Who said we don’t have any magnificent castles in the U.S.? If you’re eager to visit one, drive up to San Simeon to the Hearst Castle and you will not be disappointed! Although, built only in the 20th century, this 90,000 sf property combines historic architectural styles and features many artifact and art pieces from different eras and countries to rival some authentic castles in the old world.
The Hearst Castle is so exquisitely unique on many levels. Where to start? Architect Julia Morgan, commissioned by the newspaper magnate William R. Hearst, designed this estate between 1919 and 1947 (I find it very fascinating that this impressive property was conceived and completed by a woman in a time when women were just beginning to gain the right to vote!)
The castle consists of a central main house “Casa Grande” of Mediterranean Revival style, with imposing towers inspired by a baroque Spanish cathedral. Its southern facade has some Venetian elements especially in the windows (they remind me of the ones of the Doge’s Palace.) There are three separate cottages also in a Mediterranean style. Overall, the castle features 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo (although, only zebras still roam the grounds nowadays.)
The Neptune Pool is the most spectacular pool I’ve ever seen! It’s humongous and almost intimidating, as it looks like a floating museum. Well, I guess it is literally a museum, since it features an ancient Roman temple front, transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site. The indoor pool, also gigantic, is decorated with a myriad of mosaics.
There are different tours offered to visit this gem, the one I chose is the Grand Rooms tour which includes the Assembly Room, the Refectory, the Billiard Room and the theatre. The indoors are as grand as the outdoors and they are so well preserved. They are all decorated with the most interesting, refined pieces of furniture and art installations (the Assembly Room and Refectory have authentic seatings from an European gothic church. The Refectory even inspired the design of Harry Potter’s dining hall at Hogwarts Academy.)
These are the social rooms when every evening, W. R. Hearst’s guests gathered and entertained. Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. The Hollywood and political elite often visited, usually flying into the estate’s airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Dolores Del Rio, and Winston Churchill were among Hearst’s A-list guests. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. The estate’s theater usually screened films from Hearst’s own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions.
If only walls could talk…