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Castle atop The Enchanted Hill


Hearst San Simeon 
State Historic Monument
Big Sur Pacific Coastline

 
Main entrance to Casa Grande
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Main entrance to Casa Grande

When William Randolph Hearst was a small boy, he would camp atop the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean with his family.  His father George Hearst, a self-made millionaire, had acquired 40,000 acres of ranchland in 1865.  Here atop the hills overlooking the ocean, the family would rough it in true millionaire style.  

At the age of ten in 1873, Hearst toured Europe for two years with his mother visiting castles, museums, churches, and historical sites while his father increased their fortune in the California mining industry. George Hearst had interests in four of the largest and most productive mines in the world including the Ontario silver mine in Utah, the Comstock Lode in Nevada, the Homestake gold mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda copper mine in Montana.  These mines were the largest discoveries in American history. 

In 1919, William Randolph Hearst gained control of the land that would be called San Simeon.  And the ranchero would grow to 250,000 acres after Hearst bought up all the surrounding land.  

"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..." were Heart's words to noted San Francisco architect Julia Morgan whom his mother had utilized to build a home for them in Pleasanton, California.  He asked for "something that would be more comfortable" than the platform tents that were in use when visiting the ranch at the time.  The project set atop the hill he had camped upon as a boy would balloon into the most expensive private home ever built.

 

The home, deemed La Cuesta Encantada, follows a Mediterranean Revival theme.  Adjacent are three guesthouses, and two pools pictured here- one outdoor, one indoor.

The home for its time was an enormous undertaking.  Keep in mind, it was built before electricity was readily available.  Even bringing water to the home- which is built atop a hill 1600 ft above the ocean- was a project in itself.  It had to be done with a system of piping and cisterns from natural springs miles away.  Workman labored for 26 years- and still didn't finish.  Parts of the home are clearly half-done. The way they left it is what we see today.

Hearst had traveled around the world, and inspired by his boyhood tour of Europe, had been collecting treasures in an endless stream, shipping them back to warehouses on both coasts. Architect Julia Morgan would strive to designed the pieces into the home.  

Statues are everywhere you look
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Numerous statues adorn the grounds


Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks

Much of what you see in these pictures is the real deal- not remanufactured- but originals.  If it looks Roman- it is.  If the walls look like gold- it's real gold.  If Hearst didn't have the actual statue- he had a copy made.

Hearst spent his money lavishly.  He could.  During the 1930's, he was pulling in $50,000 a day.  He owned twenty-six newspapers, sixteen magazines and his own film production company.  Hearst even had his newspapers flown up the coast to him each day with planes landing where the present day Welcome Center is.  He entertained numerous movie stars and dignitaries at San Simeon and at the same time gained an immense influence over California politics, journalism, and culture.

The grounds at San Simeon grew to165 rooms including 38 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 14 sitting rooms, a kitchen, a movie theater, 2 libraries, a billiard room, a dining hall, an assembly hall, and 41 fireplaces.  Did I mention the 127 acres of gardens?

What is unique about the home- and by far what distinguishes it from the other 5000 historic homes in the United State- is everything has a thrown together look.  As if nothing really matches but someone tried diligently to make it a fit together.  An Egyptian statue- the real deal- sits only a short distance away from a gargoyle- which is only a short distance away from something from Roman times. 

Inside the home- this too applies.  Items from the Renaissance, priceless antiquities, paintings, items pulled out of churches, monasteries, you name it- Hearst acquired it and integrated it into San Simeon.  He collected silver, tapestry, English furniture, oriental rugs, pottery, statues, and even antique ceilings. His art collection soon rivaled those of museums. One of the paintings in Heart's collection, Madonna with child, is now worth over 10 million dollars.  

This entire home- feels actually that of an incessant collector.

Statues at entrance to Casa Grande- The main house
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Statue at entrance to Casa Grande


 


Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
The Neptune Pool

Hearst shared the home with not his wife Millicent with whom he had 5 sons, but his confidante and constant companion, actress Marilynn Davies.  Davies starred in 46 films including 16 talkies, all produced by Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions.  Not only an actress, she threw constant parties at both the Hearst Castle and an opulent beach house, built by Hearst for her in Santa Monica.   

The elite of Hollywood, sports and politics of that time all mingled with Hearst and Davies.  The two were said to be constant companions and even in hard times- Davies wrote a check for one million dollars to Hearst to bail him out of debt when Hearst struggled through the late 1930's.

 

Hearst Castle ® was not his only home- he had several. There was a one million acre cattle ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico, a 67,000 acre estate on the McCloud River in Northern California, and even St. Donat's Castle in Wales, not to mention other home in the United States.  Despite the various homes, Hearst & Davies spent the majority of their time here. When he was not involved in his publishing obligations, Hearst also produced over 100 films.

