While on my trip to Northern California, I made my way with some friends out to San Simeon on the Coast to Hearst Castle. I had never been before, and it was highly recommended on Yelp and Trip Advisor as one of the top destinations in the area.
Hearst Castle, as we came out find out, has a long and rich history. The 40,000 acres of ranch land land was purchased by the Hearst family in 1865, and was inherited by William Randolph Hearst, a newsman, in 1919. Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan, and by 1947 they had built a mansion with 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens terraces, pools, and walkways. Hearst then filled his house with his massive art collection, and lived there with his mistress. This can all still be seen today.
If you are in the area, you are able to drop into the visitor’s center and purchase a ticket. I opted to book ahead since we had a larger group (this can be easily done on their web site by clicking here), and there are a limited number of tickets per time slot. Prices are a bit steep, so my friends and I opted to tour the grand rooms (recommended tour for first time visitors) for $25. If you want to tour the upstairs, bedrooms, or rest of the house it is included in other packages for $25. With your ticket you are also able to view the gardens and indoor and outdoor pools, but it was raining the day we visited so we opted to stay indoors.
Once you arrive at the visitor’s center, you are able to take a bus up to the castle on the hillside, overlooking the ocean. Our tour started outside, with an introduction to the gardens and outdoor pool that includes an imported temple from Greece. The pool has been empties so that it can be restored. The bill is being footed by Lady Gaga herself, in exchange for her use of the property for her ARTPOP Film, which you can see on YouTube by clicking here. When I look back on this picture I can picture her singing in the dark underground pool, “We could, we could, belong together…”
Apparently a great deal of the money that has been fundraised for conservation projects at Hearst Castle has been form celebrities, including Mark Zuckerberg who rented the castle for his birthday. During the tour our guide pointed out another project they were undertaking in the study, where they are cleaning the ceiling which was stained from cigarette smoke to exposed the hand painted ceiling.
We then went through into the grand room, which was used to entertain guests before dinner, and to hold dances. Photography with no flash is allowed inside of Hearst Castle.The walls are lined with Flemish Tapestries, one of which was on loan to The Getty during our visit. The tour guide bragged a bit about their international loans with world renowned museums. She also touched on their establishment of a repatriation policy, meaning that if someone provided sufficient enough evidence and documentation that an item in the Hearst collection belonged to them, the Hearst foundation would return it. Upon further research, I could not find their policy published online, but I did find an article from 2009 in the LA Times by Steve Chawkins that mentioned the return of three paintings to a German Jewish family who were stripped of their assets by the Nazis during WWII. Sub sequentially, these works ended up on the market and were acquired by Hearst. The development of ethics is widely considered to be 1970, so any works acquired before this time are often subject to voluntary repatriation not legal repatriation. The Hearst foundation sets a good example by having this repatriation policy, and by maintaining and encouraging an open dialogue with previous owners of their antiquities. The family allowed Hearst Castle to keep one of the three paintings, on condition that they mention its history during their tours. If you want to read more about this story check out the article by clicking here.
The tour then progressed into the dining hall, where I noticed a few things. They had a few place settings out on the dining table, to exemplify how it might have looked if you were a guest at the castle. In fact, the majority of the premise of the tour was that you, the visitor, was a guest. The tour guide told us the rules we would have to follow as a guest, how many cocktails we would be allowed, when we were able to be in mixed company, and where in the house was off limits. I was impressed that they had quake hold (wax used to protect dishes from damage due to vibration, to keep things in place, and it is non damaging) underneath the dishes at the setting, as I feel that could have been easily overlooked. However, I was not as impressed with how dusty things were. Most of the candle holders, chairs, and tables had a pretty decent layer of dust. Having said that, I am not aware of where they are in their cleaning rota, or if they have a conservator who comes in to clean. I also spied under on of the doors a towel, which I assume was being used to help exclude moisture from the rain, which was a bit concerning especially since there was a beautiful mosaic work in the entry way. I am sure these are all smaller things on a much larger budget.
The tour completed with a walk through the study, and then a video screening in the theater. I overall enjoyed the tour, and felt that the tour guide did a good job. She was clear, enjoyable, was able to answer any and all questions, and most importantly, had a sense of humor. My partner and his friend felt that she was too repetitive.This could have been the case and I just did not notice because I was thinking about quake wax and dust. We then walked through the indoor pool on our way to the bus, and headed back to the visitors center.
The visitors center itself is quite large, including a gift shop, café, and restaurant. On my way through I picked up a gorgeous coffee table book with photos of the castle, and a mug to add to my collection! You would think that there would have also been a restroom in this center, but sadly, there were only portable toilets outside. After an hour long drive,
and hour long tour, 30 bumpy minutes traveling to and from the visitors center, my partner and I were eager to use the facilities. I was unable to use them, due to the smell. Luckily, the cashier was lovely enough to recommend a good restaurant a few minutes away for lunch and a bathroom break!
I overall recommend that you stop in at the castle as some point if you are interested in making the drive. The area is beautiful, even on a rainy weekend, and the castle itself is such a hidden gem.
Thanks for reading,
Peace and long life!