Gustav Wulff emigrated from Germany to Chile in 1881 and succeeded in building a fortune as a merchant. In the early 1900s, he acquired a piece of land in the growing resort community of Viña de Mar. By 1906, Wulff had constructed a home set in a dramatic location on a rocky, wave-battered promontory.
Initially, the building was a somewhat ordinary home, designed with German and French influences and constructed mainly of wood. Later, Wulff began a long and eccentric collaboration with the architect Alberto Cruz Montt to transform the house into a castle.
During the 1910s, Wulff and Montt replaced the wood with stone, expanded the floor plan with additional rooms, and embellished the entire structure with parapets, turrets, and crenellations worthy of a grand European manor. The most elaborate addition was the large round tower; built on an outcrop and connected to the main house by a bridge with a glass floor through which Wulff could watch the crashing waves.
Architecturally, the Castillo Wulff has been described as “neo-Tudor,” “neo-Gothic,” and “neo-medieval”. Its mixture of revivalist styles makes it a great example of early 20th-century eclecticism. The castle’s unique appearance and prominent location have made it a landmark in Viña and iconic throughout Chile.
After Wulff died in 1946, his heirs made further architectural additions and subtractions to the building before selling it to the city in 1960. The castle served as a naval museum from the 1960s to the 1980s, and then as a museum dedicated to the writer Salvador Reyes during the 1990s. In 1995, the castle was declared a national monument, precluding any further changes to the structure.
Today, the castle houses the offices of the municipal heritage department, which manages the city’s historical and cultural sites and activities. It’s a fitting use for a building with so much history and culture of its own.