AutoMatters & More: Exploring Historic Hearst Castle on the California Coast

Lush walkway on the grounds of Hearst Castle
Lush walkway on the grounds of Hearst Castle
(Jan Wagner)

When life as we once knew it returns to normal — and it most certainly will, after we defeat the coronavirus, consider taking a road trip along the spectacular California coast to historic Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. Towering high on a hill above San Simeon, Hearst Castle overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

As we learn from HearstCastle.org, the history of majestic Hearst Castle can be traced back to 1865 — less than 20 years after the Spanish-American war and of California becoming a state — with the purchase of 40,000 acres of California ranchland by George Hearst — a wealthy man with substantial interests in the mining industry.

Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
(Jan Wagner)

William Randolph Hearst, his only child, was born two years earlier, in 1863 in San Francisco. George Hearst’s vast wealth “allowed young William the opportunity to see and experience the world as few do,” touring Europe as early as the age of 10 with his mother. William studied at St. Paul’s Preparatory School in Concord, New Hampshire and then at Harvard. No doubt, from an early age, his background instilled in him an interest in history, art, drama, politics, publishing and — European castles.

In 1919, William inherited the family’s land from his mother, and over time he purchased more. The estate eventually grew to encompass 250,000 acres. The land had been used as a campsite for family and friends, but in 1919 he issued these instructions to famed San Francisco architect Julia Morgan: “Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something.” Indeed!

Furnished bedroom
Furnished bedroom
(Jan Wagner)

Hearst renamed the hill overlooking the land “La Cuesta Encantada” — The Enchanted Hill. Along with his architect Julia Morgan, they conceived Hearst Castle as a spectacular residence, within which he would display and add to his massive collection of art treasures, and where he and his family would entertain an astounding who’s who of the political, social and Hollywood entertainment industry elite — including Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, Howard Hughes, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx, Louis B. Mayer, David Niven, Mary Pickford, Barbara Stanwyck and Jack Warner. No expense was spared. Construction spanned more than 28 years.

Ornate ceiling
Ornate ceiling
(Jan Wagner)

“By 1947, Hearst and Morgan had created an estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways — an American castle that was destined to become one of the world’s greatest showplaces for his art collection.”

There are four main structures: Casa Del Monte, Casa Del Sol, Casa Del Mar and the 68,500-square-foot Casa Grande. The guest houses contain 46 rooms, including lobbies. The Casa Grande’s 115 rooms include the Refectory, Billiard Room, Theater, Gothic Study, Beauty Salon, Butler’s Pantry, Kitchen, Staff Dining Room.

Recreation of a typical social gathering from the period
Recreation of a typical social gathering from the period
(Jan Wagner)

The enormous swimming pools are luxurious. The Neptune Pool, complete with massive Neptune statuary and a temple-like structure, is outdoors and contains 345,000 gallons of water. Eventually, three versions of it were built between 1924 - 1936.

The Roman Pool, indoors, features a combination of intensely blue and orange tiles, and clear tiles with fused gold inside. It is decorated with eight marble statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes. The pools “were the settings for lively parties, social gatherings, exercise and recreation.”

A variety of ticketed tours, some seasonal, were offered before COVID-19. They included the Upstairs Suites Tour, Cottages & Kitchen Tour, Julia Morgan Tour, Holiday Twilight Tour, Designing the Dream Tour, Art of San Simeon Tour, Hearst and Hollywood Tour, Private Tour and the special Evening Tour that I took, in which staff — dressed in 1930s attire — recreated scenes from daily life in the Hearst Castle. Tours begin with a narrated, five-mile bus ride up the hill to the castle.

The spacious visitor center includes exhibits, food services, gift shops and the Hearst Castle Theater, which shows the movie “Hearst Castle — Building the Dream”: the story of the castle, with vintage clips and stills from the 1920s and 30s.

To learn more about the Hearst Castle and the Hearst Castle Visitor Center and Exhibition Hall, and to make reservations for its guided tours, visit HearstCastle.org, and the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument page at parks.ca.gov.

To see additional photos, visit www.drivetribe.com, click on the magnifying glass, select “POSTS” and enter “AutoMatters & More #664” in their search bar. Please send your comments to AutoMatters@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #664


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