Outside of Casa Grande- the grounds surround the home are equally impressive.  The massive outdoor pool, called the Neptune Pool, was built three times over, each time growing larger to the present day 104 feet long, 58 feet wide and 95 feet wide including the alcove.  How to heat the pool in this cool ocean climate was accomplished with an ingenious oil burning heating system.

 
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Quite the impressive backdrop for a pool

 

165 feet of pool
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Note the tile work in the floor of the pool

Flanking the pool are four 17-century Italian bas-reliefs on the sides of the colonnades which provide an impressive backdrop for the pool- not to mention the abundance of statues.  Tons of Vermont marble was shipped to San Simeon to complete the project.

Hearst's indoor Roman Pool built from 1927-1934, was the most expensive pool room ever built.  Over one million glass tiles called smalti, 1" square, adorn the walls floor to ceiling.  They are either blue, orange, or clear- each infused with actual gold.  When strolling along the edge of the pool, you can look down and realize you are walking atop pure gold.

 

The pool was built to resemble an ancient bath like those in Rome around the year 215 AD.  The patterns, or mosaics, on the walls were taken from a 5th Century Mausoleum found in Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy.  

The walls were built of marble but the arches over the pool were constructed with the blue and gold smalti tiles.  Even the roof above your head has a similar effect.  The pool room for lack of a better word, is absolutely stunning.

Neptune Pool and a whole lotta gold
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
Center right is the diving platform

 

Hearst, always the animal lover, created the largest collection of animals in the world at that time.  Julia Morgan designed the first of its kind zoo which encompassed 2000 fenced-in acres, and unique open enclosures.  Hearst brought in over 30 exotic species of animals including tigers, bears, apes, ostriches, buffalo, yaks, emus, kangaroos, llamas, zebras and even giraffes.

During Hearst's financial troubles of the late 1930's, he could no longer afford to maintain the zoo so many of the animals were donated to area zoo's for the public to enjoy.  Some were retained, like the zebras which graze along the road as the bus takes you to and fro the home atop the hill.

Hearst stayed at San Simeon the majority of his life finally leaving due to ailing health and to be closer to his doctors in 1947.  He passed away in 1951 at age 88 and San Simeon was donated to the state of California a few years later.  The Hearst Corporation continues to thrive to this day.

 

Each year- 800,000 people visit the Hearst Castle ®.  

 There are 4 tours, of 2 hours each, to choose from once you get there.  All highlight different portions of the home.  And there is an evening tour featuring volunteers in period dress and is available only in the Spring and Fall on most Friday and Saturday evenings.  Reservations for any of the tours can be made by calling 800-444-4445.  It is expensive- $14 for adults, (at $14 a ticket, how much money is that?) $8 for kids 6 to 12.  The evening tour is $25 a pop.  Is it worth it?  You bet!  The entire house and surrounding grounds are amazing!  In December, the entire house is decked out in festive Christmas flavors.  Take as many pictures as you like, but no flashes inside the buildings.  Bring a mini-tripod or mono-pod instead.

If all that money is burning a hole in your pocket, for another $7 a person- you can watch a 40-minute IMAX film about Hearst Castle.  If you've never seen an IMAX movie- this would be a great place to get an introduction.   The screen is massive and takes up the majority of your field of vision.  It fools the brain to where you actually feel like you're in film.

Many of California's State Parks enact Living History Days- so check the schedule as to when you take part in this.  Docents adorned in 1930's garb, with others dressed in furs and swank blazers.  You might spy others playing poker in one of the many sitting rooms, or wiling away the day in the library.

All that gold- is gold!
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks
If it looks like real gold- it is

 

Steps up to one of the guesthouse
Courtesy Hearst Castle®/California State Parks

Getting there:

Hearst Castle ® is located 13 miles north of Highway 46 along the Pacific Coast's Highway 1.  If you're in a hurry, Hwy 46 connects with Highway 101.  From San Louis Obispo, it's a 40 mile ride northward along one of North America's most lauded stretch of pavement.

Otherwise, head south from Monterey through the Big Sur area on Highway 1.  The huge white house atop the hill is hard to miss.

Nearby Motorcycle Roads:

Aside from the obvious Highway 1 along the Pacific coast, Carmel Valley Road and Highway 25 are a few miles away to the northeast.  Southeast of here, do ride Highway 58.  If you like backroads- head for Santa Rosa Creek RoadIndian Valley Road or Soda Lake Road.  Know of more?  Lemme know.

 

 

More Pages and Info:

Hearst Castle ® Homepage

More Photos of Hearst Castle ®

More pics

Cavalier Oceanfront Resort  805-927-4688

Camping Reservations
(800) 444-7275

Hearst Castle ® Main Number
Provides Recorded Information
(805) 927-2020

Tour Reservations
(800) 444-4445

Cambria Chamber of Commerce
767 Main St. Cambria, CA 93428
Telephone: (805) 927-3624

San Simeon Chamber of Commerce 
(800) 342-5613

 



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