Hearst Castle
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Hearst Castle

Hearst San Simeon Estate
Hearst Castle Casa Grande September 2012 panorama 2.jpg
Casa Grande, inspired by the Church of Santa María la Mayor, Ronda, Spain, formed the centerpiece of Hearst's estate.
Hearst Castle is located in California
Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle is located in the United States
Hearst Castle
Nearest citySan Simeon, California, United States
AreaMore than 90,000 sq ft (8,400 m2)
ArchitectJulia Morgan
Architectural styleSpanish Colonial Revival, Mediterranean Revival, other late 19th and 20th century revival styles
NRHP reference #72000253[1]
CHISL #640[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPJune 22, 1972
Designated CHISLApril 28, 1958

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, is a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark located on the Central Coast of California in the United States. The joint concept of William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan, it was built between 1919 and 1947. Known formally as "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill), and often referred to simply as San Simeon, Hearst himself called his castle the "Ranch". His father George Hearst had purchased the original 40,000 acre estate in 1865 and Camp Hill, the site for the future Hearst Castle, was used for family camping holidays during Hearst's youth. Following his mother's death in 1919, Hearst inherited some $11,000,000 and estates including the land at San Simeon. Hearst used his fortune to further develop his media empire of newspapers, magazines and radio stations, the profits from which supported a lifetime of building and collecting. Within a few months of Phoebe Hearst's demise, Hearst had commissioned Julia Morgan to build "something a little more comfortable up on the hill", the genesis of the present castle. Morgan was an architectural pioneer; "America's first truly independent female architect",[4] she was the first woman to study architecture at the School of Beaux-Arts in Paris, the first to have her own architectural practice in California and the first female winner of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal. Working in close collaboration with Hearst for over twenty years, the castle at San Simeon is her most renowned creation.

In the Roaring Twenties and into the 1930s, Hearst Castle reached its social peak. Originally intended as a family home for Hearst, his wife Millicent and their five sons, by 1925 Hearst and Millicent had effectively separated and he held court at San Simeon with his mistress, the actress Marion Davies. Their guest list comprised most of the Hollywood stars of the period; Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Jean Harlow and Clark Gable all visited, some on multiple occasions. Political luminaries encompassed Calvin Coolidge and Winston Churchill while other notables included Charles Lindbergh, P. G. Wodehouse and George Bernard Shaw. Visitors gathered each evening at Casa Grande for drinks in the Assembly Room, dined in the Refectory and watched the latest movie in the Theatre before retiring to the luxurious accommodation provided by the guest houses of Casa del Mar, Casa del Monte and Casa del Sol. During the days, they admired the views, rode, played tennis, bowls or golf and swam in the "most sumptuous swimming pool on earth".[5] While Hearst entertained, Morgan built; the castle was under almost continual construction from 1920 until 1939, with work resuming after the end of the Second World War until Hearst's final departure in 1947.

Hearst, his castle and his lifestyle were satirized by Orson Welles in his 1941 film Citizen Kane. In the film, which Hearst sought to suppress, Charles Foster Kane's palace Xanadu is said to contain "paintings, pictures, statues, the very stones of many another palace - a collection of everything so big it can never be cataloged or appraised; enough for ten museums; the loot of the world".[6] Welles' allusion referred to Hearst's mania for collecting; the dealer Joseph Duveen called him the "Great Accumulator". With a passion for acquisition almost from childhood, Hearst bought architectural elements, art, antiques, statuary, silverware and textiles on an epic scale. Shortly after starting San Simeon, Hearst began to conceive of making the castle "a museum of the best things that I can secure".[7] Foremost among his purchases were architectural elements from Western Europe, particularly Spain; over thirty ceilings, doorcases, fireplaces and mantels, entire monasteries, paneling and a medieval tithe barn were purchased, shipped to Hearst's Brooklyn warehouses and transported on to California. Much was then incorporated into the fabric of Hearst Castle. In addition, Hearst built up collections of more conventional art and antiques of high quality; his assemblage of ancient Greek vases was one of the world's finest.

In May 1947, Hearst's health compelled him and Marion Davies to leave the castle for the last time. He died in Los Angeles in 1951. In 1958, the Hearst family gave the castle and many of its contents to the State of California. It has since operated as the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument and attracts in the region of three quarters of a million visitors per year. The Hearst family retains ownership of the majority of the 82,000 acre wider estate and, under a land conservation agreement reached in 2005, has worked with the California State Parks Department and American Land Conservancy to preserve the undeveloped character of the area; the setting for the castle which Shaw described as "what God would have built if he had had the money".[8]


Hearst Castle was built on Rancho Piedra Blanca that William Randolph Hearst's father, George Hearst, originally purchased in 1865.[9] The younger Hearst grew fond of this site over many childhood family camping trips. He inherited the ranch, which had grown to 250,000 acres (1,012 km2)[3] and 14 miles (23 km) of coastline, from his mother Phoebe Hearst in 1919.[10] Although the large ranch already had a Victorian mansion, the location selected for Hearst Castle was undeveloped, atop a steep hill whose ascent was a dirt path accessible only by foot or on horseback over five miles (eight km) of cutbacks. The original ranch house, constructed by George Hearst in the 1870s, remains a private property maintained by the Hearst Corporation.[11]

Hearst and his family occupied Casa Grande for the first time at Christmas, 1925.[12] Thereafter, Milicent Hearst went back to New York, and from 1926 until she left with Hearst for the last time in 1947, Hearst's mistress Marion Davies acted as his chatelaine at the castle.[13] The Hollywood and political elite often visited in the 1920s and 1930s, usually flying into the estate's airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles along the coastal railroad route. Among Hearst's guests were Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Clark Gable.[14]Winston Churchill described his host in a letter to his wife; "a grave simple child - with no doubt a nasty temper - playing with the most costly toys ... two magnificent establishments, two charming wives, complete indifference to public opinion, oriental hospitalities".[15] While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own dwellings during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since "El Rancho" had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do. The estate's theater usually screened films from Hearst's own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions.[16]

