Earlier this week I shared bits and pieces of biographical color to give a sense of the powerful and influential newspaper and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.
As much as I’m in awe of the Castle he called his “ranch home,” I’m much more interested in the people than I am the building. I am currently reading an excellent Hearst biography, “The Chief,” written by David Nasaw and I have another sitting here waiting for me that will delve into the fascinating life of Hearst’s architect, Julia Morgan.
I’ll add a few links at the end of this post for anyone interested in reading more, but for now I’ll just give a little more information to make the photos more relevant.
What are these menagerie cages?
In his day, Hearst had one of the largest private zoos and game preserves in the world. Animals listed in the literature include bison, musk oxen, elk, antelope, giraffes and even camels, all encouraged to roam freely over the ranch lands. The grottos held polar and grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards and chimpanzees and other exotics. I came across the mention of an elephant named Marianne.
The field animals were plentiful and gracefully dotted the beautiful hills. The deer, sheep, and zebra are still plentiful and very accustomed to people standing nearby with cameras flashing wildly.
Hearst was proud of his animals and carefully controlled their exercise and diet with oversight from a staff veterinarian. In 1937 Hearst experienced great financial strain and was forced to cut expenses. The animals were donated to public zoos or sold. It took more than fifteen years to complete the dispersal and when the State of California was given Hearst Castle seven years after Hearst’s death in 1951, Rocky Mountain elk, tahr goats, llamas, white fallow deer, zebras, sambar deer and Barbary sheep still roamed free.
All that beautiful undeveloped land! The Hearst Corporation donated the Castle to the State of California in 1957, but retained the surrounding property and continue to operate as a cattle ranch, just as William’s father George operated when he made the land purchase in 1865.
Referred to as the Piedra Blanca Rancho at San Simeon, the land extends from the inland mountains down to the ocean, with 18 miles of gorgeous coastline. The 128-square mile property is “home” to more than 1,000 plant and animal species and is an abundant ecosystem.
San Simeon Ranch is preserved thanks to conservation commitment from the Hearst Corporation. This topic made for some interesting reading. In 2005 the Hearst Corporation partnered with The American Land Conservancy, The California Rangeland Trust and the State of California to preserve the land and protect the scenic coastline, and some vocal opponent organizations fought back for either even stricter restrictions or on the other side, greater pubic access, but I’m just glad that the land will not be used for resorts and private acquisition that could easily change this gorgeous coastline forever.
I can’t conclude this tour without just a mention of the two swimming pools. They are worth the price of admission!
The outdoor Neptune pool is a beautiful feature, and experienced at least three major renovations during Hearst’s lifetime. He enjoyed this pool and was always making what he thought of as improvements. It is currently drained and undergoing a painstaking tile repair. The original tiles are being preserved while repairing huge leaks. In a state experiencing mega-drought, it is an expedient time to make these repairs.
But the pool to top all pools–the Roman pool–sits underneath the two tennis courts, is lighted by skylights with gorgeous arched windows and tall standing marble lamps. The surfaces, covered with blue and gold mosaic tile give a stunning appearance. Gold leaf is fused with the glass. As our tour guide told us, at Hearst Castle, when it looks like gold–it is!
Well, I think that concludes my tour, except I do have a few more photos you might enjoy. There are a variety of tours available at the Castle, and because we’ve previously toured the “grander” more opulent rooms, we visited Hearst’s private quarters, bedrooms and some of the guest rooms, which I think you’ll see are more personally furnished and have a comfortable feel–well, my whole house could fit in some of these rooms, but they still felt inviting.
I hope you have a chance to visit Hearst Castle someday, but wherever you find yourself this weekend, do make the most of what you have available. There are so many interesting places to visit. We are headed out again tomorrow to spend some time just staring at the ocean. That’s still my favorite (and most effective) weekend exhale!
Will you be “de-stressifiying” this weekend?