hearst castle at san simeon

Thursday, January 9:  This morning, I leave Jayne’s house in Danville and drive down Route 101 toward San Simeon.  I stop at Hearst Castle where I find I have to wait 45 minutes for the next tour.

On the bus ride up the winding mountain roads, the tour guide tells us something about William Randolph Hearst, art collector and newspaper publisher.  The Mediterranean Revival Style estate was designed and built over a period of 28 years, from 1919-1947, by California architect Julia Morgan.  William Randolph Hearst referred to Hearst Castle as “the ranch at San Simeon,” as it was a working family cattle ranch since 1865.  Hearst formally named the hilltop “La Cuestra Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) because of his love of the land and the southern European art and architecture which he incorporated into the estate.

Casa Grande, inspired by a Spanish cathedral, contains 115 rooms and was never completed.  Guests gathered here for all their indoor entertainment and meals.  It has twin bell towers and a carved teak gable.  The structure is concrete and steel faced in white limestone, with antique carvings around the entrance.

Entrance to Casa Grande
Entrance to Casa Grande

As we take the bus up the winding mountain road to the 1600-foot elevation, our guide tells us that Hearst Castle was Hearst’s primary residence on the West Coast.  The residence welcomed hundreds of glamorous guests in the 1920s and 30s.  The hilltop is often sunny and the road to the top is steep.

Casa Grande
Casa Grande

George Hearst bought the land in 1865 as a cattle and horse ranch, including over 200 head of black and red angus cattle. Precious minerals such as gold, silver and copper are close to the earth’s surface here. Some of the Coast Live Oaks here are over 300 years old.

Willy was the only child and inherited the 250,000+ hilly grass-covered acres.  In 1919, when Hearst was 56, his mother Phoebe died and he hired architect Julia Morgan to build “a little something:” an estate worthy of what he’d seen in his European travels, with 165 rooms.  He was tired of camping in tents on the property.

The first big challenge was to build a road on the old bridle paths. The road was designed so that the castle atop the hill appears and disappears as you climb higher.  Lining the crest of a long hill is the “longest pergola in captivity.”

The Main Terrace serves as the central plaza for the estate, with views not only of Casa Grande, but of the Pacific Ocean to the south and Santa Lucia mountains to the north.  The lily pond reflects Coast Live Oaks and Southern Magnolia, and provides the sound of water, an important component of Mediterranean gardens.

statue on the Main Terrace
statue on the Main Terrace

William loved animals and created the largest private zoo in America, which included animals such as antelopes, llamas, giraffes, zebras, deer, coyote, foxes, turkey vultures, impalas, wallaroos, wallaby, and goats. He also collected black bears, grizzly bears, sun bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, macaws, kinkajous, coati mundis, swans, storks, a tapir and an elephant, housed in menagerie cages of various sizes. Diet and exercise were carefully controlled and a veterinarian was on the staff during the 1930s. He never allowed his animals to be used for medical experiments and had signs that said “Caution: The animals have right of way at all times.”

Lily pond on the Main Terrace
Lily pond on the Main Terrace

Inside the house, we see where the guests assembled and dined amidst Hearst’s extensive art collection.

Dining Room chairs
Tapestry in the Assembly Room
Assembly Room
Assembly Room
window
window
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Dining room at Hearst Castle
Assembly Room
Assembly Room
Billiard room at Hearst Castle
Billiard room at Hearst Castle

Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains) is one of three cottages on the estate named for its view, which Hearst believed to be the most important aspect of the hilltop.  These were the first buildings constructed and housed family and guests.

Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains)
Casa del Monte
Casa del Monte
statue on the grounds
statue on the grounds
Casa del Monte
Casa del Monte
Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Monte
the moon & Casa Grande Tower
the moon & Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower

The Neptune Pool was named for the statue of the Roman sea-god atop the temple.  Ancient Roman columns dating from the 1st century to the 4th century A.D. support the temple.  French sculptor Charles Cassou carved the marble statues of nymphs ad swans around the pool.

Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool

The pool ranges from three to ten feet deep and holds 345,000 gallons of water.  It was heated year-round until the mid-1970s, and is still filtered using a sand filtering system.

Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool
Neptune Pool

Casa del Sol (House of the Sun) showcases a Moorish theme with its sunken courtyard, lion fountain and Persian tiles in and around the doors.  The terrace below Casa del Sol gives a view of the natural San Simeon harbor.

Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Sol (House of the Sun)
Casa del Sol
Casa del Sol
Fountain at Casa del Sol
Fountain at Casa del Sol
Woodwork at Case del Sol
Woodwork at Case del Sol
Casa del Mar (House of the Sea)
Casa del Sol

Casa del Mar (House of the Sea) was Hearst’s home until 1928, when he moved into Casa Grande (the Big House).

Casa del Mar
Casa del Mar
Steps at Casa del Mar
Steps at Casa del Mar

The Esplanade walkway connects the gardens and structures in what Hearst called “a harmonious whole.”  I walk through roses, flowering annuals, perennials, boxwood hedges, citrus tress and many varieties of palms.  Native to the estate are Hearst’s beloved Coast Live Oaks.

Garden pathway to Casa del Mar
Garden pathway to Casa del Mar
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande Tower
Casa Grande
Casa Grande
Oranges at Casa Grande
Oranges at Casa Grande
Palm trees and native flora
Palm trees and native flora
palm trees at Casa Grande
palm trees at Casa Grande

The Roman Pool was the only part of the gymnasium completed.  The pool basin is 10 feet deep and holds 205,000 gallons of heated water.  This pool was rarely used by Hearst’s guests.

Indoor Roman Pool
Indoor Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Roman Pool
Mosaics in the Roman Pool
Mosaics in the Roman Pool
Mosaics at the Roman Pool
Mosaics at the Roman Pool

By the time I leave Hearst Castle, the afternoon is late.  I was hoping to make it to Santa Barbara tonight, but as I head down the coastal highway, I decide I’ll just stop whenever I get the urge.

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18 thoughts on “hearst castle at san simeon

  1. Your pictures brought back many memories of when husband and I toured Hearst Castle several years ago. I have pictures. Somewhere. . . . I thought the structures and grounds were beautiful, but the interiors felt so dark and heavy to me. All the wood, I think. And the Roman Pool – opulent, but gloomy.

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    >

    1. I think the interiors are dark and heavy too, Carol. But the outdoor structures and the grounds and view are magnificent. 🙂 I think the Roman pool wasn’t popular with guests because of its gloominess.

  2. What it must be like to have the sort of money that allows you to build your dreams! I think you went on the same tour that we did, but you had sunshine, whereas we had pouring rain – not many views on that day! Did you watch the film? It was very good. Lovely photos as usual 🙂
    Jude xx

    1. Yes, I know Jude! It must be nice. If I had that much money though, I’d just build a small house by a lake or seaside and then spend all my time traveling! It’s all about priorities, right? The film was good; I really enjoyed it. Now that you mention it, I forgot to write about it. 🙂 Thanks so much!

  3. There are some fabulous shots here, Cathy! I especially like that first statue. They are superb statues, aren’t they? We drove past on our Cal trip many years ago but nobody but me wanted to go there. It was cloudy so we wouldn’t have had your epic blue skies anyway.

    1. I thought it was quite beautiful and the weather was perfect, but it was way over the top! I’d rather walk around a scrubby town and take pictures and poke my head in here and there than to visit these ostentatious places, but at least I can say I did it once! 🙂

  4. Gosh, Cathy, what a gorgeous place. Interesting to hear about the zoo that was part of its history. And, goodness, the swimming pools alone are magnificent.

    Good luck with your novel revisions this weekend.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I didn’t do any revisions this weekend because I allow myself blogging time on weekends. Plus I went to that “Storytelling Photography” seminar at National Geographic all day yesterday. It was amazing! Good luck with your exhibit!

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