On a recent trip to San Luis Obispo County, I visited Hearst Castle. I was expecting a vast collection of excess. I was wrong. What I found was a beautiful collection of amazing and largely religious artwork housed in an enormous castle with an ironically cosy and humble atmosphere. William Randolph Hearst was surrounded by extreme personal and political controversy, but his creation at San Simeon has inspired generations of visitors and staff.
Hearst was raised largely by his mother, while his father, a self-made millionaire, and one of the wealthiest Americans of his day, ran his enterprises. Mother and son traveled extensively throughout Europe, where Hearst discovered his passion for art. When he inherited the property where the castle now stands, he hired renowned architect Julia Morgan to design the buildings and grounds, and filled the rooms with huge tapestries, ancient furnishings, beautiful paintings and other treasures. In addition to using the castle as a grand residence, brain-center of business operations and locale for hosting lavish parties with famous people, Hearst intended the castle to become a public museum after his death, a place for all to enjoy and learn from in generations to come.
In days past, one would go on tours for every indoor and outdoor area at the castle. Today, there are still a multitude of tours, but you may also tour the grounds and the pools on your own. All of the tour guides we spoke to were courteous, helpful, shared a wealth of information about the castle and the man, and had worked there for upwards of 20 years or more. While the Grand Rooms Tour was interesting, replete with history, and tales of what was customary behavior for guests, the upstairs tour, in which one sees the bedrooms, drawing rooms and libraries, gave a more intimate and personal look at the castle and its residents.
Personally, I had not expected a towering, magical, Latin-influenced estate high atop a hill overlooking a majestic view on a scale with the sadly lamented twin towers of Manhattan, but that is the gross and scope of Hearst Castle, for all its maker’s personal controversy. Irony comes in many colors, and the legacy of Hearst Castle is one of its brighter shades