Hearst’s Castle on the Enchanted Hill
America doesn’t have any real castles. By the time Europeans colonized the “New World,” the age of castles was over, too bad. So, the wealthy elite in America never got to play lords and ladies of the land. All except for some uber rich during America’s Gilded Age who had the money to live out their royal fantasies.
Probably the most fantastic display of wealth can be seen at San Simeon, California. There, on an enchanted hill overlooking the Central Coast, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst built his very own castle. He employed architect Julian Morgan to make his dream a reality. She was one of only five female architects in the entire country at the time.
Hearst, fictionalized by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane, was a slightly eccentric and visionary billionaire. Even though mega-mansions are a dime-a-dozen in California, none compare to Hearst Castle. This historic landmark is open to the public. It is so big, that the 60,645 square foot main house requires three separate tours to see it all. The land is a staggering 260,000 acres! That’s bigger than some countries.
Our weekend family adventure took us south on California Highway 1 to San Simeon to see the famous castle. We chose the Grand Rooms Tour because it is recommended for first time visitors to the estate. Luckily, we purchased tickets online the day before ($25.00 adult/$12.00 child + $8.00 per ticket reservation fee, no wonder why Hearst was rich). At least they had free electric vehicle charging. Once we arrived, they were already sold out for the day. We walked around the visitor center for a while before boarding the tour bus to the castle. We learned that the castle was continuously being built from its inception in 1919 to Hearst’s death in 1951.
The ride to the top of the hill and castle is very dramatic. Apparently, William Hearst planned it that way to build suspense and awe in his guests. Guest he had indeed! They continuously arrived in droves to see the grand castle and meet the proud owner. They were some of richest, most powerful, and famous movers and shakers of the era. They included Hollywood socialites Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and Greta Garbo; political figures like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt; celebrities like aviator Charles Lindbergh; and businessmen like Howard Hughes, just to name a few.
Normally, I have no interest to see gaudy demonstrations of personal wealth. Hearst’s unabashed and over-the-top display of opulence, however, is worth a look. Only during Hearst’s time could anyone get away with building such an estate. It is a testimony to another time, when the distribution of wealth was even more uneven than today and rules were largely non-existent, or at least not for the rich. No one could recreate Hearst’s castle today.
To add to the grandeur of his castle, Hearst imported exotic animals, like giraffe, zebras, and llamas to roam freely around the castle. He even had a small private zoo with polar bears on the grounds for him and his guests. If you got the money, why not?
Hearst was an avid art collector also. He was dubbed the “Great Accumulator” by one art dealer. On the grounds is a 3,000 year-old Egyptian statue. The outdoor Neptune Pool is framed with real ancient Roman columns and statues imported from Italy, which could not be obtained today. Inside are even more amazing artifacts. Mish was especially impressed with the elaborate ceilings and fireplaces, imported from cathedrals and castles in Europe of course. The indoor pool has real gold accents even!
I joked with Elijah that when he became rich and famous he could buy the castle for me. Fortunately for him, the castle is not for sale. That’s OK, I have my eyes on a few other castles in Ireland anyway. We are going there for three weeks in June, so I will have a chance to shop around.