Stan Mazor, co-inventor of the microprocessor, designed this steel and Styrofoam chateau in a flood plain in Ashland using plans from a 13th-century Norman mansion. - Jamie Lusch

Ashland's Norman chateau can be yours

ASHLAND — Stanley Mazor was part of a three-member team that in 1970 invented the mircroprocessor, making personal computers possible. He used the same approach in building a replica of a historic Norman mansion in Ashland, but using entirely modern "green" materials and power sources.

As with building the earliest desktop computer, Mazor says he took on the project as a challenge and an obsession — using "top down design; that is, laying out the big picture, then doing a piece of it, a subset."

Using Legos as his mental model, Mazor built the middle of the long, narrow palace first. It stood there, three stories tall and quite narrow. It gradually sprouted two symmetrical wings which, unlike most house additions, were pre-planned and flowed nicely to completion.

(How is this, you ask, like inventing the personal computer? Mazor says that would have happened soon anyway, but it was triggered when a client asked the Intel team to scale down the then-huge computer, so as to make a calculator that would fit on a desktop.)

In building his chateau, Mazor set as a goal using many green, low-impact technologies, including building with recycled Styrofoam blocks, reinforced with concrete and steel rebar and supplying power from a 10-kilowatt bank of solar photovoltaic panels on the hillside.

He used cast-resin fireplaces and other fixtures, drawing heat from a subterranean geothermal heat pump — and basically avoiding the cutting of a single tree. In fact Mazor planted 1,000 of them — cherry, Cyprus, poplar, dogwood — about the 26-acre grounds, along with enough grapes to launch a small winery.

The estate sits on the Bear Creek flood plain, just below the freeway, on a plot that was considered "junk land" when he bought it for $5,000 an acre. The chateau is parked on 14-foot "stilts" which are drilled down to bedrock, with Mazor betting that in the 100-year flood, the chateau will stay just where he put it.

Mazor, 65, found the original mansion pictured in a 1979 issue of Architectural Digest and, with his wife Maurine, traveled to Normandy, found the estate (owned by the Marquis D'Aulan of Deauville). Although they were denied entry inside the home, they pleaded for and were given permission to come on-site to take pictures and measurements.

They built the home to 80 percent of scale or 9,000 square feet, at around $400 a square foot. The couple originally considered making it a bed-and-breakfast inn, but soon reckoned it would be too much work.

Having met his challenge, explored its possibilities and written a book about it, "Design an Expandable House" (Unlimited Publishing, Bloomington, IN, 2006), Mazor has placed the chateau on the market for $4.2 million and is ready to move on. The palace is a second home; they are based in Mountain View, Calif.

Along green lines, Mazor did all he could to use local materials and workers, though many fabrications, such as statues and marble gazebo in the geometric garden out back, could only be found at reasonable prices in China.

If you've ever seen a movie set among the French aristocracy of 1630, it looks just like this one — and you're hard pressed to find the modern materials, including Baroque wall designs, floral pattern drapes, carved pediment and marblesque floors and fireplaces, at variance with the original.

Even the large, original portraiture and bucolic scenes are based on originals by Fragonard and other period French artists, with one bewigged "lord" wearing the painted-in face of Mazor himself.

Each section of fitted-together wood floor tile has 35 pieces and was custom made in Oregon City, based on a floor at Versailles, he says. Curving window surrounds on the exterior were experimental — made from corian, a countertop material, poured into rubber molds.

The resplendent mansion is 152 feet long, and narrow in keeping with the needs of the pre-electric world, where smart Frenchmen built so that sunlight would flow through the entire house from one side or the other, regardless of the time of day.

The big "green" feat is the recycling of those annoying Styrofoam pellets, which, after use as packaging, have almost nowhere to go.

Here, they're melted down into blocks, 10 feet by 30 inches by 10 inches, glued together and, after use with concrete and both vertical and horizontal rebar, they're treated with stucco and historically accurate gray paint.

The insulating value of 10 inches of Styrofoam is huge, Mazor notes — and it's 20 inches thick on the shaded north side. Another handy thing about Styrofoam is that it greatly simplifies wiring: you just carve a track with a chain saw and push the wiring in.

The chateau was a fine fantasy conducted over the last decade and Mazor is confident the right buyer is out there with the ready cash for the estate, likely "a Californian who wants to grow grapes or a Hollywood type who likes the romance of a chateau."

As for his investment of learning and considerable work, Mazor (who has now moved on to writing a play, as well as a book on how to gamble successfully on the stock market), smiles broadly and waves his hand, saying, "It's about the journey, not the destination."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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