Construction continued at Hearst Castle through 1947,[17] until in early May, with his health declining, Hearst and Davies left the castle for the last time.[18] The pair settled in 1007 Beverley Drive in Beverly Hills.[19] William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, and in 1957 the Hearst Corporation donated the estate to the state of California. The castle was opened to the public for the first time in June 1958.[20] Hearst Castle joined the National Register of Historic Places on June 22, 1972, and became a United States National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976.[2][21]

Hearst Castle was the inspiration for Xanadu, the home of Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles 1941 film Citizen Kane. The character of Kane drew inspiration from Hearst himself.[22] Hearst Castle was not used as a location for the film. Instead the film used Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York, as well as buildings in San Diego's Balboa Park. Commercial filming is rare at Hearst Castle, and most requests are turned down. Since the property was donated to the state of California, only two projects have been granted permission: Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, which used the castle to stand in as Crassus' villa,[23] and Lady Gaga's music video for "G.U.Y..[24]

Hearst Castle was included as one of America's "10 Amazing Castles of America" by the now defunct Forbes Traveler.com.[25] Forbes said, "Quite possibly the nation's most famous castle, William Randolph Hearst went to great lengths to bring back the best of European architecture - most notably ceilings from churches and monasteries - which were pieced back together in California to create his highly eclectic Central Coast getaway."[26]


Hearst Castle as seen from the southwest


Hearst first approached Morgan with ideas for a new project in April 1919, shortly after the death of his mother had brought him into his inheritance.[27] Hearst's original idea was to build a bungalow, according to Walter Steilberg, one of Morgan's draftsmen who recalled Hearst's words from the initial meeting: "I would like to build something up on the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I'm getting a little too old for that. I'd like to get something that would be a little more comfortable."[28]

The Church of Santa María la Mayor, Ronda - Hearst's main inspiration

Within a month, Hearst's original ideas for a modest dwelling had greatly expanded. Discussion on the style began with consideration of "Jappo-Swisso" themes.[27] Then the Spanish Colonial Revival style was favored.[29] Morgan had used this style when she worked on Hearst's Los Angeles Herald Examiner headquarters in 1915.[30] Hearst appreciated the Spanish Revival but was dissatisfied with the crudeness of the colonial structures in California.[28]Mexican colonial architecture had more sophistication, but he objected to its abundance of ornamentation. Thomas Aidala, in his 1984 study of the castle, notes the Churrigueresque influence on the design of the main block, "flat and unembellished exterior surfaces; decorative urges are particularized and isolated, focused mainly on doorways, windows (and) towers".[31] The Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in San Diego held the closest approximations in California to the approach Hearst desired.[32] But his European tours, and specifically the inspiration of the Iberian Peninsula, led him to Renaissance and Baroque examples in southern Spain that more exactly suited his tastes.[a][32] He particularly admired a church in Ronda, Spain and asked Morgan to model the Casa Grande towers after it. In a letter to Morgan dated December 31, 1919, Hearst wrote, "The San Diego Exposition is the best source of Spanish in California. The alternative is to build in the Renaissance style of southern Spain. We picked out the towers of the church at Ronda... a Renaissance decoration, particularly that of the very southern part of Spain, could harmonize well with them. I would very much like to have your views on... what style of architecture we should select."[34] This blend of Southern Spanish Renaissance, Revival and Mediterranean examples became San Simeon's defining style; "something a little different than other people are doing out in California".[34] The architectural writers Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister describe Casa Grande as "a palatial fusion of Classicism and Mediterranean architecture... (that) transcended the Mission Revival era and instead belonged to the more archaeological Period Revival styles that gained favor after the Panama-California Exposition of 1915".[35]

Hearst Castle had a total of forty-two bedrooms, sixty-one bathrooms, nineteen sitting rooms,[36] 127 acres (0.5 km2)[3] of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world's largest private zoo.[37] Hearst was an inveterate re-thinker who would frequently order the re-design of previously agreed, and often built, structures: the Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times before he was satisfied.[38] He was aware of his propensity for changing his mind; in a letter dated 18 March 1920, he wrote to Morgan; "All little houses stunning. Please complete before I can think up any more changes".[39] As a consequence of Hearst's persistent design changes, and financial difficulties in the early and later 1930s, the complex was never finished.[17] By late summer 1919, Morgan had surveyed the site, analyzed its geology, and drawn initial plans for Casa Grande. Construction began in 1919 and continued through 1947 when Hearst left the estate for the last time.[3] During the early years of construction, until Hearst's stays at San Simeon became longer and more frequent, his approval for the ongoing design was obtained by Morgan sending him models of planned developments. By the late 1920s the main model, designed by another female architect C. Julian Mesic, had become too large to ship and Mesic and Morgan would photograph it, hand color the images, and send these on to Hearst.[40]


Hearst with Julia Morgan in 1926.

The castle's location presented major challenges for construction. It was remote; when Morgan began coming to the estate for site visits in 1919, she left her San Francisco office on Friday afternoons and took an eight-hour train journey the 200 miles to San Luis Obispo, followed by a fifty-mile drive to San Simeon.[b][41] The relative isolation made recruiting and retaining a workforce a constant difficulty.[42] In the early years, the estate lacked water, its limited supplies coming from three natural springs on Pine Mountain, a 3,500-foot-high (1,100 m) peak seven miles (11 km) east of Hearst Castle.[43] The issue was addressed by the construction of three reservoirs and Morgan devised a gravity-based water delivery system that transported water from the artesian wells to the reservoirs, including the main one on Rocky Butte, a 2,000-foot (610 m) knoll less than a mile southeast from Hearst Castle.[44] Water was of particular importance; as well as feeding the pools and fountains Hearst desired, it provided electricity, by way of a private hydroelectric plant, until a mains supply was connected by the San Joaquin Light and Power Company in 1924.[45] The climate presented a further challenge. The proximity to the coast brought strong winds in from the Pacific Ocean and the site's elevation meant that winter storms were frequent and severe.[32]

We are all leaving the hill. We are drowned, blown and frozen out ... Before we build anything more let's make what we have practical, comfortable and beautiful. If we can't do that we might just as well change the names of the houses to Pneumonia House, Diphtheria House and Influenza Bungalow. The main house we can call the Clinic.

