R2R Travelogue 8: Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California

roleerob @roleerobJanuary 2019 Β· 12 min read Β· California

Day Eight: The morning of the first day of the "second leg" of my big adventure greeted me with overcast skies. When we think of all the aspects of our lives beyond our control, weather certainly must be at the top of the list of most of us.

Oh well! Nothing could be done about it but to press on.

The big event of the day was a revisit to the site of what is hard to describe to an ordinary person. Like me ... πŸ˜‰



Specifically, how does one describe the wealth and power of a man like William Randolph Hearst? Walk around this famous location for awhile and listen to the stories of the guides and you still can only make a dent in trying to get your mind around it.

Here is my attempt ...

Brief Hearst Family Background

The story of William Randolph Hearst begins with his father, George. He was a geologist and prominently involved in many major mining ventures in the mid 1800s.

For example, George played a key role in the development of a mining property which subsequently became the Comstock Lode, south of Reno, Nevada - one of the richest silver deposits of that era. He was also involved in development of the massive "glory hole" up in Butte, Montana which later became Anaconda Mining and in the famed Homestake gold mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. He built all of this into one of the largest private mining companies in the United States.

  • Note: As many of my regular readers know, my career began in the mining industry, so this start to the Hearst story was of particular interest to me. The aforementioned Anaconda Mining was one of my customers, when I was transferred from where my career began - in Tucson - to the Pacific Northwest.

So, little "Willie" was born then into wealth - tremendous wealth. And he was the only child of George and his wife, Phoebe.

As the story goes, George acquired majority interest in the San Francisco Examiner by accepting it as payment for a gambling debt owed to him.

William later took full responsibility for this paper and, from that starting point, began to build a publishing empire that subsequently became the source of his wealth and power.

Hearst Castle

As a favorite activity, the Hearst family loved to sail from San Francisco down the coast of California, to a major land investment George had made. They would ride horses up to the top of a ridge and, looking out over their vast land holdings, have a picnic.

When William's mother, Phoebe, passed on, he was determined to create something as a memorial to her. Developed over many years - from 1919 to 1947 - this became what is now known as Hearst Castle. After the death of William in 1951, the family donated it to the State of California in 1958.

So ... Where do we begin, in setting up for a visit? The best advice is to go online and make an advanced reservation for one of the tours.

Be aware there are several tour packages. What you see presented below is from their Grand Rooms tour.

Photo: Front Gate and Visitors Center

As you approach San Simeon, the signs to Hearst Castle are unmistakable. Just drive up through the gate, to the Visitors Center, and they'll take care of you from there. With a ride up to the Castle in a tour bus, a tour guide, an informational movie afterwards, etc.

Photo: Entrance to Casa del Sol

All during the ride up the hill to the Castle, there was an interesting history lesson being broadcast about all that you were about to experience. I thought it was well done.

Once you exit the bus and begin the tour, the very first structure you see is the Casa del Sol. You might think this is the "main event." Nope! Just the main guest house!

Photo: Outside Pool

The next major structure is the Outside Pool. Here you are introduced to a common theme throughout the property.

What might that be you ask?

Note the Roman Columns across the pool. That is not some talented local fascimile of the real thing, they are the real thing! Specifically, William Randolph Hearst spent unimaginable amounts of money to go to Europe, find items like this, buy them, have them disassembled, shipped (very carefully!), and reassembled here.

Unbelievable, perhaps, but true. Throughout what follows, as you look at the mind numbing, exquisite attention to detail, just remember much of this was imported from Europe!

Photo: View of Pacific Coast from Castle

Here is a picture of what the view was like for all who had the privilege to spend time at the Castle.

Please note that Hearst himself liked to refer to this property as "The Enchanted Hill." The more we understand what he put into it, the more that name makes some sense.

Photo: One of the Courtyards

No matter which way you look, there is an incredible attention to detail, both inside and outside. It is hard to get your mind around the scope of the undertaking to build a place like this.

Photo: Front Door to Casa Grande

Just before entering the "main event" structure and see all of the interior rooms, our guide gave an elaborate description of all that went into what you see around this door. Since we were not given anything in writing, I won't pretend I can recreate it for you here. But it was impressive! πŸ˜‰

One of the challenges is how to even illustrate what I experienced, since I can only show you the lower portion of the front of Casa Grande. It is over 4 stories high!

A little side note of humor. After all the big buildup on this front door, we were not allowed to enter it, but instead taken through an obscure little side door around the back ... 😊

Photo: Fireplace, ONE Ceiling Tile, and Exit to Front of "Living" Room

With nothing in writing to reference, I can't tell you how many fireplaces there are on the property, but it took a staff of 3 people to keep them all lit and burning!

The ceiling tile, like mentioned above, is from somewhere in Europe and dates back to the 1400s!

Photo: Dining Hall, Silver Candlesticks, and Ceiling

Can you imagine sitting down to a meal in this room? Look at those candlesticks! According to the guide, the weight of silver in them is measured in the pounds! In each one of them.

Like I did not capture the number of fireplaces on the property, I also didn't capture the number of candlesticks, but there are a lot of them. And the workmanship on them is remarkable. Can you imagine how long the craftsmanship took for each one?

The value of the candlesticks alone is incredible.

Photo: "Holy Trinity" in Ceiling

I did not capture the name of this room, but two items of interest about it really stood out to me:

  1. These fixtures were referred to as the "Holy Trinity" tied to some religious significance traced back to Europe, from whence they came.

