March 26 – 27
How The Other Half Lives
Or more accurately, how the other 1/2 of the top 1% live.
To go back, we spent a very nice afternoon with Jack and Ruby, visiting their two sons and their families, who both live nearby. They were all warm and welcoming, and they have lovely children. We went out for an Italian dinner, then sat around a fire for a couple of hours.
We left the next morning for the short drive to Santa Margarita and checked into the KOA campground, which is out in the country and surrounded by lovely green rolling countryside. We relaxed the rest of the day, planning to spend the next day visiting the Hearst Castle, about an hour’s drive north.
This morning (the 27th), we made the very pleasant drive, much of it along the coast, to the Hearst Castle. The easiest way to describe it (and its 170,000 surrounding acres) is to think of it as the Versailles of California. It was originally built by William Randolph Hearst, heir to the Hearst publishing empire, and took 28 years to complete (although there are some sections of it that were never completed after his death in 1951). It was eventually turned over to the state of California, and is now administered by the State Park system. Hearst’s wish was that all of the art treasures it contains, one of the largest collections in the world, should always be available for the public to see and experience.
The short story is that Hearst’s first wife Millicent, once having been introduced to the high society and arts and culture of New York by her husband, loved it too much to move out west to where Hearst had spent summers as a child, hiking and camping his father’s vast acreage, and where he eventually wanted to settle permanently. His mother had taken him to Europe as a young child and educated him in the history and cultures of many countries. Hearst himself spoke several languages fluently, and during his life, not only expanded his father’s publishing holdings, but diversified into many other fields, including that of producing films through his own film company.
He decided to build a “small place” on the high hill overlooking San Simeon, which rapidly turned into the castle that exists today (rapidly is a relative term; it took 28 years to complete). It contains 36 guest bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, along with several satellite “cottages” (each approximately 2800 square feet), which contained everything one might expect, except for a kitchen. There was no room service; Hearst expected his guests to eat with everyone else in the main house, the “Casa Grande” as it was known. Although he was somewhat ruthless in his business dealings, he treated and paid his employees well and the average length of time an employee stayed with Hearst was 23 years. He was also a bit of a closet philanthropist, and never wanted his name publicised. Ultimately, he met an actress named Marion Davies, fell in love, and although he and his first wife never divorced, Marion eventually moved into the Castle and they were together until his death in 1951. He lived through 17 Presidents and was instrumental in electing at least 6 of them because of his considerable clout through his publishing empire.
One of his unique business ideas was that his will stipulated that the Trust he established to run his operations after his death could never have any Hearst family members on the Board, nor could they serve in any official role such as CEO or CFO. His feeling was that family emotions did not make for good business decisions, and the stipulation only runs out when his last grandchild dies.
Of course, there is far more to the man and his legacy, but we found the two tours we did (upstairs and downstairs) really interesting and informative. Hopefully the following pictures will give you an idea. The sculptures, tapestries, paintings etc. are priceless, and some predate the birth of Christ by hundreds of years.
The Refectory (Dining Room)
No tablecloth or fancy china (bone ware only). Paper napkins and condiments in their original bottles.
Silver candlesticks and wine bowl. All silverware is cleaned twice a year.
The Games Room
50 seat theatre
The outdoor “Neptune” pool (empty for cleaning and repair)
The view from here:
One of the 36 Guest Bedrooms:
The Guest Library:
Several of the 400 Grecian pots he owned
The indoor “Roman” pool (located underneath the tennis courts):
A final look:
It should also be noted that Hearst at one time had the biggest private zoo in North America which included many exotic species, most of which roamed freely among his cattle. Zebras are still here with the cattle, although most of the animals were given to zoos or sold when the Great Depression took a toll on Heart’s finances.
If you are ever down this way, it is well worth seeing, and we’re glad we went. Off to another KOA near Santa Cruz tomorrow for a couple of nights.