-Hearst's letter of February 1927 after a visit during a period of severe storms[46]

Water was also essential for the production of concrete, the main structural component of the houses and their ancillary buildings.[47] Morgan had substantial experience of building in steel-reinforced concrete and, together with the firm of consulting engineers Earl and Wright, experimented in finding suitable stone, eventually settling on that quarried from the mountain top to give the foundation platform for the castle.[47] Combining this with desalinated sand from San Simeon Bay produced concrete of exceptionally high quality.[48] Later, white sand was brought in from Carmel. Material for construction was transported either by train and lorry, or by sea into a wharf built in San Simeon Bay below the site. In time, a light railway was constructed from the wharf to the castle, and Morgan built a compound of warehouses for storage and accommodation for workers in the bay.[42] Brick and tile works were also developed on site as brick was used extensively and tiling was an important element of the decoration of the castle. Morgan used several tile companies to produce her designs including Grueby Faience, Batchelder, California Faience and Solon & Schemmel.[49] Albert Solon and Frank Schemmel came to Hearst Castle to undertake tiling work and Solon's brother, Camille, was responsible for the design of the mosaics of blue-and-gold Venetian glass tile used in the Roman pool and the murals in Hearst's Gothic library.[50]

Morgan worked with a series of construction managers; Henry Washburn from 1919-1922,[48] Camille Rossi from 1922, until his sacking by Hearst in 1932,[c] and George Loorz until 1940.[52] From 1920 to 1939, there were between 25 and 150 workmen employed in construction at the castle.[53]


The single-story front elevation of Casa Del Mar

The exact cost of the entire San Simeon complex is unknown.[54] Kastner makes an estimate of expenditure on construction and furnishing the complex between 1919 and 1947 as "under $10,000,000".[55] Thomas Aidala suggests a slightly more precise figure for the overall cost at between $7.2 and $8.2 million dollars.[56] Hearst's relaxed approach to using the funds of his companies, and sometimes the companies themselves, to make personal purchases made clear accounting for expenditure almost impossible.[d] In 1927 one of his lawyers wrote, "the entire history of your corporation shows an informal method of withdrawal of funds".[58] In 1945, when the Hearst Corporation was closing the Hearst Castle account for the final time, Morgan gave a breakdown of construction costs, which did not include expenditure on antiques and furnishings. Casa Grande's build cost is given as $2,987,000 and that for the guest houses, $500,000. Other works, including nearly half a million dollars on the Neptune pool, brought the total to $4,717,000. Morgan's fees for twenty-odd years of almost continuous work, came to $70,755.[59] Morgan's initial fee was a 6% commission on total costs. This was later increased to 8.5%. Many additional expenses, and challenges in getting prompt payment, led her to receive rather less than this. Kastner suggests that Morgan made an overall profit of $100,000 on the entire, twenty-year, project.[60] Her modest remuneration was unimportant to her. At the height of Hearst's financial travails in the late 1930s, when his debts stood at over $87,000,000,[61] Morgan wrote to him, "I wish you would use me in any way that relieves your mind as to the care of your belongings. There never has been nor will there be, any charge in this connection, [it is] an honor and a pleasure".[62]

Casa del Mar

Casa del Mar, the largest of the three guest houses, provided accommodation for Hearst himself until Casa Grande was ready in 1925.[63] He stayed in the house again in 1947, during his last visit to the ranch.[64] Casa del Mar contains 5,350 square feet (546 m²) of floor space.[65] Although luxuriously designed and furnished, none of the guest houses had kitchen facilities, a lack that sometimes irritated Hearst's guests. Adela Rogers St. Johns recounted her first visit: "I rang and asked the maid for coffee. With a smile, she said I would have to go up to the castle for that. I asked Marion Davies about this. She said W. R. (Hearst) did not approve of breakfast in bed".[66] Adjacent to Casa del Mar is the wellhead (Italian: Pozo) from Phoebe Hearst's Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, which Hearst moved to San Simeon when he sold his mother's estate after her death in 1919.[67]

The rear elevation of Casa del Sol. The guest houses flank Casa Grande, echoing a tented encampment, and are single-storied at the front elevations with multiple levels to the rear.

Casa del Monte

Casa del Monte was the first of the guest houses, originally entitled simply Houses A (del Mar), B (del Monte) and C (del Sol),[32] built by Morgan on the slopes below the site of Casa Grande during 1920-1924.[68] Hearst had initially wanted to commence work with the construction of the main house but Morgan persuaded him to begin with the guest cottages because the smaller structures could be completed more quickly.[69] Each guest house faces the Esplanade and appears as a single story at its front entrance. Additional stories descend rearward down the terraced mountain side.[70] Casa del Monte has 2,550 sq ft (237 m2) of living space.[65]

Casa del Sol

The decorative style of the Casa del Sol is Moorish, accentuated by the use of antique Persian tiles.[71] A bronze copy of Donatello's David stands atop a copy of an original Spanish fountain.[e][72] The inspiration for the fountain came from an illustration in a book, The Minor Ecclesiastical, Domestic and Garden Architecture of Southern Spain, written by Austin Whittlesey and published in 1919. Hearst sent a copy to Morgan, while retaining another for himself, and it proved a fertile source of ideas.[73] The size of the house is 3,620 square feet (242 m²).[65] Morgan's staff were responsible for the cataloguing of those parts of Hearst's art collection which were shipped to California and an oral record made in the 1980s indicates the methodology used for furnishing the buildings at San Simeon. "We would set (the object) up and then I would stand with a yardstick to give it scale. Sam Crow would take a picture. Then we would give it a number and I would write a description. These were made into albums. When Mr Hearst would write and say 'I want a Florentine mantel in Cottage C in Room B, and four yards of tiles', then we would look it up in the books and find something that would fit."[74]

