HEARST CASTLE

A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIFESTYLE OF A MEDIA MOGUL

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2012

'Truth is not only stranger than fiction,

it is more interesting.'

- William Randolph Hearst - 

About halfway between Santa Barbara and Carmel-By-The-sea in California, the iconic Hearst Castle is located. Built by William Randolph Hearst on the top of a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it is far enough away from the rat-race, yet close enough to be able to quickly rejoin the land of the living. We spend a wonderful day exploring the castle and here is our story.

HEARST CASTLE, SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA, USA

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2012

Highlights: Hearst Castle

Total distance:  0 kms

Accommodation: Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle - 9260 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452

We have booked two tours of Hearst Castle today; the first one is at 10 o'clock this morning. From the visitor centre, it is difficult to imagine there is a huge house on top of the hill behind because it's not immediately visible. Security is tight so each tour group must travel together by shuttle to meet the designated tour guide.

The Grand Rooms tour transports us back back in time to when the building was started. Conceived by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, Hearst Castle was built between 1919 and 1947. William Hearst was a compulsive collector of stuff; ceilings and furniture from Spanish churches, Egyptian artifacts, and other priceless 17th century European artworks. Together there are approximately 22,000 art pieces, including tapestries, silverwork, and ancient Greek pottery. Some rooms had to be redesigned by Julia Morgan to cater for specific artefacts. The whole effect is mind-boggling. Although everything had been purchased legitimately oftentimes through art galleries, I cannot help but wonder how any one country could allow such art treasures such as these to leave Europe. Since Hearst Castle is now an historic site, the contents are accessible to the public and together they tell the story about the eccentricities of one man and his ability to have them built into this remarkable house. The Grand Rooms tour includes stories about specific artworks and furnishings. Additionally the magnificent Christmas trees and decorations make these rooms not only look lived-in but welcoming.

 

The Upstairs Suites tour takes us into the upstairs to bedrooms, bathrooms, the library, and Hearst's private study. These rooms are no less impressive with priceless artworks displayed. Starting at an external side door, we climb a spiral staircase to the second floor. Our guide provides us with small bits of gossipy information about some of the guests, whilst at the same time, points out some of the magnificently displayed items of interest. The advantage of taking the upstairs tour is the ability to view the grounds from this elevation through the large windows. Here, we gain a different perspective not only of the property, but of the Pacific Ocean in the distance. The last room we visit on this floor is the library. The expansive room is lined with bookshelves, filled with old and probably very valuable tomes. They look impressive, nonetheless.  Upstairs, on the third floor, we visit the private quarters of William Hearst and Marion Davies. The two separate bedrooms are functional, albeit much smaller than I expect. Hearst's private study is a huge room; its vaulted ceiling resembles the ribcage of a whale. The arches provide a sense of space in the dark timbered room. I feel as though these items really belong in a medieval castle somewhere in Europe, but their presence here are no less impressive. Below the bell towers are two additional guest rooms; decked out in gold and with patios that provide magnificent views. However, our guide tells us that when the bells ring, the sound reverberates through the rooms, making it quite unpleasant for the guests.

We leave the house and explore the extensive grounds. The gardens, guest houses, and the magnificent Neptune pool are not only beautiful but provide a view of the Pacific Ocean that is second to none. Our last stop before returning to the visitor centre is the blue and gold indoor Roman pool. It's hard to believe that anyone could afford such opulent surroundings. The thought of such wealth is mind-boggling, but yet, here it is.

I'm interested to notice that many parts of this folly are not completely finished, and on a closer look at many of the features, there is little finesse, but the 'big picture' view is one of fabulous wealth and the hedonistic lifestyle of one of the richest people in the world of the time.

Back at the visitor centre, we watch the forty-minute documentary on the history of this amazing place. As a tourist attraction, Hearst Castle provides an insight into the life of a very private and wealthy man. I am sure that it had not been his intention to have it open to the public in this manner, but it is a fine and very well-organised museum, which provides a glimpse into the life of one of the most famous American newspaper moguls. I'm now curious about Julia Morgan and am interested in finding out whether she has designed other buildings in this region of California.

It's time to visit the beach areas surrounding San Simeon, including the elephant seal viewing area. We can certainly smell and hear the seals before we actually see them and enjoy a short time observing their antics before the cool breeze sends us back to our hotel. 

This part of California is amazing. Not only are there places of exquisite natural beauty, but there is a much to learn about the complex history of the region. No matter how often I have travelled along the Pacific Coast of California, and this is the fourth time I've driven along this highway, I discover something new each time. 

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