Monday, October 12, 2015

On The Way To L.A. -
Hearst's San Simeon Castle...Like WOW!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We left our friends in Glen Ellen and continued our trek down the Pacific coast.which would end in Los Angeles. There's endless beauty to be enjoyed. Would that we had more time to linger, my constant complaint. But road trips today can be very expensive: hotels, gasoline, dining. I wished over and over again that we could have been camping - stop where you want, pay very little and be much closer to nature. Very popular, in the northwest especially, are something called teardrop campers. These are very small, light -weight trailers that can be towed by even small cars. A queen-sized bed just about fills the interior. A "kitchen" is outside when part of the teardrop roof opens to expose shelves, drawers, a sink and a stove. There's nothing to set up (think tents) and you're well protected from the elements and off the ground on a comfortable bed. So cool!

A teardrop trailer like this would have been ideal for a 5-week road trip.
See more here:

From Glen Ellen, above San Francisco to Los Angeles and using the Pacific Coast Highway instead of the interstate, is a two-day trip. The middle point is somewhere around San Simeon which is where the famous estate of the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst lies. And just above San Simeon the fabulous coast line known as Big Sur.

We spent two days driving on the PCH from Glen Ellen,
north of San Franciscoto Los Angeles. 
We stopped for the night in the town of San Simeon. The
next morning we took a tour of the Hearst Castle.

Get the picture? Don't get too close to the edge.
'nuff said, right? Wrong.

Um, please don't try this at home. Posing at the edge. Big Sur, California coast.

Pretty fabulous engineering.
This is the Bixby Bridge built in 1932 as part of the
Pacific Coast Highway at Big Sur, California.

Windswept shrubs and fog blows in from the Pacific..
Can you see the Point Sur lighthouse on the top of the giant rock outcrop?

Fog softens the textures of Big Sur's rugged coast.

About an hour or so later we reached our stopping point for the night, the little coast hamlet of San Simeon. Just north of town at the inlet of Piedras Blancas (White Rocks), we stopped to take in a wonderful spectacle. At this spot, elephant seals come ashore and gather to snuggle, molt, give birth and rest. You can read more about elephant seals which are remarkable creatures. Go here. In the winter, thousands will crowd this beach. In October, there were a few dozen, still amazing to watch.

What are they gawking at?

Elephant seals which spend eight to ten months in the open ocean
come to rookeries twice a year like this one at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon
to birth, breed, molt and rest. In the winter there will be thousands on this beach.
Quite a sight! Not to mention the awful smell.

The Three Tenors.


We checked into our motel and went out to eat in nearby San Simeon, a tiny Pacific coast town. It was eight-thirty and one of the restaurants in town stated online that it was open till nine. Did I mention that restaurants close at nine or earlier on the west coast? That includes large cities like Los Angeles (with a few exceptions). In smaller town it's almost a law. Driving all day and getting to one's destination late spells doom if you want a nice dinner at a local restaurant. Well, it turns out, the nine o'clock restaurant was already closed at eight-thirty. "We closed early" one of the workers said when I asked if they were still serving. "Nobody was coming in." (In truth, it was after season...but still!) We drove back to the hotel and there was a restaurant attached to another motel next door. that was still open. Not great but more than good enough for two weary but hungry travelers.

The next morning we awoke. ready to drive on. But Stacey suggested (strongly) that we see the Hearst Castle. Matt didn't want to spend the fifty bucks but finally agreed. Stacey was right (as she often is). What an amazing place is this estate: a testament to the enormous wealth amassed by William Randolph Hearst, who at the time, was said to be the richest man in America. His father, George Hearst, was no pauper either.

Papa Hearst was a miner, a forty-niner who struck it rich big time. He found gold and silver. Not educated, but a shrewd businessman, he realized that mines eventually run out. So he invested and he bought real estate and other mines and soon became one of the wealthiest men in the country. In the area surrounding San Simeon, where later his son would build this castle, George purchased land in 1865 and later expanded it to 250,000 acres!

The father would take young William on strenuous camping trips, treking up the mountain on horseback to the family camp site. The young boy grew to love the place. Later, as a grown man, he asked his father if he could build a home there. No, said his father, "this is our family campground and it should remain that way." His father passed away and William  now asked his mother for permission to build. Once again, she turned down his request: "This is our family camp ground and it must remain that way, unspoiled." When his mother died, Hearst hired a woman architect, Julia Morgan (an unheard of thing to do in 1919)  and began to build his Casa Grande. He to build it till  1947.  It is now part of the California state park system. It's an incredible sight to behold. Hearst, it is said, needed a place to display his enormous collection of art and antiques and the castle is resplendent with those artifacts, inside and out. Indeed, many of the ceilings in the grand rooms are taken from European churches and monasteries, disassembled and reassembled at San Simeon. Likewise for grand doorways, fireplaces, etc. Tapestries by Reubens are hung in the Assembly Room. Medevil church pews line the walls there as well.