Casa Grande

Casa Grande from the Esplanade

Construction of Casa Grande began in April 1922.[75] Work continued almost until Hearst's final departure on 2 May 1947, and even then the house was unfinished.[76] The size of Casa Grande is 68,500 square feet (5,634 m²).[65] The main western facade is four stories, the entrance front, inspired by a gateway in Seville,[77] is flanked by twin bell towers modeled on the tower of the church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda, Spain.[34] The layout of the main house was originally to a T-plan, with the assembly room to the fore, and the refectory at a right angle to its center.[f][80] The subsequent extensions of the North and South wings modified the original design. As elsewhere, the core construction material is concrete, though the façade is faced in stone.[81] In October 1927 Morgan wrote to Arthur Byne; "We finally took the bull by the horns and are facing the entire main building with a Manti stone from Utah". Morgan assured Hearst that it would be "the making of the building".[82] A cast-stone balcony fronts the second floor, and another in cast-iron the third. Above this is a large wooden overhang or gable. This was constructed in Siamese teak, originally intended to outfit a ship, which Morgan located in San Francisco. The carving was undertaken by her senior carver Jules Suppo.[38] Sara Holmes Boutelle suggests Morgan may have been inspired by a somewhat similar example at the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Arizona.[83] The façade terminates with the bell-towers, comprising the Celestial suites, the carillon towers and two cupolas.[84]

The curator Victoria Kastner notes a particular feature of Casa Grande, the absence of any major staircases. Access to the upper floors is either by elevators or stairwells in the corner turrets of the building.[78] Many of the stairwells are undecorated and the plain, poured, concrete contrasts with the richness of the decoration elsewhere.[85] The terrace in front of the entrance, named Central Plaza,[86] has a quatrefoil pond at its center, with a statue of Galatea on a Dolphin.[87] The statue was inherited, having been bought by Phoebe Hearst when her son was temporarily short of money.[88]

Assembly room

The assembly room

"One of San Simeon's most magnificent interiors",[63] the assembly room was the main reception room of the castle. The fireplace, originally from a Burgundian chateau, is named the Great Barney Mantel, after a previous owner, Charles T. Barney, from whose estate Hearst bought it after Barney's suicide.[89] The mantel had been acquired for Barney by the society architect Stanford White and Kastner notes the major influence of White's design approach on a number of rooms at Hearst Castle, in particular the assembly room and the main sitting room in Casa del Mar.[90] The ceiling is from an Italian palazzo. A concealed door in the paneling next to the fireplace allowed Hearst to surprise his guests by entering unannounced.[16] The door opened off an elevator which connected with his Gothic suite on the 3rd floor.[91] The assembly room, completed in 1926,[92] is nearly 2,500 square feet in extent and was described by the writer and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans as looking like "half of Grand Central station".[93]

The room held some of Hearst's best tapestries.[94] These include four from a set celebrating the Roman general Scipio Africanus, designed by Giulio Romano and two copied from drawings by Peter Paul Rubens depicting The Triumph of Religion.[95] The need to fit the tapestries above the paneling and below the roof required the installation of the unusually low windows. The room has the only piece of Victorian decorative art in the castle, the Orchid Vase lamp, made by Tiffany & Co. for the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1889. Bought by Phoebe Hearst, who had the original vase converted to a lamp, Hearst placed it in the Assembly room as a tribute to his mother.[96]


The Refectory

The refectory was the only dining room for the castle, and was built between 1926 and 1927[92] The choir stalls which line the walls are from the La Seu d'Urgell Cathedral in Catalonia[97] and the silk flags hanging from the ceiling are Palio banners from Siena.[g][99] Hearst originally intended a "vaulted Moorish ceiling" for the room but, finding nothing suitable, he and Morgan settled on the Italian Renaissance example, dating from around 1600, which Hearst purchased from a dealer in Rome in 1924.[100] The flat roof, with life-size carvings of saints, "strikes a discordant note of horizontality among the vertical lines of the room".[101] The style of the whole is Gothic, in contrast to the Renaissance approach adopted in the preceding assembly room.[84] The refectory is said to have been Morgan's favorite interior within the castle.[102] The design of both the refectory and the assembly room was greatly influenced by the monumental architectural elements, especially the fireplaces and the choir stalls used as wainscotting, and works of art, particularly the tapestries, which Hearst determined would be incorporated into the rooms.[103] The central table provided seating for twenty-two in its usual arrangement of two tables, which could be extended to three or four, on the occasion of larger gatherings.[104] The tables were sourced from an Italian monastery.[105] The table was the setting for some of the best pieces from Hearst's collection of silverware. One of the finest was a wine cooler dating from the early 18th century by the Anglo-French silversmith David Willaume which weighed 14.2 kg.[106] Amidst the silverware, Hearst's nostalgic habit of serving ketchup and pickles in their original bottles with the labels still attached, and providing paper napkins, attracted occasional comment.[107][108]


The library, with some of Hearst's collection of ancient Greek vases on the bookshelves

The library is on the second floor, directly above the assembly room.[109] The ceiling is 16th century Spanish, and a remnant is used in the library's lobby.[85] It comprises three separate ceilings, from different rooms in the same Spanish house, which Morgan combined into one.[110] The room contains a collection of over 5,000 books, with another 3,700 in Hearst's study above.[111] The majority of the library collections, including Hearst's choicest pieces from his sets of, often signed, first editions by Charles Dickens, his favorite author, were sold at sales at Parke-Bernet at 1939 and Gimbels in 1941.[111] The library is also the location for much of Hearst's important holding of antique Greek vases.[112]

