Hearst Castle, California
27 April 2017
The air is balmy and it feels like I have reached a mile stone pulling in on the parking lot of the Hearst Castle Visitors Center. This was not in my original itinerary but as parts of the 1 were closed due to mudslides changes were needed.
William Randolph Hearst is said to have had fond memories of the spot to which his father took him camping as a child. His father had invested much of his profits in the gold and silver ming business in California land and owned a large swath of property along the coast. WR as a child followed his mother on long antique collecting trips to Europe. At ten year he asked her to buy the Louvre for him, at eleven he was blessed by the Pope which apparently did not impress him much. After inheriting the large California estate in 1919 he at 56 was in his own words too old to sleep in a tent. So began "La Cuesta Encantada" ("The Enchanted Hill") a passion project which would last his entire life fueled by profits in the media business.
It is through the windows of the shuttle bus from the visitor’s center I get a first glimpse. The circui-tous road up to the castle was there to give visitors a glimpse of the inhabitants of the world’s largest private zoo with over 100 species, and the ocean. We disembark at the foot of the massive steps polished by the feet of numerous Hollywood movie stars. A level up we meet the guide amongst salutary guns. Soon the group is moved to the balustrades of the Neptune Pool a massive outdoor water landscape which has stood dry for years due to a California state edict on water preservation. The time has been used for extensive renovations and sealing of the leaking concrete structure to be filled once repaired. The original Neptune statue had his feet chopped off to fit into the faux temple façade at the far end.
Up another level are the guest villas some with eight bedrooms and guests like president Coolidge and Prime Minister Churchill perhaps flown in on Hearst’s private plane to the estates airport.
Entering the Casa Grande itself is a step back in the time of multiple European eras. The exterior inspired by a church in Ronda, Spain was adopted by California’s first female architect Julia Morgan to Hearst whims. His ide was also to incorporate much of the assembled antiques into the design of the castle. The result is an eclectic mish-mash of time periods and styles. The centerpiece of the enormous Assembly Room is a massive fire place from a French Castle, Flemish tapestries and voluminous seating groups once rubbed by the behinds of Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Cary Grant, etc. etc. It was here guest assembled for a pre-dinner drink.
Hearst himself arrived in time for dinner through a secret door in the refectory at a simple but very long table set with a selection of silverware and centerpieces from the largest US held collection of European silver perhaps homage to his father’s mining interests. Amongst the silver American Ketchup and Mustard an equalizer for the guest from prime ministers to paper boys. Above contrade flags from Sienna, Italy.
Being a media mogul who is claimed to on occasion publishing “fake news” for effect Hearst also owned a movie studio and often hosted screening in the fifty seat private cinema of the castle. One movie he never screened but tried to have banned was “the best movie of all times”. The story goes (fact or fiction) that Herman J. Mankiewicz or “Mank” who knew Marion Jones, Hearst’s live-in lover on one occasion got too drunk at a party and was thrown out. As a revenge act he wrote the screen play to Citizen Kane a composite figure based on Hearst.
The most astonishing room is outside Casa Grande and hidden below twin tennis courts. Decorated by statues and modelled on Roman baths the astonishing room is covered wall to wall with square inch mosaic tiles in deep blue and gold. Hearst swam frequent laps in the heated pool. The bus down from Xanadu pass by the old Polar bear enclosure and predator cages and the guide says if we look closely we may still see a zebra amongst the herd of horses grazing the estate.
an excerpt from the forthcoming book
- a road trip from sea to shining sea in Trumps America
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