The Hearst Castle – It Can’t be Captured in a Picture
I can’t figure how anybody could ever pass by here and not stop to see what surely must be one of the most remarkable houses in America. We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the Fog Catcher Inn and headed straight up Route 1 to the The Hearst Castle, parked the car, and nearly trotted the short distance to the Visitors Center. Our first order of business was to see the earliest showing of the orientation film, Building the Dream. Mr. Penfire and I had been here just a few months prior to this visit, but didn’t mind seeing the film again; it provides necessary context for understanding what this place is all about, its genesis and its history, After the film, how could I leave the theater area without picking up the free Hearst Castle Pocket Map, which I didn’t actually need, or use. I had reserved our places for the four of us on two different tours. All we needed to do was show up at the right bus stop and the right time and be swept up the roadway to the mountain top, where tour guides await.
We took The Grand Rooms Tour in the morning, came back down to the Visitors Center for lunch, took the Cottages & Kitchens tour in the afternoon. Afterwards, we did a bit of shopping in the extensive gift shops and poked around in the exhibits that expand upon all that’s available to see on the tours. (Although the Castle was as impressive as ever, the Visitors Center was a far cry from the utilitarian ticket booth Mr. Penfire and I had encountered on our first visit in the early 1970s!)
Can this be the place that inspired the template for the board game Clue? Surely, there are enough rooms to provide settings for a slew of mysterious murders. In 1919 at age 56, William Randolph Hearst, who had already built a publishing empire in his own right, inherited from his mother the vast holdings in mining and real estate that had been amassed by his father. He now owned Rancho Piedra Blanca in San Simeon, California, the coastal lands he had loved since boyhood. Owning this incredible acreage…and having nearly limitless funds…enabled Hearst to formulate a dream: La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill)…three distinctly different “guest” houses, plus Casa Grande a main house (which has come to be known as The Hearst Castle). This was to serve as a residence for Mr. and Mrs. Hearst, as well as a headquarters for Hearst’s publications and business interests. All this was to be supported by a pier and warehouse to receive and store construction equipment and materials, a working cattle ranch, as well as dairy, poultry and agricultural operations that would make the entire estate self-sufficient. Working with architect Julia Morgan, Hearst’s goal was to make the most of the site’s mountain vistas and ocean views. Never quite satisfied with one thing or another, he kept tinkering with the plan, which incorporated Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish styles as well elements from his vast collection of antique architectural elements. And so the project was designed and redesigned with some features built and renovated several times. In fact, this legendary Castle was never actually, completed. But seriously, how complete does a place need to be? There are massive and gorgeously appointed rooms (I wonder whether anyone really knows how many) including the Assembly Room, where guests gathered, the Refectory (dining room), a Billiard Room, a Theater (no kidding, capable of projecting either silent or “talkie” films, countless (it seems) bedroom suites, the Celestial Suite in the bell towers, an incredible library, plus a kitchen the size of Grand Central Station, and all the subsidiary spaces (for wine, silver storage, staff dining, and on and on) we’ve all been clued in to thanks to watching Downton Abbey (which by the way, would look pretty plebeian compared to this place!). The gardens cover acres. There are two swimming pools (one indoors, one outside), both of which look like settings for a movie extravaganza depicting the life of the most extravagant of Roman emperors, Tennis courts. A zoo (few vestiges of this remain). And …I truly don’t think I imagined this… a mile-long pergola available for the guest who might want to go for a horseback ride in the shade.
Here, a steady stream of world famous guests came and went over many decades, attending parties, events, and weekend gatherings that by virtue of the venue and the host were as fantastical as that of any fairy tale, maybe more so.
Paper collection: In addition to the free pocket map, I purchased a couple of books: The Illustrated History of Hearst Castle, 136 pages and weighing in at a pound and a half. (And yikes! Just looked on the back. I guess I paid $24.95 for it. Well, it was worth it. For some reason I don’t have pictures of my own; apparently, too busy gawking to take any. The photo above: is a spread for that book. I also purchased The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst by David Nasaw, about 2 pounds. (By far the heaviest “paper” item collected on this trip!)