Approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (4 hours) on Highway 1 in the California Central Coast, lies Hearst Castle, the legendary estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951). His father, George Hearst, a skilled miner and geologist from Missouri, moved to California in the mid-1800’s to mine, and in 1865 purchased the property as a cattle and horse ranch. One hundred and fifty years later, it is still a cattle ranch, breeding Black and Red Angus, as well as a state historical monument that reveals the life of one of America’s most successful businessmen of the 20th century.
In 1919, when William (an only child) was 56, he inherited the property, which had grown to encompass 250,000 acres. During his childhood, the family often spent time at the ranch camping in tents on the hill where the estate now stands. His initial idea was to build ” a little something”, a bungalow (of sorts) as he was tired and too old for camping. The architect WRH chose was Julia Morgan, who not only had a civil engineering background from Berkley, but also the distinction of being the first woman to graduate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Construction continued through 1947 when WRH, due to health reasons, moved to Beverly Hills, and the castle was never completed.
The area of the main house, or Casa Grande, exceeds 60,000 square feet, with the guesthouses adding another 30,000 square feet of living space. As a result of the length of construction and the constant change of plans, the main building itself is a mix of different architectural styles, the main style being Spanish Revival. WRH amassed a personal collection of ancient art, furniture, sculptures, and other relics, which gives you a sense of touring a museum. (In fact, I read an interesting blurb on the Hearts Collection website that, at the time of his death, it is said his estate had accounted for about a quarter of the world’s art market activity.) His notable parties with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, as well as his relationship with his mistress, actress Marion Davies, lend an air of mystique to the setting.
Tours start at the Visitor Center where you will take a bus ride 5 miles up a windy road and climb 1,600 feet to the “cuesta encantada”, or enchanted hill. The web site details the different tours available, from the Grand Rooms Tour, to the Upstairs Suites, Cottages and Kitchen, and Evening Tours. Whichever tour you choose, it is best to reserve tickets ahead of time as they can sell out quickly. At the conclusion of each tour, you are encouraged to explore the gardens, the Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool, before taking the bus back down the hill (more harrowing than the ride up).
We signed up for two tours that day, each 45 minutes long. The first of which was the Grand Rooms Tour, and includes the Assembly Room, the Refectory, the Billiard Room and the Theater.
Next was the Upstairs Suites Tour, including the Doge’s Suite, the Main Library, Heart’s private suite which includes the Gothic Room, Marion Davies Room (and closet…not as big as one would think), and the Duplex Bedrooms. The Doge’s Suite was very grand, with beautiful Scalamandré silk walls, but what caught my eye was the Main Library and the Gothic Suite. Standing in the Main Library, you are surrounded by a collection of 4,100 books (many 1st edition) and 115 pieces of Greek pottery from the 5th and 6th century B.C. It was in the Gothic Suite that WRH previewed his newspapers every night before printing. The concrete arches in the suite were decorated by Camille Solon in 1934-35, and the Spanish ceiling dates from the early 1400s.
A visit to Heart Castle is a doable day trip from Santa Barbara or Paso Robles. It was a stopping point for us on our way up Highway 1 to Big Sur, and specifically the Post Ranch Inn….I cannot wait to show you those pics. In the meantime, Happy Monday!
750 Hearst Castle Rd
San Simeon, CA 93452
All photos by Marci Symington for texaztaste.blogspot.com