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Explore San Diego: Magical mountain playhouse is historical landmark

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UPDATE: Ilan-Lael is open for public tours this Father’s Day weekend and again in October.  Click here for a full schedule and ticket information.

SANTA YSABEL, Calif. – If art is the soul’s way of communicating, then this Santa Ysabel mountain retreat has a lot to say.

Tucked in the mountains and inspired by nature is Ilan-Lael, Hebrew for “A tree that belongs to God” and brainchild of renowned San Diego architect James Hubbell.

Ten buildings dot his sprawling 40 acre plus property – bedrooms, a workshop, meditation space, a dazzling pool, Jacuzzi and more.

The most eye-catching is the two story bedroom and playhouse he built for his kids, complete with a spiral wooden staircase, ornate features and a mosaic domed bathroom.

Brick by brick, James and his wife Anne started building their dream home more than 50 years ago.  When the 2003 Cedar Fire burned it down, the decided they weren’t going to be victims.

“The fire gave us space we could do new things,” said Hubbell.

Four kids and six grandkids later, their home is a historical landmark and once a year they open it up for public tours.

“It’s not Disneyland, it’s a place where people can talk to nature and talk to themselves,” is how Hubbell described his magical home.

College students even come from around the country for hands-on internships.

Clare Knecht, a sophomore from the University of Cincinnati said, “Messing up is the beauty of his work.”

And after a lifetime of work, Hubbell said fame doesn’t compare to the feedback from a little boy – “Mr. Hubbell makes houses that trees aren’t ashamed to stand next to.”

And he has this advice.

“If you know where you’re going, you’re not going anywhere.”

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