Cloisters and the Doge's Suite

The Cloisters formed a grouping of four bedrooms above the refectory and, along with the Doge's Suite above the Breakfast room, were completed in 1925-1926.[113] The Doge's suite was occupied by Millicent Hearst on her rare visits to the castle.[114] The room is lined with blue silk and has a Dutch painted ceiling, in addition to two more of Spanish origin, which was once the property of the architect Stanford White.[115] Morgan also incorporated an original Venetian loggia in the suite, refashioned as a balcony.[115] The suite leads on to Morgan's inventive North and South Duplex apartments, with sitting areas and bathrooms at entry level and bedrooms on mezzanine floors above.[116]

Gothic suite

The Gothic Library, with Orin Peck's portrait of Hearst on the far wall

The Gothic suite was Hearst's private apartment on the third floor.[117] He moved there in 1927. It comprises the Gothic study or library and Hearst's own South Gothic bedroom and private sitting room.[117] The ceiling of the bedroom is one of the best Hearst bought; Spanish, of the 14th century, it was discovered by his Iberian agent Arthur Byne who also located the original frieze panels which had been detached and sold some time before.[h][119] The whole was installed at the castle in 1924.[120] The space originally allocated for the study was too low to create the impression desired by Morgan and Hearst, a difficulty Morgan surmounted by raising the roof and supporting the ceiling with concrete trusses. These, and the walls, were painted with frescoes by Camille Solon. Light was provided by two ranges of clerestory windows.[121] The necessity of raising the roof to incorporate the study occasioned one of the few instances where Hearst hesitated, "I telegraphed you my fear of the cost...I imagine it would be ghastly", and Morgan urged further changes and expense. The result vindicated Morgan.[117] The study, completed in 1931, is dominated by a portrait of Hearst at age 31, painted by his life-long friend, Orrin Peck.[122]

Celestial suites

The Celestial bedrooms, with a connecting, shared, sitting room, were created between 1924 and 1926.[123] The bell towers were raised, to improve the proportions of the building, and the suites constructed in the spaces created below. The relatively cramped spaces allowed no room for storage, and en-suite bathrooms, were "awkwardly squeezed" into lower landings. Ludwig Bemelmans, a guest in the 1930s, recalled; "there was no place to hang your clothes, so I hung mine on wire coat hangers that a former tenant had left hanging on the arms of two six-armed gold candelabra, the rest I put on the floor".[124] The sitting room contains one of the most important paintings in Hearst's collection, Bonaparte Before the Sphinx of 1868 by Jean-Léon Gérôme.[125] The suites are linked externally by a walkway, the Celestial Bridge, which is decorated with elaborate tiling.[126]

North and South wings

The Billiard Room with part of the millefleur tapestry to the right.

The North, or Billiard, and the South, or Service, wings terminate the castle and were begun in 1929.[115] The North wing houses the billiard room on the first floor, which was converted from the original breakfast room. It has a Spanish antique ceiling and a French fireplace[115] and contains the oldest tapestry in the castle, a Millefleur hunting scene woven in Flanders in the 15th century.[127] The spandrel over the doorcase is decorated with a frieze of 16th century Persian tiles depicting a battle.[128] The 34 tiles originate from Isfahan and were purchased by Hearst at the Kevorkian sale in New York in 1922.[129] The theatre, which leads off the billiard room, was used both for amateur theatricals and the showing of movies from Hearst's Cosmopolitan Studios.[i][115] The theatre accommodated fifty guests and had an electric keyboard that enabled the bells in the carillon towers to be played. The walls are decorated in red damask, which originally hung in the Assembly room, and feature gilded caryatids.[131]

The service wing contains the kitchen.[132] The hotel-scale units and worktops are constructed in Monel Metal, an expensive form of nickel alloy invented in 1901.[133] The wing contains further bedroom suites, a staff dining room and gives entry to the 9,000 square foot basement which contained a wine cellar, pantries, the boiler plant which heats the main house, and a barbers, for the use of Hearst's guests.[134]

Planned but uncompleted elements

Hearst and Morgan intended a large ballroom or cloister to connect the North and South wings at the rear of Casa Grande and unify the whole composition but it was never undertaken.[135] In 1932, Hearst contemplated incorporating the reja (grille) he had acquired from Valladolid Cathedral in 1929 into this room.[58] Other structures that did not develop beyond drawings and plans included two more guest houses, in English and Chinese architectural styles.[j][92]


Why didn't you buy Ansiglioni's Galatea. It is superb...I have a great notion to buy it myself, the one thing that prevents me is a scarcity of funds. The man wants eight thousand dollars for the blooming thing. I have the art fever terribly. Queer, isn't it? I never miss a gallery and I go and nosey about the pictures and statuary and wish they were mine.

- Hearst's letter of 1889 to his mother after a visit to Ansiglioni's workshop[88]

Hearst was a voracious collector of art,[137] with the stated intention of making the castle "a museum of the best things that I can secure".[7] The dealer Joseph Duveen, from whom Hearst bought despite their mutual dislike, called him the "Great Accumulator".[138] His robust approach to buying, particularly the purchase and removal of entire historic structures, generated considerable ill-feeling and sometimes outright opposition.[139] His deconstruction and removal of the 14th century Bradenstoke Priory in England led the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to organize a campaign which used language so violent that its posters had to be pasted over for fear of a libel suit.[k][142] Hearst sometimes encountered similar opposition elsewhere. In 1919 he was writing to Morgan about; "the patio from Bergos (sic) which, by the way, I own but cannot get out of Spain".[143] The dismantling of a monastery in Sacramenia, which Hearst bought in its entirety in the 1920s, saw his workmen attacked by enraged villagers.[144] Hearst's tardiness in paying his bills was another less attractive feature of his purchasing approach; in 1925 Morgan was obliged to write to Arthur Byne, "Mr Hearst accepts your dictum - cash or nothing".[l][118]

