Celebrations Canceled - NBC 7 San Diego

Celebrations Canceled



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    Hundreds of couples have "tied the knot" at the Amy Strong Castle -- a one-of-a-kind, historic mansion, in the shadow of Mount Woodson, near Ramona. But anyone planning to celebrate at "The Castle" could be very disappointed and very angry.

    They could lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars and be forced to find a new location for their very special event.

    Tom Blanco and Susan Woodruff celebrated their 20th anniversary, a special event for family and friends, last week at their Ramona home.
    It was a lovely party, but not what they planned for.

    Tom and Susan's family wanted to celebrate at the historic Amy Strong Castle, in the shadow of Mount Woodson.

    Back in September, they signed a contract and paid a deposit to reserve the masterpiece of art and architecture built in 1920, and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

    "Invitations had already gone out," Tom Blanco said.

    But just weeks before their scheduled party, they were told that The Castle had been closed.

    "I couldn't believe it. We would have shown up with our 50 guests and our caterer to a dark locked building," Blanco said.

    Tom says he and his family were crushed.

    They moved the party to their home and tried to get back their $400 deposit. But they say the castle's managers Steve and Debra Dawe, who took their deposit and signed that contract, didn’t return their phone calls or answer their emails.

    "I think it's terrible," Blanco said.

    Tom might not be the only one left waiting at The Castle door.

    A document reveals that more than 20 weddings and receptions are booked for The Castle. The first one is scheduled for next month and five more are planned for May. Wedding dates are reserved and sizable deposits have been paid through March of next year.

    "My client feels horrible about it, but it's one of those things that someone took the money and used it for an improper purpose," The Castle owner's attorney C. David Herring said.

    Herring represents the owner of The Castle property. He says his client is not responsible for the problem, and not liable for any lost deposits. Herring says his client never signed any contracts, never accepted any payments.

    He says the blame lies with the Castle's managers, Steven and Debra Dawe, whom he says had no authority to book events at the Castle.

    "What Mr. Dawe has told us is he's taken deposits for all these different functions and apparently has spent the deposits," Herring said.

    But Steve Dawe disagrees. He says he has a valid lease agreement, dating back more than ten years, that allows him to book events at The Castle.

    He has filed a lawsuit against the property owner, and hopes a judge will agree that he has a valid lease.

    Dawe's lawyer says Dawe didn't return Blanco's phone calls or emails because he thought the dispute would be settled and The Castle re-opened for events.

    But the two sides are still locked in a legal bitter dispute, with the Blanco family and twenty couples caught in the middle. 

    "Yeah, I don't know how anybody can look at themselves in the mirror and behave the way they're behaving," Blanco said.

    The Blanco family finally got their deposit back. Steve Dawe paid them that $400 on Tuesday after NBC San Diego asked him repeatedly about the money. Dawe also said he'll find a way to pay back the other deposits, if The Castle isn't open for those weddings.