Hearst entertained the very wealthiest and most powerful elite at his castle as well as the famous stars of stage and screen. When he invited you, his assistant would call and if you accepted, all travel arrangements and costs would be taken care of, no matter where you were coming from. Such was the enormous wealth of this man, the inventor of sensational (and reactionary) Yellow Journalism. I won't go into that here. Suffice it to say that Hearst was one of the most powerful men of his time and with his newspapers spewing distortion, half-truths and outright lies, was able to push the country into the Spanish-American war and the U.S. acquisition of Cuba in 1898. A hundred years later the same duplicity led us to war and occupation in Iraq. Bush and Cheney's fabrications about weapons of mass destruction pushed us into war and Judith Miller and the New York Times put the stamp of validity on those lies. You can read more about Hearst's journalism here.

Putting Hearst's reactionary politics aside (difficult for me to do), his creation at San Simeon is a wonder to behold. With its spectacular architecture and massive collection of art and antiques it is a unique piece of history, a wonderful museum and an unforgettable place you should put on your list of "must" places to visit.

Here are some statistics:
  • 56 bedrooms.
  • 61 bathrooms.
  • 19 sitting rooms.
  • 127 acres of gardens.
  • three guest "cottages" (actually mansions in their own right).
  • indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
  • tennis courts.
  • movie theater.
  • private airport.
  • the world's largest private zoo (no longer in existence but we did see zebras roaming the fields, a leftover from the many different exotic animals that once inhabited the estate).

The entrance off the PCH to the Hearst estate.
The castle is five miles from this entrance, up a windy, mountain
road that you ascend via a vistor's bus

In the bus, ascending to the castle, the Pacific is far below.

We've arrived. This is the main entrance to the castle. The door and
surrounds are artifacts from European churches.

This is the Assembly Rom of the Casa Grande
as Hearst referred to his castle. If you were invited to one
of his soirees, this is the first room you would  see and
where you would assemble with other guests.
The room is filled with magnificent Flemish tapestries,
one of which was designed by Peter Paul Reubens
and one by Guilio Romano. Because of their size
Hearst had his architect, Julia Moran, increase the
size of the room in order to accommodate the tapestries.

Pew seats from Italian and Spanish churches, line the Assembly Room.

Hearst's immense art collection fills the rooms.
Indeed, the ceilings of the rooms are part of his collection,
taken from European churches and re-installed
in his Casa Grande.

The Refectory where guests dined. Getting a seat next to the host was considered a social coup. Hearst had his architect install gleaming silver candlesticks, high windows and magnificent tapestries from his art collection to recall a dining hall from medieval monasteries. Heinz ketchup and mustard, at the mogul's insistence, were also on the table along with
the elaborate silver settings.

The Refectory and its awesome ceiling,
unassembled at a Spanish monastery and then
reinstalled at San Simeon.
What money can buy!

Hearst's man cave - the Billiards Room.

Another grand ceiling, this one in the Billiards Room.

A sconce in the movie theater.

We saw a clip of Hearst entertaining at his Casa Grande. Here he is with his mistress and lover, Marion Davies.
Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and other Hollywood stars were regulars at the castle.

Side view of the mansion.

The castle has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms and 127 acres
of gardens. There are also three other smaller "cottages" for guests, spectacular
mansions in their own rights.

Beautiful patios abound, each with spectacular
views to the ocean far below.

Magnificent views up the Pacific coast.

The grand entrance and patio and fountains in front.

One of three magnificent guest cottages.

Hearst's art collection is everywhere - inside and out.

What a view. Of the Pacific, that is. 

You can see forever from the Hearst Castle.

Guest cottage. Wouldn't you like an invitation?

The patio below one of the guest cottages.

Hello there. A statue with lamp.

Beautiful and unforgettable. 

A view from the back of the castle.
The warm California air wafts over the flowers and surrounds you.

Grand views and art.

The indoor pool. Hearst called it the Roman Baths, after which it is modeled.

Inlaid gold leaf mosaic tiles, crafted in Murano, Italy.

Roman Baths.

The indoor pool has little romantic nooks that one could swim into.

After finishing our tour of La Casa  Grande we continued our drive south to Los Angeles. We arrived, after surviving a colossal traffic jam on the Hollywood Freeway, at about 8:00, weary but happy to be at our friends' lovely apartment. Tamar and Jay are bi-coastal with a house in Brooklyn and now, after retirement, an apartment in L.A. But more on them and sons and cousins and friends who we would be hanging with over the next few my next post.     - Matt


  1. that count in. Might work in your back are.

  2. I've been there and it really is WOW!