Some of the finest pieces from the collections of books and manuscripts, tapestries, paintings, antiquities and sculpture, amounting to about half of Hearst's total art holdings,[146] were sold in sales in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when Hearst's publishing empire was facing financial collapse, but a great deal remains.[147] His art buying had started when he was young and, in his tested fashion, he established a company, the International Studio Arts Corporation, as a vehicle for purchasing works and as a means of dealing with their export and import.[39] The curator Mary Levkoff divides the collection into four parts, the antiquities, the sculptures, the tapestries and the paintings, of which she considers the last of least significance.[148] In 1975, the Hearst Corporation donated the archive of Hearst's Brooklyn warehouses, the gathering point for almost all of his European acquisitions before their dispersal to his many homes, to Long Island University. The university has embarked on a digitization project which will ultimately see the 125 albums of records, and sundry other materials, made available online.[149]


A Greek rhyton

The ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities are the oldest works in Hearst's collection. The oldest of all are the stone figures of the Egyptian god Sekhmet which stand on the South Esplanade below Casa Grande and date from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties, approximately 1550 to 1189 BC.[150] Morgan designed the pool setting for the pieces, with tiling inspired by ancient Egyptian motifs.[151] In the courtyard of Casa del Monte is one of a total of nine Roman sarcophagi collected by Hearst, dated to 230 AD and previously held at the Palazzo Barberini, which was acquired at the Charles T. Yerkes sale in 1910.[129] The most important element of the antiquities collection is the holding of Greek vases, on display in the second-floor library.[152] Although some 65 vases were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York after Hearst's death,[153] those which remain at the castle still form one of the world's largest private groups.[m][154] Hearst began collecting vases in 1901, and his collection was moved from his New York homes to the castle in 1935. At its peak, the collection numbered over 400 pieces. The vases were placed on the tops of the bookshelves in the library, each carefully wired in place to guard against vibrations from earthquakes.[155] At the time of Hearst's collecting, many of the vases were believed to be of Etruscan manufacture, but later scholars ascribe all of them to Greece.[155]


Three Graces - copy of an original by Canova

Hearst often bought multiple lots from sales of major collections; in 1930 he purchased five antique Roman statues from the Lansdowne sale in London. Four are now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and one in the Metropolitan.[58] He collected bronzes as well as marble figures; a cast of a stone original of Apollo and Daphne by Bernini, dating from around 1617, stands in the Doge's suite.[156]

In addition to his classical sculptures, Hearst was content to acquire 19th century versions, or contemporary copies of ancient works; "if we cannot find the right thing in a classic statue we can find a modern one".[58] He was a particular patron of Charles Cassou and also favored the early 19th century Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen whose Venus Victorious remains at the castle.[58] Both this, and the genuinely classical Athena from the collection of Thomas Hope, were displayed in the Assembly room, along with the Venus Italica by Antonio Canova.[157] Other works by Thorvaldsen include the four large marble medallions in the Assembly room depicting society's virtues.[89] Two 19th centuries marbles are in the anteroom to the Assembly room, Bacchante, by Frederick William MacMonnies, a copy of his bronze original and Pygmalion and Galatea by Gérôme.[158] A monumental statue of Galatea, attributed to Leopoldo Ansiglioni and dating from around 1882, stands in the center of the pool on the Main terrace in front of Casa Grande.[159]


Tapestries include the Scipio set by Romano[160] in the Assembly room,[161] two from a set telling the Biblical story of Daniel in the Morning room, and the millefleur hunting scene in the Billiard room.[162] The last is particularly rare, one of only "a handful from this period in the world".[160] Hearst also assembled and displayed an important collection of Navajo textiles at San Simeon, including blankets, rugs and serapes. Most were purchased from Herman Schweizer, who ran the Indian Department of the Fred Harvey Company. Originally gathered at Hearst's hacienda at Jolon, they were moved to Wyntoon in 1940 before being brought to San Simeon[163] and finally being donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1942.[164] Hearst was always interested in pieces that had historical and cultural connections to the history of California and Central and Latin America; the North Wing contains two Peruvian armorial banners. Dating from the 1580s, they show the shields of Don Luis Jerónimo Fernández Cabrera y Bobadilla, Count of Chinchón and viceroy of Peru.[165] Nathaniel Burt, the composer and critic evaluated the collections at San Simeon thus; "Far from being the mere kitsch that most easterners have been led to believe, (San Simeon is) full of real beauties and treasures".[166]


Gérôme's Napoleon before the Sphinx which hangs in the sitting room of the Celestial Suites

The art collection includes works by Tintoretto, whose portrait of Alvisius Vendramin hangs in the Doge's suite,[167]Franz Xaver Winterhalter who carried out the double portraits of Maximilian I of Mexico and his empress Carlota, located in Casa del Mar[168] and two portraits of Napoléon by Jean-Léon Gérôme.[169] Hearst's earliest painting, a Madonna and Child from the school of Duccio di Buoninsegna, dates from the early 14th century.[160] A gift from his friend, the editor Cissy Patterson, the painting hangs in Hearst's bedroom.[160]Portrait of a Woman, by Giulio Campi, hangs in a bedroom in the North Wing.[170] In 1928 Hearst acquired the Madonna and Child with Two Angels, by Adriaen Isenbrandt. The curator Taylor Coffman describes this work, which hangs in the Casa del Mar sitting room,[171] as perhaps "San Simeon's finest painting".[n][173] In 2018, a previously-unattributed Annunciation in the Assembly room was identified as a work of 1690 by Bartolomé Pérez.[174][175]

