected the cases night after night.
For a while, the home, named for San Diego land baron John D. Spreckels, became entwined with the names Rebecca Zahau, 32, whose death was ruled a suicide by hanging, and Max Shacknai, 6, whose fall was found to be an accident.
“It's a very unusual case and very unusual for this town,” Coronado police Chief Louis Scanlon told Patch Tuesday. “It was unusual and sensational irrespective of where it took place.”
Real estate agent Scott Aurich, who has worked with homeowner Jonah Shacknai – Max's father and Zahau's boyfriend – argues, like Scanlon, that a year later, Coronado has turned the page.
“I don't hear anybody referring to anything that happened in the house,” Aurich said. “I haven't heard that for a long time.”
Shacknai, who founded Medicis (NYSE:MRX), an Arizona pharmaceuticals company, continues to have an agreement to sell the home, while a development team with plans to flip it renovates it. Aurich is seeking another buyer and says he receives calls daily inquiring about the historic property, which is listed for $15.5 million.
In addition to the new roof, workers have replaced the 104-year-old mansion's plumbing and electrical systems – though they were hindered by its concrete block walls – and gutted the kitchen in preparation for a revamp. The living quarters have been altered, reducing part of the space from six bedrooms to four; work to restore or replace the wood on the windows has been completed.
“It takes a lot of imagination,” Aurich said, to visualize a transformed Spreckels.
“Then when it's finished it will sparkle,” he said.
That could once again be the reason people stop and stare at the Spreckels mansion – to admire its gleam, its design and its history. Those who were drawn to Spreckels to ponder its scandals seem to have trickled away.
“I think for at least several weeks after the event a lot of people specifically were going to the house,” Scanlon said. “You'd see a lot of people pointing at it and people pulling over on the side of the road, but I think that's pretty much over with.”