Visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California
The History of Hearst Castle.
In 1865 self made millionaire George Hearst bought ranch land that included Piedras Blancas an old Mexican Rancho in San Simeon, California. San Simeon became a place for the wealthy Hearst family to camp out.
The wilderness was beautiful but untamed. The Hearst family roughed it at Camp Hill. The family slept in tents, sometimes in the rain. Over many family camping trips fond memories were made endearing the property to the Hearst family.
In 1863 George and Phoebe Hearst had William Randolph Hurst, their only son. At the age of 23 William became the proprietor of his father’s company, The San Francisco Examiner, and became a publishing magnate.The Hearst family made their fortune long before the wealthy paid any income tax. They kept what they made.
In 1903 William Randolph Hearst married 22 year old Millicent Willson after a lengthy courtship. Hearst’s mother, Phoebe, was initially not happy with Millicent’s humble beginnings as a chorus girl. Millicent gave birth to five sons and Phoebe eventually warmed to her daughter-in-law.
In 1919 William inherited the ranch at San Simeon and wanted a more comfortable place to camp as he was getting older. A small, modest dwelling would do. Hearst hired famed San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan, to “build a little something”. Collaboration between the two began.
Many discussions later Hearst's simple plan had gained grand proportions. The location selected for Hearst's "little something" was undeveloped land. A dirt path led up a steep hill, reachable only by foot or horseback. Everything would have to be hauled up by hand, mule, horse, or truck.
The ranch was renamed The Enchanted Hill and Hearst's Castle was built in Mediterranean Revival Style with 165 rooms including 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms. There was Casa Grande, the main house, three guest houses, and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, riding trails, and walkways prompting one of Hearst's guests to call the estate a castle.
Hearst Castle had its own zoo, tennis courts, and two extravagant swimming pools. One indoor and one outdoor, both heated for use year round. Julia Morgan devised a gravity based water delivery system that transported water from artesian wells in the area for use at the Castle.
Most of Hearst’s large art collection was also housed at the Castle. Hearst traveled around the world buying truck loads of centuries-old antiques including entire ceilings, fire places, furniture, artwork, and rare books. Hearst sometimes just picked antiquities out of a catalog and had them delivered. Hearst Castle was built around Hearst’s art collection.
By 1919 Hearst was involved in a love affair with film actress Marion Davies. Davies had her own money and reportedly loaned Hearst a million dollars when he fell on hard times at one point.
By mid 1920 Millicent Hearst was tired of Hearst’s affair. She separated from her husband and established a separate life in New York. Millicent rarely visited her husband at his California estate. Scandalous at the time, Hearst lived openly with Davies but stayed married to Millicent until his death in 1951.
In the 1920s and 1930s Hearst and Davies threw lavish parties at Hearst Castle, flying guests in to their private airfield or hiring a private car or train from Los Angeles. Hearst's A-list guests included most of Hollywood's who's who. Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, and Joan Crawford to name a few.
Guests were expected to follow a few house rules. Attend a formal dinner every night and you had to be married to stay there, even though Hearst and Davies never did. Alcohol was discouraged, only beer was served as Davies reportedly liked alcohol a little too much.
There was speculation that actress Patricia Lake was the illegitimate child of Hearst and Davies. Lake later claimed she was indeed the illegitimate daughter of the actress and the publishing magnate.
Rumors flew when Thomas Ince, a Hollywood movie producer, was found dead after a party on Hearst’s yacht. People gossiped about Hearst catching Davies, his mistress, kissing Charlie Chaplin. Hearst supposedly shot at Chaplin, accidentally hitting and killing Ince. The San Francisco Examiner, Hearst’s paper, reported the next day that Ince died of indigestion.
The Orson Wells film Citizen Kane was believed to be a fictionalization of Hearst's life. The film was a brutal portrait of the ruthless pursuit of power. Hearst set out to shut the film down. However, it opened in 1941.
In 1947 Hearst left his San Simeon estate to seek medical care. He died in Beverly Hills in 1951 at age 88. Hearst never completed his Castle.The family fortune declined and the Hearst Corporation donated Hearst Castle to the State of California in 1957 on condition the Hearst family could use The Castle when they wished.
Granddaughter, Patty Hearst, recalls swimming in the Neptune pool when she was a child. Patty Hearst was later kidnapped and held by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) from her apartment while a student at UC Berkeley.
In 1972 Hearst Castle joined the National Register of Historic Places and became a United States National Historic Landmark in 1976. The public can now enjoy a glimpse into Hearst's opulent lifestyle.
There are five guided tours to pick from that run year round. The tours are about a half-mile walk with up to 400 stairs. Wear comfortable shoes.
The tours sell out during the summer so book ahead.
You may not use the flash on your camera inside Hearst Castle. The pictures you take inside may turn out dark.
The Main Street Grill in Cambria has the best tri-tip BBQ sandwiches. Right off Main St, you can see it from the road.
Take your time and be sure to drive up Highway 1 through Big Sur with it's spectacular views of the California coastline. Check for road closures before you go.
Are we there yet? What to take on a road trip:
An ice chest with food, snacks and drinks for everyone. Forget sharing.
Don't forget your chargers, headphones, earplugs, meds, and a trash bag.
Take along your Kindle and cell phone to keep yourself and the kids occupied on long road trips. Download any ebooks or apps that can help you.
Remember to take along a great camera. We found the Sony Nex-5 to be light weight and user friendly.
Streets, freeways, and traffic jams are frustrating. Take a good GPS system with you and visit off season.
GPS, Kindle, Camera, Cell Phone
The Beach House
- The Beach House Story - Annenberg Community Beach House - Santa Monica, California
The 5 acre beachfront former estate of silent film star Marion Davies was built by William Randolph Hearst for Davies in the late 1920s. Architech Julia Morgan supervised the original design and construction. Check the web site for tour dates/times.