Gardens and grounds

The gardens are unified with Casa Grande, and the main house with the guest cottages, by the Esplanade, a curving, paved walkway which Hearst described as giving "a finished touch to the big house, to frame it in, as it were".[176] Morgan designed the pedestrianized esplanade with great care, to create a coup de théâtre for guests, desiring "a strikingly noble and saississant effect be impressed upon everyone on arrival". Hearst concurred; "Heartily approve. I certainly want that saississant effect. I don't know what it is but I think we ought to have at least one such on the premises".[177] A feature of the gardens are the lampposts topped with alabaster globes; modeled on "janiform herms", the concept was Hearst's.[o][92] The Swan lamps, remodeled with alabaster globe lights to match the hermae, were designed by Morgan's chief draftsman, Thaddeus Joy.[179] Others whose ideas and approach influenced Hearst and Morgan in their landscaping include Charles Adams Platt, an artist and gardener who had made a particular study of the layout and planting of Italian villas;[180] Nigel Keep, Hearst's orchardman, who worked at San Simeon from 1922 to 1947,[181] and Albert Webb, Hearst's English head gardener who was at the hill during 1922-1948.[182]

Neptune Pool

The Neptune pool

The Neptune pool, "the most sumptuous swimming pool on earth",[5] is located near the edge of the hilltop and is enclosed by a retaining wall and underpinned by a framework of concrete struts to allow for movement in the event of earthquakes. The pool is often cited as an example of Hearst's changeability; it was reconstructed three times before he was finally satisfied.[183] Originally begun as an ornamental pond, it was first expanded in 1924 as Millicent Hearst desired a swimming pool. It was enlarged again during 1926-1928 to accommodate Cassou's statuary. Finally, in 1934, it was extended again to act as a setting for a Roman temple, in part original and in part comprising elements from other structures which Hearst transported from Europe and had reconstructed at the site.[183]

The pool holds 345,000 gallons of water and is equipped with seventeen shower and changing rooms. It was heated by oil-fired burners.[184] In early 2014, the pool was drained due to drought conditions and leakage.[185] After a long-term restoration project to fix the leaking, the pool was refilled in August 2018.[186][187] The restoration of the pool was recognized with a Preservation Design Award for Craftsmanship from the California Preservation Foundation in 2019.[188] The pool is well-supplied with sculpture, particularly works by Charles Cassou. His centerpiece, opposite the Roman temple, is The Birth of Venus.[189] An even larger sculptural grouping, depicting Neptune in a chariot drawn by four horses, was commissioned to fill the empty basin above the Venus. Although carved, it was never installed.[p][191]

Roman Pool

The Roman pool

The Roman pool, constructed under the tennis courts, provided an indoor alternative to the Neptune pool. Originally mooted by Hearst in 1927, construction did not begin until 1930 and the pool was not completed until 1935.[192] Hearst initially wanted the pool to be fed by salt-water[136] but the design challenges proved to be insuperable. A disastrous attempt to meet Hearst's wants by pouring 20 tons of washed rock salt into the pool saw the disintegration of the cast-iron heat exchanger and pump.[q][193] Inspiration for the mosaic decoration came from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna.[75] The tiles are of Murano glass, with gold-leaf, and were designed by Solon and manufactured in San Francisco.[194] Although a pool of "spectacular beauty", it was little used being located in a less-visited part of the complex.[195]

Pergola and zoo

Two other major features of the grounds were the pergola and Hearst's zoo. The pergola, an ornamental bridleway, runs to the west of Casa Grande.[196] Comprising concrete columns, covered in espaliered fruit trees, Morgan ensured that it was built to a height sufficient to allow Hearst, "a tall man with a tall hat on a tall horse",[197] to ride unimpeded down its mile-long length.[196] Plans for a zoo, to house Hearst's large collection of wild animals, were drawn up by Morgan and included an elephant house and separate enclosures for antelopes, camels, zebras and bears. This was never constructed, but a range of shelters and pits were built,[198] sited on Orchard Hill.[199]


Sunset at San Simeon Bay

Hearst Castle is located near the town of San Simeon, California, approximately 250 miles (400 km) from both Los Angeles and San Francisco, and 43 miles (69 km) from San Luis Obispo at the northern end of San Luis Obispo County.[200] The estate itself is five miles (eight km) inland atop a hill of the Santa Lucia Range at an altitude of 1,600 feet (490 m). The region is sparsely populated because the Santa Lucia Range abuts the Pacific Ocean, which provides dramatic vistas but offers few opportunities for development and hampers transportation. The surrounding countryside remains largely undeveloped. The castle's entrance is approximately five miles north of Hearst San Simeon State Park.[201]

At the height of Hearst's ownership, the estate totaled more than 250,000 acres.[202]W. C. Fields commented on the extent of the estate while on a visit; "Wonderful place to bring up children. You can send them out to play. They won't come back till they're grown".[203] In 1957, the castle and its contents, with 120 acres of the gardens, were transferred to the guardianship of the California State Parks Department.[9] In 2005, the wider setting for the castle was protected by a conservation arrangement between the Department, American Land Conservancy and the Hearst Corporation which aimed to preserve the undeveloped character of the coast. Years earlier, the writer Henry Miller had described the Big Sur area as "the California that men dreamed of ... the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look".[9] Miller's comment echoes an earlier observation on San Simeon made by George Bernard Shaw; "This is what God would have built if he had had the money".[r][8] The agreement reached between the state and the family has not been without controversy.[205]


As with Hearst himself, Hearst Castle and its collections have been the subject of considerable criticism, in his life and afterwards. Since the 1940s, the view of Hearst and Morgan's most important joint creation as the phantasmagorical Xanadu of Orson Welles's imagination has been commonplace.[206][207] While some literary depictions were gently mocking; P. G. Wodehouse's novel of 1953, The Return of Jeeves has a character describe her stay, "I remember visiting San Simeon once, and there was a whole French Abbey lying on the grass";[208] others were not. John Steinbeck's unnamed description was certainly of Hearst; "They's a fella, newspaper fella near the coast, got a million acres. Fat, sof' fella with little mean eyes an' a mouth like a ass-hole".[209] The English architectural writer Clive Aslet was little more complimentary about the castle. Disliking its "unsympathetic texture (of) poured concrete", he described it as "best seen from a distance".[29] The unfinished, and unresolved, rear façade of Casa Grande has been the subject of particular negative comment, the flanking North and South wings "compete rather disastrously" with the central Doge's suite block.[210] Others questioned the castle's very existence; the architect Witold Rybczynski asking, "what is this Italian villa doing on the Californian Coastal Range? ... a costly piece of theatrical décor that ignores its context (and) lacks meaning".[211] Hearst's collections were similarly disparaged, William George Constable, the art historian, echoed Joseph Duveen when he assessed Hearst as "not a collector but a gigantic and voracious magpie".[212]