  2. Mention was made of how prevalent heavy smoking was at the time this place hosted royalty, Presidents, and Hollywood greats. The damage done to the wood in the ceiling, as a result, was catastrophic, according to the guide.

Photo: Pool Room

A game of pool anyone? Looks like a pretty laid back place, right? Well, if it ever was, it isn't now. See details in my postscript below, but we were not allowed to touch anything, had to stay on a narrow strip of carpet and never venture off of it, etc.

The property today truly much more closely resembles a museum than any contemporary living quarters.

Photo: Figure in Theater Room

Of course, if you are going to "keep up with the Joneses," you have to have your own Theater Room, where you can show prelease movies to your family and all of your insider friends. Among his many business interests, Hearst had his own movie studio.

Unfortunately, my pictures in this room didn't turn out at all, with the exception of this figure. Similar figures were all down both sides of this big room, which probably was capable of sitting +200 people!

While in there, as part of the tour, we watched black and white film of some of the greats of Hollywood in various poses from their personal stays on the property.

Photo: Indoor Pool

The last room, before heading back out was the exquisite Indoor Pool. It has the distinction of being the single most expensive room on the property, as detailed below.

So ... There you have a little taste of this property's many, many rooms. I believe the guide said there were something like 165 of them! Hard to imagine ...

Photo: Front and Back of Guest Houses

Finishing up, as we can see, the regular guests of William Randolph Hearst really had to "rough it," unlike him and his special guests in Casa Grande!

To close, I am going to cite a quick list of bullet items that I remember from over 40 years ago and a presentation made by a man who claimed he had personally worked with the Hearst family for many years (insider tales ...), as well as some of what the excellent tour guide today shared:

  • This property was 250,000 acres, which included 14 miles of the Pacific Coast of California. From the Castle, Hearst could say he owned practically everything he could see.

  • The massive undertaking of building this property began with removing the soil down to bedrock of twelve acres on top of this hill and replacing it with topsoil of his choosing.

    Why? To put in the plants of his choosing, which in turn would support the largest private zoo in the country!

  • The water to the property is supplied by a remarkably engineered system relying solely on gravity from a natural spring miles away.

  • The single most expensive room on the property is the Indoor Pool - $400,000. It is not just the actual gold foil and expensive tiling material, but the skilled labor to install it precisely to his specs!

  • Hearst had tremendous political power:

    1. Actually was the leading Democratic candidate for President in 1904, to challenge Teddy Roosevelt. His speech on the convention floor ended his political aspirations.

    Why? He spoke passionately, among other things, about giving women the right to vote.

    2. Six U. S. Presidents gave him credit for helping them come to power - 3 were Democrats, 3 were Republicans ...

  • Question: Was he the richest man in the world? Answer: No. He wasn't even the richest man in America.

  • Question: Was this his only house? Answer: No. One of many, many properties he owned:

    1. Owned a 10 million acre ranch in Mexico with 3 million cattle. 300 miles from the front gate to the ranch house ...

    2. At the height of his wealth and power, had estates in Santa Monica and in New York City that rivaled this one. According to the guide though, his "heart" was here on "The Enchanted Hill."

    3. The Hearst family still owns an amazing complex up in northern California, near Mount Shasta.

This gives you a glimpse into my day today and why I started this post the way I did - hard really to grasp this much wealth and power, when you have led a pretty ordinary life, by comparison ...

Postscript for Day Eight

My wife and I went on a tour of Hearst Castle over 40 years ago. Much has changed since then and I was reflecting on these changes, once I left and continued my journey north along the Pacific Coast.

The undeniable truth was that Hearst Castle today is not as impressive as what I toured 40 years ago. Particularly my visit to the Indoor Pool brought that home, as it clearly was not what it once was.


I think the answer is fairly simple. The exquisite, elaborate detail of just about every aspect of Hearst Castle almost defies description. But, in the photos above, you certainly get the general idea.

Have we not all experienced what it takes to keep anything in our possession properly maintained? And what happens to it, if we don't? How much does it cost to keep Hearst Castle properly maintained? I don't know the answer, but I am sure the cost is staggering. To the point of being nearly impossible to sustain. You saw in the pictures above, some instances of repair, etc.

When our lives are over, what is going to last? Our material possessions? If you think the answer is, "Yes!" then I respectfully suggest you think about that a little more closely. And, perhaps, spend some time reflecting on what is truly of long lasting value.


In finishing this post up and linking it to @steemitworldmap, I was surprised to be the first to cover this site. My norm is to cover out-of-the-way places on "the road less traveled," so I am used to being the only one covering places like that. With this discovery, I am going to view it that we are all still somewhat Steem blockchain pioneers! πŸ˜‰

Well, all things considered, another fine day in "@roleerob's excellent adventure!" Thanks for going along with me, dear reader. I’d love to hear any feedback you may be inspired to provide.

Until "next time," all the best to you for a better tomorrow, as we all work together to build our Steem Community! πŸ‘ 😊

Steemian @roleerob

Posted using SteemPeak and β€œimmutably enshrined in the blockchain” on Monday, 28 January 2019!

  • "R2R" Note: My "shorthand" way of referring to what I first wrote about in my Reflections: My "Road to Recovery" Trip post. "Road to Recovery" <=> "R2R" ... πŸ˜‰

  • Image sources, unless otherwise noted: My trusty smartphone!

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If you liked this post, you might enjoy others in my "Road to Recovery" Travelogue series:

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