From the chilly climes of Switzerland we move to sunny California and to a monument in the mid-coastal region of the state. Hearst Castle was the domicile of William Randolph Hearst, the cattle baron, business tycoon, and newspaperman. He built his folly nested among the coastal hills in San Simeon and sought out the best, nothing less would do for Mr. Hearst. The castle was designed by the premiere architect of the time, Julia Morgan – California’s first woman architect. She traveled far and wide with Mr. Hearst as they bid on and collected artifacts all over Europe and Asia – sarcophagi from Greece and Rome, obsidian statues from Egypt, ceilings from Spanish mansions, artwork from the world over!
It took many years to build a mansion that boasted of an immense outdoor Neptune’s pool, an indoor Roman pool lined with gold plated Murano tile, and a general level of opulence one would associate with an upstart maharaja. But William Hearst was just that! His wife (a former chorus girl) refused to move from New York to California and Mr. Hearst lived in “sin” with Marion Davies, a starlet, for the rest of his life.
Wild parties were the norm, and who’s who of Hollywood showed up to join in the revelry. It is said that one of Katherine Hepburn’s biggest regrets was that she had to turn down an invitation to Hearst Castle as she was filming at the time! Mr. Hearst worked and roamed this huge castle that boasted of two libraries – with strict lending rules for guests! He slept in a room with an antique Spanish ceiling, that the canopy on his bed hid from sight. Next to his bed was a picture of his mother, the philanthropist and benefactor for the University of California System, Phoebe Hearst.
Visitors would be housed in one of several buildings around the castle, or in rooms in the castle. The main guest room, and one frequently assigned to Cary Grant, was in one of the towers and surrounded by glass windows on all sides! With all this opulence one would expect some imagination in the facilities – but some gold around the toilet seat is all I could find!
This lack of imagination was more than made up for by the wild extravagance that went into planning the Roman pool. This was the venue for many a party, with skimpily clad starlets diving into the water from the marble diving balcony a story high. Oh to be rich and famous!
Hearst Castle is now California Sate Park and kept in excellent state of repair. More details on the colorful life of William Randolph Hearst can be gleaned from the movie Citizen Kane, and the recent RKO 281 – The Battle over Citizen Kane. Both movies are excellent in their own right but also for the interesting look they provide into the life, times, and megalomaniac mind of WR Hearst.
(On the way out of the castle we stopped by San Simeon beach and saw Elephant seals in huge numbers!)
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