Remembering William Randolph Hearst, Part 2 of 3
During his lifetime, William Randolph Hearst’s La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) was usually simply called the Hearst Ranch, but filmmaker Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) – based on Hearst’s life, his live-in love Marion Davies, and his fairytale hilltop home – christened the estate “Xanadu” in the movie. It was only after Hearst’s death when it was opened to the public, that it became known as Hearst Castle.
Media mogul William Randolph Hearst began construction on Hearst Castle near San Simeon, California in 1919. He was 56 years of age and already a millionaire many times over. Why did he begin a project that would take virtually the rest of his life to complete?
“In Pop’s own words to me: ‘ I just wanted to. Period. I loved the place.’ The endless project became a magnificent obsession…It was…his heartbeat.” – The Hearsts: Father and Son (1991) by William Randolph Hearst, Jr. with Jack Casserly.
Hearst Castle & Corporation
Hearst Castle Architect Julia Morgan
Pioneering architect and engineer Julia Morgan’s creative vision is associated with over 700 structures in a variety of styles and sizes across California. Among her most noteworthy buildings are the Los Angeles Examiner Building, the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, and the “King” of them all, Hearst Castle.
(Casa Grande of Hearst Castle 2012 Photo: King of Hearts)
Julia Morgan graduated from Berkeley’s University of California with a degree in civil engineering in 1894, the first woman to do so. After an additional three years of studying, mentoring, and work with architect Bernard Maybeck, she was accepted into the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. In another first, in 1902 she became the first woman to receive a certificate in architecture from that institution.
Julia Morgan received her architecture license from the State of California in 1904 (the first woman to do so) and opened an office in San Francisco. She was the architect for several buildings at Mills College in Oakland, including the Carnegie library funded by Andrew Carnegie, and the El Campanil bell tower. This last structure was built before the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and was one of the few buildings to survive. Her reputation was secured, and with extensive re-design and re-building of San Francisco residential and commercial properties required in the earthquake aftermath, her financial future was set.
She worked on the fortifications and design for the new San Francisco Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. Phoebe Apperson Hearst (a supporter of suffragism and feminist issues) admired Julia Morgan’s accomplishments, and Morgan became the family’s preferred architect from that point on.
Julia Morgan enjoyed a lifetime association and partnership with 3 generations of the Hearst family, working on residential, University of California at Berkeley, and other commercial buildings for them and other clients.
In 1865, William Randolph Hearst’s father, mining millionaire George Hearst, bought almost 50,000 acres of the Piedra Blanca Rancho. The Piedra Blanca extended south along the Pacific coast from Rugged Point to San Simeon, California. George later bought the adjoining Rancho Santa Rosa and Rancho San Simeon. George Hearst bred and raised thoroughbred horses and cattle on the ranch, which was also home to abundant wildlife in it’s fields and forests, and fish in it’s streams.
It wasn’t until 1978 that George and his wife Phoebe Apperson Hearst built an 18-room Victorian ranch house on the property, with a wharf and attached warehouse.
“Thanks to the energy and enterprise of Mr. Geo. Hearst, we now have a new whart and warehouse second to none on the whole southern coast….Vessels can lie in 26 feet of water at the end of teh wharf, and find no trouble in entering the Bay at any season of the year. – San Luis Obispo Tribune, August 17, 1878
George bred and raised thoroughbred horses on the ranch. When he died in 1891, the ranch house and lands passed to his wife.
Phoebe and W.R. Hearst continued where George had left off, buying more adjoining ranch lands. She purchased 3/4 of the Peter Gillis dairy ranch in 1905, putting the Hearst Ranch land holding in the area of 53,000 acres; W.R. acquired the Van Gorden ranch in 1913 and the Muma ranch in 1914. By 1917 when Hearst agent J.C. McGovern purchased two more adjoining ranches from B.F. Martin Ranch & Charles Watson, different newspapers speculated that the Hearst Ranch was between 70,000 – 100,000 acres.
From childhood through to adult years, William Randolph Hearst spent summers at the ranch. In the 1900s-1910s he often brought his wife and children, as well as other family and friends to stay for weeks at a time, to hunt and fish..
“William Randolph Hearst, Mrs. Hearst and Geo. L. Willson…will visit the famous Hearst rancho near San Simeon where deer hunting will be the pastime. The party is attended by a special steward and a retinue of servants. It required three of Sanders’ autos to transport the hunters, servants and equipage. Portable houses have been erected on the ranch in various sections for the use of the hunters, who will remain two weeks….W.R. Hearst is an interesting man. He looks like a big boy and has large, clear, blue eyes that look straight at you. He smiles a good deal and is exceedingly affable. Speaking in a general way he stated that he had had a lot of fun with newspapers and liked the work. He called it absorbing – both as to funds and energy, and laughed.” – San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, July 19, 1913
. In 1917 he had the house and buildings wired for electricity; he also had permanent structures built where he camped in the mountains on the ranch.
“A hydro-electric plant will be installed for furnishing the ‘juice’ on the ranch, on the creek about two miles from the ranch house, where there is an abundance of water.” – San Luis Obispo Tribune, October 12, 1917
Building a Mansion
“W.R. Hearst and party, who hae spent the past six weeks at the Piedra Blanca ranch, left Tuesday. It is reported that Mr. Hearst has made plans for building a mansion at his camp on the ranch. – San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, September 12, 1919
Today, more than 150 years later, Hearst cattle still roam this vast ranchland.
