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Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Information about Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CaliforniaHearst Castle is a palatial estate on the central California coast and a National Historic Landmark. It was designed by architect Julia Morgan for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst from 1919 (98 years ago) until 1947 (70 years ago). In 1957 (60 years ago) the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California. Since that time it has been maintained as state historic park where the estate and its considerable collection of art and antiques are open for public tours. Despite its location far from any urban center, the site attracts roughly one million visitors per year.
Hearst formally named the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" ("The Enchanted Hill"), but usually called it "the ranch". The castle and grounds are also sometimes referred to as "San Simeon" without distinguishing between the Hearst property and the unincorporated town of the same name.
HistoryInvitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920 (97 years ago) and '30s. The Hollywood and political elite often 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, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were among Hearst's A-list guests. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since "the Ranch" had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do. The estate's theater usually screened movies from Hearst's own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions.
Hearst Castle was the inspiration for the "Xanadu" mansion of the 1941 (76 years ago) Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane, which was itself a fictionalization of William Randolph Hearst's career. Hearst Castle itself was not used as a location for the film, which used Oheka Castle in New York.
One condition of the Hearst Corporation's donation of the estate was that the Hearst family would be allowed to use it when they wished. Patty Hearst, a granddaughter of William Randolph, related that as a child, she hid behind statues in the Neptune Pool while tours passed by. Although the main estate is now a museum, the Hearst family continues to use an older Victorian house on the property as a retreat — the original house built by George Hearst in the late 19th century. The house is screened from tourist routes by a dense grove of eucalyptus, to provide maximum privacy for the guests. In 2001 (16 years ago), Patty Hearst hosted a Travel Channel show on the estate, and Amanda Hearst modeled for a fashion photo (wallpaper) shoot at the estate for a Hearst Corporation magazine, Town and Country, in 2006 (11 years ago).
Hearst Castle joined the National Register of Historic Places on Jun. 22, 1972 (45 years ago) and became a United States National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976 (41 years ago).
Design and constructionOwner William Randolph Hearst with architect Julia Morgan in 1926 (91 years ago). Photograph by Irvin Willat.Hearst first approached American architect Julia Morgan with ideas for a new project in Apr. 1919 (98 years ago), shortly after he took ownership. Hearst's original idea was to build a bungalow, according to a draughtsman who worked in Morgan's office who recounted Hearst's words from the initial meeting:
I would like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little too old for that. I’d like to get something that would be a little more comfortable.
After approximately one month of discussion, Hearst's original idea for a modest dwelling swelled to grand proportions. Discussion for the exterior style switched from an initial suggestion of Japanese and Swiss themes to the Spanish Revival that was gaining popularity and which Morgan had helped to initiate with her work on the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner headquarters in 1915 (102 years ago). Hearst was fond of Spanish Revival, but dissatisfied with the crudeness of the colonial structures in California. Mexican colonial architecture had more sophistication but he objected to its profusion of ornamentation. Turning to the Iberian Peninsula for inspiration, he found Renaissance and Baroque examples in southern Spain more to his tastes. Hearst particularly admired a church in Ronda and asked Morgan to pattern the Main Building towers after it. The Panama-California Exposition of 1915 (102 years ago) in San Diego held the closest approaches in California to the look Hearst desired. He decided to substitute a stucco exterior in place of masonry in deference to Californian traditions.
By late summer 1919 (98 years ago) Morgan had surveyed the site, analyzed its geology, and drawn initial plans for the Main Building. Construction began in 1919 (98 years ago) and continued through 1947 (70 years ago) when Hearst stopped living at the estate due to ill health. Morgan persuaded Hearst to begin with the guest cottages because the smaller structures could be completed more quickly.
The estate is a pastiche of historic architectural styles that its owner admired in his travels around Europe. Hearst was an omnivorous buyer who did not so much purchase art and antiques to furnish his home as built his home to get his bulging collection out of warehouses. This led to incongruous elements such as the private cinema whose walls were lined with shelves of rare books. The floor plan of the Main Building is chaotic due to his habit of buying centuries-old ceilings, which dictated the proportions and decor of various rooms.
Hearst Castle featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres (0.51 km2) of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world's largest private zoo. Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds. Morgan, an accomplished civil engineer, devised a gravity-based water delivery system from a nearby mountain. One highlight of the estate is the outdoor Neptune Pool, located near the edge of the hilltop, which offers an expansive vista of the mountains, ocean and the main house. The Neptune Pool patio features an ancient Roman temple front transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site. Hearst was an inveterate tinkerer, and would tear down structures and rebuild them at a whim. For example, the Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times before Hearst was satisfied. As a consequence of Hearst's persistent design changes, the estate was never completed in his lifetime.
Although Hearst Castle's ornamentation is borrowed from historic European themes, its underlying structure is primarily steel reinforced concrete. The use of modern engineering techniques reflects Morgan's background as a civil engineering graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the first female architecture graduate of the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. During Hearst's ownership a private power plant supplied electricity to the remote location. Most of the estate's chandeliers have bare light bulbs, because electrical technology was so new when the Castle was built.
GeographyHearst Castle is located near the unincorporated community of San Simeon, California approximately 250 miles (400 km) from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 43 miles (69 km) from San Luis Obispo at the northern end of San Luis Obispo County. The estate itself is five miles (eight kilometers) inland atop a hill of the Santa Lucia Range at an altitude of 1,600 feet (490 m). The region is sparsely populated because the Santa Lucia Range abuts the Pacific Ocean, which provide dramatic seaside vistas but few opportunities for development and hampered transportation. The surrounding countryside visible from the mansion remains largely undeveloped. Its entrance is adjacent to San Simeon State Park.
Hearst Castle was built on a 40,000 acre (160 km²) ranch that William Randolph Hearst's father, George Hearst, originally purchased in 1865 (152 years ago). The younger Hearst grew fond of this site over many childhood family camping trips. He inherited the ranch, which had grown to 250,000 acres (1,000 km²) and fourteen miles of coastline, from his mother Phoebe Hearst in 1919 (98 years ago). Although the large ranch already had a Victorian mansion, the location selected for Hearst Castle was undeveloped atop a steep hill whose ascent was a dirt path accessible only by foot or on horseback over five miles of cutbacks.
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