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Hearst Castle, California, USA: Building the dream
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
William Hearst, son of a successful miner, at age 10 had the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe along with his mother. His travels lasted for around 2 years giving the young Hearst the opportunity to visit Europeís many architectural wonders and art galleries. What he saw left a lasting impression. Would he be able to build something back in the US? Something that the world would be left in awe. The boy dreamed. And built upon it.
Hearst Castle is in San Simeon about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the scenic Pacific Coast highway 1. The land where the castle stands today was bought way back in 1865 by Williamís father Randolph. In the 1870ís the Hearst family used it as a campground. As an adult, William, his wife Millicent and their five sons continued the camping tradition. William Hearst selected this site to build his dream castle more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Why else would anyone want to build a castle about 1500 feet above the sea levelÖ in days when there were no roads nor sophisticated construction equipment.
William Hearst would need money, and lot of it, to build what he had in mind. And money he had. He had created one of the largest publishing and media empires in the United States. At the height of his career he owned 26 newspapers, 13 magazines, 8 radio stations and many related news services. In addition he produced newsreels and made almost 100 films. Throughout his life he collected art and antiques from around the world and built homes to display his collections. Hearst Castle was his home to showcase what he had. And to entertain his guestsÖ whoís who of the world then.
The project began in 1919. William and the San Francisco architect Julia Morgan worked off and on until 1947 creating the buildings on this site. Thereís a 40 minute well produced documentary that visitors can watch on a 5-storey screen. The film will take you through the making of this wonder.
In 1957, six years after William Randolph Hearstís death, the Hearst Corporation gave the castle to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Hearst family members still have their quarters (if I may use the term), secluded from public view up there in the hills.
Visitors just canít buy tickets and walk in. There are guided tours and thatís the only way to visit the castle. There are 4 tour options each costing $25 per head. Each tour runs you through various levels of the castle. During holidays make sure to book your tour in advance. The Hearst Castle bus leaves from the visitor centre at scheduled times. Each tour lasts for about 90 minutesÖ which I think is not being fair to the visitors. Thereís so much to be seen! Well, thatís life.
California was a Spanish Colony 200 years ago. Hearst selected Spanish names for the estate. He called it La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill). There are 3 guest houses Ė each named for the view they offer from the sitting rooms. Casa del Sol (House of the Sun); Casa del Mar (House of the Sea) and Casa del Monte (House of the Mountain). And there is Casa Grande (Big House). Between them the castle has over 160 rooms.
Since all tours are guided, hereís what our tour showed us.
Neptune Pool: The pool was the favourite of many of Hearstís visitors. It is the larger of the 2 pools. In Hearstís day it had a diving board and was heated. 17 dressing rooms were provided for his guests in the structure at the top of the stairs. The Temple FaÁade is a composite structure incorporating pieces from ancient Roman buildings. The carved figures depict Neptune, Roman God of the Sea, with sea nymphs.
Neptune Terrace: The style is reminiscent of Renaissance gardens of Spain and Italy, with many native plants from the Mediterranean.
Casa del Sol: Visitors can walk through the rooms. The rooms are an example of accommodations that Hearstís guests would have enjoyed. Much of the furniture used by the guests was part of Hearstís antique collection.
Main Terrace and Casa Grande: This terrace provides a detailed view of the front of Casa Grande. The structure is made of reinforced concrete. A thin facing of white limestone gives the building the appearance of block construction. The doorway of Casa Grande is a wrought iron grill from the 16th century. The Gothic Wildmen on either side of the gate are from Spain dating 15th century. The main floor of the building is made up of entertainment rooms. The second level has guest rooms and a library. The third level contains Gothic suite and study and Hearstís private living and working area. The two towers have carillon bells which are controlled electronically from a keyboard inside the building.
Assembly Room: This room is the largest one in Casa Grande. During the day, guests enjoyed various outdoor activities such as horseback riding, tennis or swimming. In the evening all would gather in the Assembly Room for cocktails and conversation. The room is lined with 15th and 16th century choir stalls with Flemish tapestries rising above to the ceiling, a 16th century Italian walnut palace ceiling with images of Neptune and Jupiter. The large fireplace mantle comes from Chateau de Jours in Central France.
Refectory: This is the only dining room on the estate. Guests enjoyed all their meals here at scheduled times. The walls of the Refrectory are lined with 16th century Franco-Flemish tapestries showing scenes from the Old Testament, Book of Daniel. The choir stalls are 14th century Spanish and the wood ceiling is 16th century Italian with figures depicting Catholic saints. The silver is from England, Spain, Mexico, Ireland and Flanders and dates 17th to 19th centuries.
Billiard Room: Here guests could enjoy games of billiards and conversation. In the evening it was the route to the movie theatre. The tapestry in the room is an early 16th century Franco-Flemish weaving entitled Hunt of the Stag with a Mille Fleur (Thousand Flower) background. The ceiling is 15th century Spanish and the Persian picture tiles date to 17th-19th centuries.
Roman Pool: The Mausoleum of Galla Placida in Ravenna, Italy, provided the inspiration for the star pattern tile designs in the Roman Pool. Its Venetian glass tiles were imported from Italy. Many of the tiles contain gold leaf.
The bus was waiting for us outside the Roman Pool. In about 15 minutes we were at the visitor centre. After watching the Hearst Castle documentary, we were ready to leave for Paso Robles for the night.
Hearst Castle Image Gallery Photo viewer
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