Monday, October 23, 2006

Touring Hearst Castle

During our San Simeon camping trip, several of us opted to take tours of Hearst Castle, the secluded palatial estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Built from 1919 to 1947, the Julia Morgan-designed compound is located on a hill near San Simeon overlooking the Pacific ocean.

La Cuesta Encantada, or as it's commonly known today, Hearst Castle. (10/22/06)

Hearst Castle is modeled after historic architectural styles that Hearst admired in his European travels. In fact, to me it looks more like a church than a castle. Altogether the main house and the three guest houses contain 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, and airfield and the world's largest private zoo.

The Neptune Pool was modeled after Greek influences. (10/22/06)

Invitations to "The Ranch," as Hearst used to call it, were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Hollywood stars and famed politicians were among the many guests, including Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Calvin Coolidge, and Winston Churchill. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they could partake in a variety of events in the daytime, including horseback riding, swimming in the two pools, playing tennis, etc.

What I wouldn't give to have been able to be one of those guests in the heyday. Whenever Tim and I are anywhere near the area, we always make an effort to take at least one tour.

Tim smiles in front of the Casa Grande. (10/22/06)

Tim, Amy and Joe left for San Simeon Friday morning, since unlike Jon and I, they were able to get the day off work. So Friday evening, they were able to attend the nighttime tour. Tim and I had done the nighttime tour once before, probably back in 1997 or 1998, and it was amazing. Not only do you get to see the estate lit up, they also have people dressed in period costumes throughout the property.

Some of the many statues on the estate. (10/22/06)

On Sunday, Ralph and Anna took the main tour, while Tim, Lynne and I took the garden tour, which doesn't actually take you inside the main house (which isn't a big deal since we've been in there many times over), but takes you on a walk around the esplanade that circles the estate.

This pool was modeled after Roman baths and features gold mosaic tiles. (10/22/06)

My favorite parts are the two swimming pools, including the amazing Neptune Pool, an outdoor pool modeled after ancient Greek influences, and the indoor pool modeled after ancient Roman baths. You can't really tell in the picture, but the entire pool bottom, walls and arches are covered in tiny 1" x 1" tiles that were set by hand. It's truly spectacular.

Tim got this shot of the Neptune Pool on the nighttime tour. (10/20/06)

The garden tour also includes a visit to the wine cellar, which is still stocked with thousands of bottles (most of which are empty, incidentally). Hearst freely served alcohol to his guests, even during the 13-year prohibition. Although Hearst was a moderate drinker, he had little regard for drunks, and anyone who drank too much was asked to leave (actor Errol Flynn was one of them).

Anyone who has the chance must take a tour of this fascinating piece of California history.

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