Later decades after Hearst's death have seen a more sympathetic and appreciative evaluation of his collections, and the estate he and Morgan created to house them. Thomas Hoving, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while listing Hearst only at number 83 in his evaluation of America's top 101 art collectors, wrote, "Hearst is being reevaluated. He may have been much more of a collector than was thought at the time of his death".[213] Mary Levkoff, in her 2008 study, Hearst the Collector, contends that he was, describing the four separate "staggeringly important" collections of antique vases, tapestries, armor and silver which Hearst brought together,[214] and writing of the challenge of bringing their artistic merit to light from under the shadow of his own reputation.[215] Of Morgan's building, its stock has risen with the re-evaluation of her standing and accomplishments, which saw her become the first woman to receive the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2014,[216] and, also posthumously, an obituary in the New York Times as recently as 2019.[217] The writer John Julius Norwich recorded his recantation after a visit to the castle; "I went prepared to mock; I remained to marvel. Hearst Castle (is) a palace in every sense of the word".[218] Victoria Kastner, for many years the in-house historian of Hearst Castle and author of a number of books on its design and history, concludes her history of the castle with an assessment of San Simeon as "the quintessential twentieth-century American country house".[219]


  1. ^ In their study Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles, Polyzoides, Sherwood and Tice trace the influence of Spanish, and particularly Andalusian, architectural styles in California back to Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra, published in 1832.[33]
  2. ^ Between 1919 and 1939 Morgan made the journey a total of 558 times.[41]
  3. ^ Rossi, whose involvement in both the construction and the design of the complex was considerable, had an abrasive personality and by 1932 had exhausted the patience of both Hearst and Morgan.[51]
  4. ^ As an example, St Donat's Castle was purchased not by Hearst but by his National Magazine Company.[57]
  5. ^ Fred Murray, the home movie maker who chronicled San Simeon at its social apogee, incorrectly identifies the foundation as an Italian original.[71]
  6. ^ The "somewhat unusual" T-plan was dictated in part by the presence of two old oaks on the site which, as Hearst was unwilling to uproot them, led Morgan to fit the main structure around them.[78] Later, the castle workforce would develop considerable skill in relocating large oak trees by tunneling under them, encasing them in reinforced concrete and moving them on rollers to their desired new locations.[79]
  7. ^ The banners now hanging in the refectory are copies, the originals having proved too fragile to allow for their permanent display.[98]
  8. ^ Byne was Hearst's single most successful supplier of Spanish antiques and architectural pieces. Of the thirty antique ceilings incorporated into buildings on the estate, Byne sourced more than any other single supplier.[118]
  9. ^ Most of the films shown were ones starring Marion Davies. The actress Ilka Chase noted that this tended to "put a slight strain on the guests' gratitude".[130]
  10. ^ A plan, elaborate even by Hearst's standards, for a winter garden on the hill, to be a "combination orchid-greenhouse and indoor pool - with plate-glass partition for sharks", never materialized.[136]
  11. ^ Hearst's biographer David Nasaw refers to elements of the priory being discovered in crates in a Hearst Corporation warehouse in Los Angeles in 1960. These were subsequently sold to a hotelier in San Luis Obispo[140] whose son is, as at 2018, planning to reconstruct them.[141]
  12. ^ Social upheaval in Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, which led eventually to the outbreak of civil war, made buying and removing artifacts problematic but also offered opportunities. In October 1923 Byne wrote to Hearst, "with a threatened revolution, I found the owner in a much more reasonable mood; in fact rather anxious to sell".[145]
  13. ^ One of the oldest examples is the Baring Amphora, dating from 740BC and purchased by Hearst at the Revelstone sale in London in 1935.[129]
  14. ^ The Hearst Castle curator, Victoria Kastner, suggests this work may be by Ambrosius Benson. Both Isenbrandt and Benson were strongly influenced by the Flemish master Gerard David and both worked in Bruges in the early 16th century.[172]
  15. ^ In September 1927 Hearst wrote to Morgan; "take those caryatids from one of the Roman villas, where they are holding some kind of cup or globe on top of their heads, and make some kind of cast-stone models out of these and put lights in place of the vase".[178]
  16. ^ The grouping, completed by Cassou in the late 1930s, was not shipped to America until after Hearst's death due to post-war import restrictions. In 1956, the group was purchased by the Forest Lawn Memorial Park but was destroyed in a pier explosion at Brooklyn docks in 1956. Three other statues completed by Cassou at the same time as the Neptune, and depicting Diana and other mythological figures, ultimately made their way to Forest Lawn[190]
  17. ^ Alex Rankin, a plumber working on the pool, recalled the incident in an Oral History Project undertaken by Hearst Castle in 1986. "Mr Hearst gave Mr Willicombe, his secretary an order; 'Put salt in the water'. I said, 'You can't put salt into this pool, the pipes are not designed for it'. He said, 'Mr Hearst wants salt water in the pool'. About a week later I see a big truck loaded right to the top with rock salt to put in the pool. The heater exchanger, where the copper tubes and steel comes together, it ate it all out. The pump broke and inside the cast iron was like cheese. You could cut it with a knife."[193]
  18. ^ The quote has also been recorded as Shaw's comment on St Donat's Castle, Hearst's genuine medieval castle in Wales.[204]


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Further reading

See also

External links

Coordinates: 35°41?07?N 121°10?00?W / 35.6852°N 121.1666°W / 35.6852; -121.1666

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