BRIDGEPORT — When Alex Rico’s wife, Gisela, died eight years ago at the age of 34, leaving him to raise their son and daughter alone, his family lost more than a wife and mother, they lost the queen of their world.
That’s why, a few months later, Rico decided to turn his home into a castle fitting for a queen.
“I told my kids I want to do something so I could remember your mom. Not in the cemetery. This is something I see every day,” Rico, 44, said.
What he did was turn their Bridgeport home into a castle — complete with towers and battlements.
“I decided after she passed away that she was going to be the queen of my heart for life. That’s why I did it,” he said.
Gisela died after beating back ovarian cancer three times only for it to come back a fourth and final time. The couple was married for 18 years.
“She was too young for that. It was really tough for us, but we kept going,” Rico said.
Rico, who is a plumbing contractor for the city, decided a few months after Gisela died to see if he could honor her by turning his home on South Carpenter Street into a castle. So he enlisted the help of a construction worker friend.
“I made a drawing and asked if he could make it. He said yes, and I asked him how long it would take. He told me, ‘maybe two or three months.’ “
In the end, it took almost three years.
“We did it little by little. They built it in the back yard and garage and brought it through the alley to the front,” Rico explained. “I had a boom lift in front and that’s how we got it the pieces up there.”
Rico said he was often at work while his friend was working on the house — and sometimes he made him do things over that weren’t to his liking or that he felt fitting for his Gisela.
“Sometimes I’d get home from work and see something I didn’t like and would say I don’t like it, build it again.”
One thing that he’s happy about is that a neighbor took photos to document the stages of construction.
“I was always working and didn’t have time or really think about that,” Rico said.
After three years, the castle was complete. While there is no moat around the house, there is cast-iron fencing. The roof has crenellations or battlements, typically found on the tops of castle towers and walls, which have rectangular gaps for firing arrows. They are wooden but painted to look like stone. Additionally, on the right front soffit, the name Gisela is displayed and the phrase “In God We Trust.”
Also on the roof are several towers, topped with crenellations or pointed rooflines that in medieval castles were built so snow would slide off instead of building up. Rico said they are all attached to each other and reinforced with rebar, so there isn’t any concern that they could blow off in a storm.
Additionally, there is a faux-balcony on a second floor window where one could imagine a princess standing on, peering at the stars or at her prince below. Or perhaps a queen looking at her king.
Rico said his son, who is in medical school after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his daughter, who is studying to be a dentist, both still live with him.
On his block, passersby often stop and take pictures of his home. Rico said he’s happy about that. However, once in awhile someone asks to see the inside — a request he refuses because his home was robbed once and also because the interior is not medieval.
When he’s not working, Rico said he likes to collect antiques and relax outside.
“I tell my friends, I like to treat myself like a king because I work too much,” he said.
He also added that people who do not know the story behind his house sometimes assume wrong and distasteful things.
“I’ve heard some people thought I was a drug dealer or had a lot of money. I don’t have any money, and any money I do have I work hard for.”
He also said he believes Gisela would love what he’s done and has no plans to ever leave.
“My son told me ‘I’m going to be a doctor and I’m going to buy you a house.’ But then he said, ‘You’re never going to move out.’ He’s right.”
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