After wine and sun in Santa Barbara, we opted for some culture and history in the form of Hearst Castle. Built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst from 1920 to 1935 it is one of America’s European-like monuments to old money, much like the Biltmore in North Carolina. The castle, designed by architect Julia Morgan (the first lady to graduate from architect’s school in Paris, and also had a civil engineering degree, GIRL POWER), along with a lot of input by Hearst, took 15 years to build.
Perched on a mountaintop owned by the Hearst family (purchased by Willy’s Dad in the early 1800’s) in San Simeon CA, about 2 hours north of Santa Barbara. The property itself was donated to the state of California in 1957, but most of the ranch on which the castle is located is still owned by the Hearst Corporation.
Hearst modeled the property after many structures in Europe, Mediterranean seaside estates, the cathedrals in Spain and England, castles of German barons and the Moorish architecture of Morocco and Southern Spain, all inspired by a childhood trip to Europe, and subsequent visits. He needed a place to house his 250,000 piece art collection, and he did have a little money from being the USA’s first media mogul, so why not build a castle right?
There were four different tours to choose from and unfortunately we only had a few hours, so we chose Tour 1, best for first timers. We started by taking a bus from the visitor center, about 5 miles up the “hill” to the castle. Our first stop on the tour was the Neptune Pool. Hearst changed his mind about it 3 times, so the current pool, was his third construction. The facade is from an actual Greek Temple, normal.
Our next stop was one of the three guesthouses on the property, the Casa Del Mar. When you were invited by Mr. Hearst to his “ranch at San Simeon” (what he called it back then), you had your own room and bathroom, even if you were married, I mean why share a room with your spouse if you don’t have to…
(notice the Moorish influence on this balcony)
However, there were a few rules to being a guest at The Ranch. First, it wasn’t a hotel, no room service unless you were ill. You had to come to the main house for all your food. Next, you couldn’t get drunk. You were required to attend cocktail hour and dinner every evening, but only for a cocktail or two (two if you were fast said Marlon Brando), drunkenness was a no no. Even though his mistress was an alcoholic and hid gin everywhere! It was his house, his lady did what she wanted. Also, you had to be nice to the help. Being mean to any servant was cause for immediate dismissal. And, lastly, no shacking up with anyone. If you hooked up, you were shipped out. But, to stay in one of these rooms, I think I’d follow the rules.
After looking at the guesthouse, we took in the views of the Hearst “backyard.” They owned the land all the way to the sea, some 40 square miles or so, not too shabby.
Then, it was on to the Casa Grande, in any European city the main gathering spot is the cathedral, so why not make your main house look like one? The two towers at Hearst were modeled after the Cathedral of Ronda Spain. Nice front door too, also looks a bit like a cathedral entrance.
The house opened to the main hall, where guests took their cocktails. The fireplace was from a French Chateau, and the choir stalls that lines the walls were from all over Europe, apparently it was trendy to decorate with European Choir stalls in the 20’s if you were loaded.
We also got a look at the dining room and the “rec” room where guests went after dinner. I wouldn’t mind playing pool with a French Tapestry from the 15th century hanging on the wall. All in all it did really have the look and feel of a British Manor House or a German castle.
We also stopped by the movie theater, where Hearst would screen films for his guests (including Charlie Chaplin), too dark for pictures with no flash though. Then, the last stop on the tour was the indoor pool, inlaid with gold leaf that we just walked on, and a lovely ethereal looking high diving board. They should have the Olympic high diving competitions here!
Oh, if we all could build castles!