Hearst Castle – Behind the Scenes!

One of the major attractions to the Central Coast is Hearst Castle.  The legendary publisher, William Randolph Hearst, placed his castle in one of the most breathtaking spots along the California coast with unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean and a collection of art that rivals the best European museums.  Hearst Castle and the 282,000 acre property it sits on was bequeathed to the State of California in 1941.  It is a must-see for any first-time visitor to our area and a favorite of many.  Each tour explores a different section of the castle with colorful stories shared by the well-trained tour specialists.  The film about the castle lends some insight into the history but we found some interesting things you might not know about Hearst Castle.




Young William traveled extensively with his mother around Europe.  Their 18-month journey left a lasting impression on him and he incorporated many of the various styles he had seen in his architecture and artwork.  She was also the one who introduced him to Julia Morgan.  She was a patroness at UC Berkeley when Julia Morgan was studying there.  Phoebe Hearst was widowed at 48 and became a philanthropic supporter of educational programs when she met Morgan, then studying with Bernard Maybeck.  She encouraged Morgan to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris where she was the first and only female student earning a degree in record 3 years while enduring the taunts and ridicule of the male students that did little to welcome her.



The property was purchased by his father, George Hearst, and was the family ranch and campground long before the castle was created by architect, Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect!  Initially, W.R. Hearst told Morgan that “he had grown tired of camping in tents and was ‘thinking of building a little something’ on the hilltop overlooking San Simeon.” Little did Morgan know that she would spend the next 28 years working at the estate and more than 500 structures including fish ladders, bridges, reservoirs, rock walls, as well as the extensive animal housing.  Much of this was discovered by Hearst historian, Victoria Kastner, who located more than 9,000 architectural drawings andmore than a thousand letters between Hearst and Morgan discussing the project. Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy is Kastner’s third book on the topic.





One of the biggest scandals at the time revolved around the man himself.  The very married William Randolph Hearst met the love of his life in 1917 when Marion Davies was a 20-year old showgirl.  Mr. Hearst’s wife refused to grant him a divorce and the couple lived together at Hearst Castle for decades while his wife resided on the East Coast.  Since he was unable to marry his true love, so he made sure everyone knew his feelings in a grandiose way.  In 1951, when he died, he willed the entire estate to his love, Marion Davies…who sold it back to the family for $1!  That is one reason why many view what was then a scandalous affair, as a spectacular and magnificent love story.   Hearst entertained a number of political leaders, cultural icons and Hollywood’s elite at the Castle—all with noted actress (and notably not-his-wife) Marion Davies as hostess. The invitations were often open-ended, but several guests noted that, as their stay wore on, their seat at dinner moved further and further from Hearst himself—a subtle hint that they had overstayed their welcome.



Guests at Hearst Castle

The young Mr. Hearst was known for being a prankster, even sending engraved silver chamber pots to his professors, resulting in expulsion from Harvard, In those days, there was no indoor plumbing and people often put pots under their beds to relieve themselves at night.but his love of a good prank did not extend to being pranked. Some of the more iconic guests to visit Hearst Castle were also memorable but not in a way that pleased Mr. Hearst.  Harpo Marx found his way into the underground vaults, removed several mink coats and proceeded to dress the statues in the gardens with furs…and of course, it snowed that night!  The guests and Mr. Hearst were not amused!  Cary Grant once flew a plane over the castle, and literally flour-bombed the castle with sacks of the white powder.  When Mr. Grant returned to the castle, his bags were packed and he was asked to leave.  The same fate awaits anyone who dares jump or “fall” into one of the pools…a quick trip to the exit is in your future…and a potential $500 fine…resist the temptation, and we have it on good authority that pool is not heated and ice cold!





One of the other more unusual things leftover from the Hearst Ranch Zoo is the zebra population, which originated from the Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology.  Once home to lions, tigers, and bears…as well as  leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, and an elephant, most of the animals are long gone as he began selling them off when he faced some financial difficulties.  The animals that roamed freely were left and you can still find elk, sheep, and goats and of course, zebras on the property.  To book your tour, visit www.hearstcastle.org




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