Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument and Park

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MOGLEN:  During the the 1920’s and 30’s, one of the most coveted invitations was to Hearst Castle, as it’s known today -- the sprawling San Simeon country home of newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst.

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MOGLEN:  Located in the rugged hills of the central California coast, high above what’s now highway 1, the estate hosted famous guests like movie stars Cary Grant and Joan Crawford, playwright George Bernard Shaw, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Today, Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, as it’s officially known, stands at 165 rooms, with indoor and outdoor pools, eight *acres of manicured gardens, tennis courts, a movie theater, plus the countless art objects collected by Hearst – and almost all is open to the public.  In fact, this year marks the 50th anniversary of public tours.


MOGLEN:  To celebrate the half-decade of public access, the Friends of Hearst Castle and California State Parks are hosting a number of special events.  In December, there’s the *Holiday Feast, an elaborate dinner served in the very room Hearst entertained his guests. And through the end of the year, there’s the *Salon Series, featuring lectures about the history of Hearst, the Castle, and its treasures.

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MOGLEN:  Back in the golden days of Hearst Castle, -- a trip to San Simeon usually began by train.

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MOGLEN: Diane McGrath is Chief of Museum Interpretation at San Luis Obispo Coast District for California State Parks. She says once visitors arrived Hearst expected them to be active.

McGRATH: You weren’t lying around in your room or just lolling on a chaise lounge up by the pool.  You needed to be out swimming or you could play tennis you could go for a horseback ride you might want to go down to the beach for a picnic

MOGLEN:  But long before Hearst’s San Simeon home existed, the area where it sits today was nicknamed “Camp Hill” – a pastoral hilltop dotted by oak trees and streams, set against sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. It’s where young William Randolph Hearst camped with his family. Although *camping isn’t exactly the right term.  McGrath.

MCGRATH:  They had wooden platform tents with silk coverings and stoneware for their dishes and they had a cooking tent and everything was provided for them.  They had Persian carpets on the wooden floors.  So, it was very luxurious camping.  He loved this place.

MOGLEN:  She says the land – some 40,000 acres – was purchased by Hearst’s father, a wealthy miner, back in 1865 – and turned into a cattle ranch, which still operates today. By 1919, when Hearst inherited the property, it had grown to *250,000 acres. McGrath says Hearst loved the hilltop so much he decided to build there.


MOGLEN:  She says when he started construction Hearst had a distinct priority.

MCGRATH:  He told the architect early on, the view is the thing.

MOGLEN: In order to turn his vision into reality, Hearst hired San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan.  McGrath says they were a true partnership.

MCGRATH:  She was a brilliant architect, she had no ego, which he had an abundance of, so they worked very well together, but they also respected each other’s opinion.  She and Hearst would sit with their heads right next to each other and just pour over the drawings and talk, and it was almost like they were in their own world, oblivious to what was going on around them.

MOGLEN: Starting in 1919, Morgan and Hearst collaborated on the Castle for nearly *thirty years.

MCGRATH:  And that to me indicates that the process was part of the joy -- it wasn’t simply to build what we see.  It was the joy of watching it be created.

MOGLEN: Hearst named their creation “La Cuesta Encantada” – or “The Enchanted Hill.” 

McGRATH: The architecture is eclectic -- although the overall scheme of it is Mediterranean from the 16th century.  It was designed to look like a Spanish villa.  We have a main house almost looking like the center cathedral in town with three guest houses spread around the outside of it that look like village homes.

MOGLEN: La Cuesta Encantada also housed Hearst’s ever-increasing art collection, full of European and Mediterranean antiquities. McGrath says there are many pieces in Hearst’s collection that stand out – ornate carved ceilings from Spain and Italy, rare Oriental carpets, and Greek vases dating back to 700 B.C. – but one is especially impressive, located just inside the front door of the main house.

MCGRATH:  It’s a second century BC mosaic floor and it’s absolutely stunning—little, tiny, fingernail sized pieces of tile that are put together.

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MOGLEN: McGrath says she’s heard tales about some of the personalities who stayed at the castle during its glamorous heyday -- like one about Charlie Chaplin and comedienne Marion Davies, Hearst’s longtime companion.

MCGRATH: Charlie Chaplin and Marion used to go up to the main library and they would push all the furniture out of the way and they would do cartwheels and gymnastics.  That was one of the fun things they used to do.  And Charlie said Marion was usually wearing an assortment of diamond bracelets and they would always fall off.  So, they would have to search the room to try to find the diamond bracelets.

MOGLEN:  Though the antics of Hearst and his guests may seem frivolous and privileged, Steve Hearst, William Randolph’s great grandson, says WR had a thoughtful side.
HEARST:  Here was a guy that used to, they had mousetraps in the castle and when they caught the mice inside the building they would take them outside and turn them loose.

MOGLEN:  In 1958, the castle, the art collection, and about 150 acres of land surrounding it were gifted to the state.  Since then, more land was added. The latest addition was in 2005 due to a land conservation easement to restrict land development -- spearheaded by Steve Hearst. 

HEARST:  We put an easement over the whole coastal area, a scenic easement with CalTrans so you wouldn’t do anything to impair the view on Highway one going through the eighteen miles from north to south through hearst ranch.  Then we transferred that, we gave it to the state. So the state received just under 1000 acres and 13 miles of coastline.

MOGLEN:  Those 13 miles of coastline are part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, located five miles south of the castle.  It offers a variety of activities like surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, camping, and tidepools to explore. And  from January through March, visitors can witness thousands of *elephant seals, birthing, nursing and caring for their young on the protected beaches.  Leander Tamoria is Supervising Ranger with San Luis Obispo Coast District.

TAMORIA:  Elephant seals go to the Piedras Blancas rookery probably in the number of something like 14,000.  So we have quite a sizable colony out there and it continues to grow.

MOGLEN  Tamoria says the Parks offer just about everything most travelers are looking for – tons of activities and an invitation for *everyone to come to the castle.  You can find out more about *visiting Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument and Park at parks.ca.gov.

OUTRO: If you want to help out the California State Park system, join our 90,000 member-driven community by visiting the California State Parks Foundation on the web at www.calparks.org.  This podcast was brought to you by a generous donation from Jeannie Schulz.