But the designs he might be best known for in town aren’t buildings. They’re his wild creations – a stellated icosahedron and a dragon float, among others (see above) – as entries in the Mill Valley Memorial Day Parade on behalf of Greenwood School, where his daughters attended.
“It was the kind of school where it was all hands on deck,” Castor says. “I got really into it, not only to have people from the school to help me make it happen, but also the great reactions we received each year.”
Though Castor has deep roots in Mill Valley, he took quite the circuitous journey to get to Mill Valley. He was born in Malaysia and lived there and in Singapore until he was nine, when his family moved to Nashville, Tenn., and later to Chattanooga, where he spent his formative years. He attended college at Princeton, lived in New York City for a stretch and got his Master’s degree at Harvard University. After landing a Fulbright fellowship to work in Amsterdam for a few years, Castor found himself creating drawings at the Getty Museum Research Institute in Los Angeles.
“At that point, I was a quasi-academic, artist and architect, and I essentially faced three forks in the road: become an academic, an artist or practicing architect,” he says. “It was around the same time I met my wife (longtime Mill Valley resident Jennifer Jerde), and that settled it – the other two options were too dicey.”
Castor started his practice in 2000 and had an office in San Francisco, but the couple had their daughters in 2001 and 2003, and quickly felt the pull to be closer to home. He took an office for a few years on Miller Ave. in the Jungsten Construction building, and later established Daniel Castor Architecture at 244 Miller Ave., the former home to Barbara Chambers’ Chambers + Chambers Architects.
Castor met Jerde in 1995, and when they decided to move in together, they settled on a rock-paper-scissors battle to determine if it was Jerde’s home in Mill Valley or his flat in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“She won,” he says with a laugh.
Castor says he designed a number of larger homes in Marin and Sonoma counties in the early years of his practice, and has largely concentrated his efforts in Marin and the North Bay since then, designing both residential and mixed-use projects. Recent projects include a home on Ethel Ave., another on Ryan Ave., and a mixed-use project in Glen Ellen that’s currently in process.
“I’ll always love the parade regardless – it’s always the best day of the year,” he says.