Friday, July 11, 2014

Hearst Castle shows off one man's dream -- his eclectic artistic vision

Grecian and Roman sculpture adorn the entryway and paths to San Simeon's Hearst Castle on the central California coast.

Hearst's youthful travels inspired his
lavish creation of San Simeon.

WHEN WILLIAM Randolph Hearst was a little boy his mother took him on a grand tour of Europe.  There the tyke admired ancient statues, castles and frescoes, learned about the art of the Renaissance and dreamed of having his own artful place when he grew up.
That fantasy became reality, a modern day Shangri-la, when the newspaper baron created San Simeon.
Visitors pause outside the main mansion, by the outdoor pool.
Hearst and his trusted architect, Julia
Morgan, on site in 1926.
We joined tourists from all over the world to admire the excesses of a true eccentric.
Hearst traveled to Europe many times collecting the art that would become his legacy and placing it in his carefully designed mansion.
His enterprising female architect Julia Morgan was with him every step of the way.
INVITATIONS to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s.
One of the many details is the ornate front door through which movie stars and others entered.
Hollywood royalty and the politically elite visited, usually flying into the estate's airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Jimmy Stewart and presidents Calvin Coolidge and FDR visited.  Winston Churchill spent time with Hearst and his wife in New York City, then with Hearst and his mistress  at San Simeon, remarking that he found both Hearst partners delightful.
The beautiful,.peaceful Neptune Pool, a favorite hiding place of Patty Hearst.
WHILE GUESTS were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since "the Ranch" had many facilities, guests could play tennis, hike, ask the kitchen to make a picnic, or simply wander about, read, enjoy the exotic wildlife and rejuvenate.
ALCOHOL was not forbidden, but was served in moderation and could not be brought in. Those who abused protocol were not invited back! The theater was available for viewings and Hearst often screened films after dinner, choosing from productions of his own film studio, Cosmopolitan Productions.
The newspaper baron's many trips to Europe inspired the 
compound known by millions as San Simeon.
 HEARST CASTLE was the inspiration for "Xanadu,"  the mansion of the 1941 Orson Welles classic film, "Citizen Kane," a fictionalization of William Randolph Hearst's career. However, the castle was not used for the film, which was shot at Oheka Castle in New York. Commercial filming is rare at Hearst Castle and most requests are denied.  Only two projects have been allowed to film on the premises: director Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus," which used the castle as Crassus' villa; and a Lady Gaga music video.
PATTY HEARST, granddaughter of the mogul, remembers playing in the Neptune Pool and hiding behind its gorgeous statues.  She conducted a Travel Channel tour a few years back, recalling the place with affection.
Hearst maintained his own fire truck on the premises -- just in case.
Hearst Castle is both a national and California historical landmark, designed by Hearst's friend, Ms. Morgan, during their long collaboration -- 1919 to 1947. Hearst was still enhancing his creation when illness forced him to abandon the project in the late 1940s and he did not return to his beloved San Simeon before his 1951 death.
THE CALIFORNIA Park Commission voted to include the castle in its State Park System in 1954, with a proposed admission charge of $1 and 50 cents for the bus ride up. Today's tourists pay $25 per tour (cottages and kitchens, grand rooms, upstairs suites, the main castle and an evening tour). Packages are available including hotels and a delightful holiday tour is featured with evening lights.  (We loved the Best Western Plus Cavalier where we had a splendid ocean view room. More about that in our coastal hotels piece.)  
Just a few miles from the Hearst Castle is San Simeon's Best Western Cavalier.
This is the beautiful ocean view from our delightful room.
THE HEARST FAMILY keeps a villa on the grounds for its private use, separated from the parts tourists see.  The mansion and its grand collection of art and antiques includes Hearst's flashy red fire truck.  The complex is near a small unincorporated town, San Simeon, and the village of Cambria. Millions of travelers visit each year.
When Hearst approached American architect Morgan with ideas for a new project in April 1915, his idea was to fashion a comfortable bungalow.
"I'd like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I'm getting too old for that. I'd like something a little more comfortable," he said.
A candy emporium and much more await you in Old Town Sacramento, 
Hearst formally named the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" ("The Enchanted Hill"), but usually called it "the ranch." Hearst Castle and grounds are sometimes referred to as "San Simeon" as is the surrounding area and its lovely hotels. Phone 1-800-695-2269 for tickets or information or go to  

COMING SOON: California dreaming means fun hotels and rooms with views....... then we're dreaming of a snake-free summer under the Big Sky, where seldom is heard a discouraging word. Plus Old Town Sacramento with terrific Greek food, live music, a candy emporium with dozens of salt water taffy tastes. And more, at

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