Hearst Castle, California

Mimi ON Dec 21, 2008 AT 6:46 pm

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

The lives of the rich and famous have always fascinated me, from the lavish star-studded parties to the palatial real estate purchases that they call home, it all seems like a fairy tale that my fairy godmother has denied me. 

For those of you in my shoes who have yet to receive a visit from your fairy godmother or had a whirlwind romance with Mr. Millionaire, I have found the perfect place for you!

Halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles along the central California coastline is a meeting of land and sea, which boosts a palatial 90,000 square foot castle. Hearst Castle referred to as “La Cuesta Encantada” (Enchanted Hill), is an opulent 165-room hilltop hideaway above the California coastline in San Simeon.  The estate, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, is like a small self-contained city.  There are 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theatre, an airfield and the world’s largest private zoo.  It’s not unusual to see zebras and other exotic animals roaming the ground!

The castle is a pastiche of historic architectural styles that Hearst admired during his travels around Europe.  The main house is modelled after a 16th century Spanish cathedral, while the outdoor swimming pool features ancient Roman temple fronts transported wholesale from Europe and reconstructed at the site.  The estate is lavishly furnished with truckloads of art, antiques, and even whole ceilings that he acquired in their entirety from Europe and Egypt. I wonder how much that cost him?

Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Hollywood celebrities, business tycoons, and political heavyweights were entertained lavishly every week, often flying into the estate’s private airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train care from LA.  Frequent A-list guests included, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh and the Marx Brothers. Since the castle had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do.  I’m thinking the parties were reminiscent of Jay Gatsby’s in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby.

Hearst Castle became so famous that it was caricatured in the 1941 Orson Welles film Citizen Kane as Charles Foster Kane’s “Xanadu“. The estate is portrayed as a gloomy and ridiculously self-indulgent barony.  In 1958 Hearst’s heirs presented the grandiose Shangri-la and it’s treasure to the state for public exhibition.  The Hearst Corporation’s donation of the estate was made under the condition that they would be allowed to use it when they wished.  Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of William Randolph, said that as a child, she hid behind statues in the Neptune Pool while tours passed by.  After a room in the estate was bombed in the 1970’s during her crime spree with the Symbionese Liberation Army, no member of the family has ever returned to live there. In recent years, the media has enlisted family members for publicity purposes.  A show on the estate hosted by Patty herself aired on the Travel Channel and in 2006 Amanda Hearst modelled for a fashion photo shoot at the estate which was published by Town and Country.

Although the days of lavish cocktail parties have ended, you can still put on your favorite cocktail dress for a night time tour.  You’ll feel like a 1930’s sophisticate when you walk on the gold-leaf mosaic tiles of the grand ball room, as docents dressed in elegant 1930’s clothing play poker in the sitting rooms.

The next time you take a holiday to California, make sure you stop in at Hearst Castle…trust me, you’ll be amazed!

Visit www.hearstcastle.com for more information!

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