Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Hearst Castle

Perched overlooking one of the most stunning coastlines in the United States is the private residence of one of the country’s most notable business moguls and millionaires.  William Randolph Hearst fell in love with a hilltop piece of property in San Simeon that his father owned and he camped on as a little boy.  His love for the property propelled him to construct a little house, or two, or three…Hearst called this property simply “the ranch.”  And while his ranch did have cattle, it was not the average western California farm.  This one has elaborate architecture, Spanish flair, and is adorned with European antiquities.

Hearst gained an appreciation for European style as a young boy when he spent a year and a half traveling throughout Europe with his mother.  While most children would not develop an appreciation for European architecture, culture, and style, Hearst did.

Hearst approached the talented Californian architect Julia Morgan with a “project” to build a bungalow.  He told Morgan, “I would like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I'm getting a little too old for that. I'd like to get something that would be a little more comfortable."

Not your typical "ranch" front door - this one is a work of art from Europe that was
disassembled, shipped to the building site, and reconstructed.
Hearst’s intention of a modest dwelling swelled into a palatial estate.  Construction began in 1919 with a guest cottage that Hearst lived in until the main building (called “Casa Grande” by Hearst or the “Hearst Castle” by others) was completed.  Work on the property continued non-stop until 1949 when Hearst left the property due to failing health.  
Casa del Sol is just one of  three guest cottages.  It contains 8 bedrooms and bathrooms
and is just over 3,600 square feet.  Not too shabby for a "guest" cottage.
The Hearst Castle was four stories and featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and a private zoo.

The lavish dining room was called the "Refectory" because its high windows, colorful silk banners, and polished silver
conveyed the atmosphere of a church from the middle ages.
Despite the ornate decorations in the dinning room, guests enjoyed a ranch-style dinner of steak and potatoes
while listening to Roy Rogers.  Mustard and ketchup were always on the table - a reminder that Hearst liked
to keep things informal at the ranch.
One of the highlights of the estate is the large outdoor Neptune Pool.  The pool sits on the hilltop and offers an excellent view of the main house, the mountains, and Pacific ocean.  The patio is adorned with an ancient Roman Temple front that was imported from Europe.  Hearst was always "tinkering" with the design and finished products and as a result the Neptune Pool was built and rebuilt three times before he was satisfied.

Hearst was a prolific buyer of antiques and art and built his houses around them instead of using them for mere decoration.   He collected over 250,000 pieces of art from statues to Belgian tapestries.

Being invited to the the Hearst Castle was a big deal and the Hollywood set was ever present.  Most guests were flown in on Hearst's private jet and landed on the property air strip.  Guests were summoned  to the "assembly room" at seven where they enjoyed each others company and cocktails (but no more than two) for an hour.  The ornately decorated room featured 16th century tapestries and marble statues.

Then Hearst would enter and seat everyone for dinner.  After dinner the billiards room was the center of activity until movies were shown in the theater at 11 p.m.

The Hearst Castle was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and is administered by the California State Park System.  One stipulation of the Hearst Corporation's donation of the property to the state is that the Hearst family is allowed to use it when they wish which is primarily to use the Neptune pool for family events during the summer.  Otherwise, the property is open for tours but you may want to check online for availability and prices if you are coming during a busy time of year.  We agreed that it is certainly worth the visit.

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