The Coast News Group
The Woodward family home in Cardiff was once a water storage tank. Photo by Tracy Moran
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Cardiff family’s unique home stands test of time

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Even in a community of eclectic residences — cozy bungalows nestled against two-story condo complexes, Tuscan-style homes tucked against modern wood and glass structures — the Woodward home is in a class by itself. Perched atop Chesterfield Drive, the building was once a 16-sided, tin-clad water tower. But since the late 1920s, generations of the Woodwards have made it their family home, a three-level, circular structure unlike any other in the area.

Ora Woodward, who had lived in the Bahamas with her husband Ernest Woodward at one time, bought the tower around 1927, said their grandson, Ernest “Corky” Woodward III, 68.

“She had to buy it because it reminded her of Bluebeard’s castle,” he said with a smile, referring to the structure on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas that legend claims was built by the pirate Bluebeard.

Mary Woodward and her son, Corky, have fond memories of Cardiff's early days. Photo by Tracy Moran

She then had the one-time water storage tank converted to a house. The home includes a basement topped by two stories that offer 360-degree views through stately trees and bright-red bougainvillea. Each level has 1,200 feet of space and a diameter of approximately 40 feet. At one time, murals covered the inside walls, recalled Corky Woodward, who lives in the home with his wife, Nancy, one of his two sons, and his mother, Mary Woodward. At 91, Mary Woodward has a lifetime of memories tied to the house. She recently moved back, following a stay in an assisted living facility.

“It’s glorious to be back,” she said of her return to the family home, “because before I died, I wanted to be home again. To be back here is the joy of my life.”

Mary Woodward originally came to Cardiff with her parents and siblings when she was 18, at the outset of World War II. Her parents befriended Ora Woodward and her son, Ernest Woodward II, and he and Mary fell in love.

“I guess we were meant for each other,” she said. “We ran away to Yuma to get married.”


Because he had a bad back, he was unable to serve in the war, so they returned to the Woodward’s Cardiff family home, which they shared with 15 others, including Mary Woodward’s in-laws, parents and extended family.

“And we only had one bathroom,” Mary said.

The home includes a basement topped by two stories that offer 360-degree views through stately trees and bright-red bougainvillea. Photo by Tracy Moran

Eventually, just Mary, Ernest and Corky remained in the home, and Corky has many fond childhood memories of roaming the surrounding canyons and fields. Pointing to a towering Torrey pine on the east side of the property, he shared its origins: “I got that from the canyon where the (Interstate 5) freeway is now,” he said, “nearly 60 years ago.”

“It was about this big when I got it,” he said, holding his palms 12-inches apart.

Later, indicating a window on the home’s top floor, Corky Woodward said his mom had been known to shoot rabbits from there, back in the days when there was no one around for miles. Mary Woodward proudly recalled her skills.

“I would kill, clean and cook them,” she said, “and we would have fried rabbit and hot, buttered biscuits for dinner.”

Her husband, she said, taught her to shoot, and he also taught her the skills she needed to join him as a firefighter for the Forest Service. They were responsible for covering a large swath of county territory, with Mary Woodward sharing the firefighting duties with her husband, including driving the truck and working the fire lines.

From an unconventional firefighting job for a woman of that era, to the unique home where she spent most of her adult life, Mary Woodward has cherished memories of her life here. Today, in an area abuzz with new construction and remodeling of older homes, the Woodward water tower residence maintains its roots from Cardiff’s earliest days.