Marion Davies Remembered San Simeon
Marion Davies autobiographical memoir The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst was published more than ten years after her death, in 1975. Her memories of the ranch at San Simeon are scattered throughout the book:
“At San Simeon, W.R. built a castle. It soon became known throughout the world for its extravagance and splendor, and for enhancing a barren part of California’s coast that up until that time had disdained civilization’s progress. W.R. would insist that it was a ranch, not a castle.”
“When W.R. decided to build San Simeon, he said he wanted to pick out a spot with a good view. His father had left him the property. His mother had a house there in which a cousin, Randolph Apperson, lived. Apperson was the overseer. While the house was being built, W.R. would go up to the site and stay in a tent. The work proceeded so slowly that Constance Talmadge said, ‘A brick a day keeps the bricklayer in pay.’ And yet it was awfully hard for them to get the material up that hill.”
“I started working at MGM about 1924, and that was the first time I ever went to San Simeon. I think Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyone were along, and Connie Talmadge. The reason I didn’t go earlier was that W.R. said, ‘It isn’t finished yet.” Of course it’s not finished even now; the back of it will never be finished. But when I was young, the place didn’t interest me at all. I’m glad I got old so I could appreciate the beauty of things. It’s a gorgeous place.”
“When we went to San Simeon we’d take the train and then a car from San Luis Obispo. Sometimes we went by plane. W.R. had three planes, and if I was working late on a Saturday, I would fly up. When I wasn’t working I’d stay at San Simeon, and then I’d wish I were working because there were so amny people there and the routine got tiresome – laying the place cards and meeting the visiting characters.
“George Hearst and Blanche, his first wife, were the first of W.R.’s family to come up to the ranch. I had a profound affection for both of them. They asked W.R. if they could meet me, and I was tremendously flattered. We got to be friends from then on in.”
“I’d go up on weekends, and there’d be twenty or thirty guests, possibly forty or fifty. The treain would leave Los Angelese at eight-fifteen and arrie in San Luis about three in the morning, and we’d motor on up. We’d come back on Sunday to be at work Monday. Pete was the man who owned the limousines in San Luis. Several cars were needed, and it was about an hour and a half’s drive. W.R. would pay for the train and for the cars. When we arrived we’d have breakfast and a rest. Luncheon was about two-thirty and dinner about half past eight at night. Saturday night we’d watch a movie. Before breakfast on Sunday we’d play tennis or go horseback riding – the usual things, the sporting life routing. Or we’d swim….W.R. had his office in a separate building, House A. There was a House B and a C…[he’d] come out and join the guests and go swimming. And he played tennis and went horseback riding. He was excellent at riding.
about the rand and zoo animals “There were lions and tigers; leopards and bears of all kinds; honey bears and spider monkeys; camels, deer, water buffalo, zebras and elk; emus and ostriches. W.R. thought it was picturesque. There was an elephant named after me. I was insulted…W.R. never allowed hunting. He’d inspect the animals regularly, and he had fifty or sixty cowboys looking after them, and the cattle.”
“At the house there were three butlers and God knows how many maids…There were sculptors and artists to paint the ceilings and to do the rooms over, and over again.
“I think W.R. liked House A better than any of the other houses. And he liked the Gothic Suite, way upstairs in the main house, underneath the Celestial Suite, right over the library. There was an enormous oak tree near House A. One day as W.R. came out of the house the tree knocked his hat off. So he called the caretaker and said he wanted the tree moved about ten feet over. He was told it would cost a thousand dollars a foot to move it. He wouldn’t let them destroy that tree, although it took months to move it. It was fascinating just to watch it being moved.”
“The meals were really wonderful. There were three chefs, and at least one of them was bound not to miss. We’d have picnics down at the beach, about five miles up the coast toward San Francisco, or we’d go on camping trips over at Mel peters’s ranch. We’d go on horses for about eight hours. If you didn’t want to ride horseback, there were about twelve cars and drivers.”
by Marion Davies, edited by Pamela Peau and Kenneth S. Marx
Hearst Castle Famous Guests and Parties
Hearst lived at the castle throughout construction with his girlfriend Marion Davies; they hosted lavish parties at the castle throughout the 1920’s and 30’s, often attended by political and Hollywood celebrities including Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Charlie Chaplin, and others.
Below, Clark Gable, Carole Lombarde, director Mervyn LeRoy, and William Randolph Hearst circa the late 1930’s/early 1940s.
(Photo: Original source unknown [no visible markings] | Pinterest & The Redlist)
When Winston Churchill visited Hearst Castle in 1929 with his son Randolph Churchill, Hearst’s estranged wife Millicent came to act as his hostess. Marion was tactfully nowhere in evidence during the visit. With 3 separate guest mansions as well as the castle proper, there was plenty of room at the castle for overnight visitors.
Although today’s better known as Hearst Castle, during his William Randolph Hearst’s lifetime it was more commonly referred to as “the Hearst ranch”.
“The Hearst ranch is a weekend hotel for invited guests. Frequently there are from 75 to 100. Every one receives perfect hotel service from valets to saddle horses. In a ranch of 50,000 acres, more or less, with nothing missing from wild animals to croquet, there is not a golf course. Hearst characteristically explains its absence by remarking: ‘I don’t play golf.’ – Variety, April 1932
Among the guests, somebody was always having a birthday, and I’d whip up a party. We’d send for the musicians and even the presents. I’d get gifts for the other guests to give, because they wouldn’t know we were having a party.” – Marion Davies
“The covered-wagon costume party [april 29, 1933 for W.R.’s 70th birthday] was the biggest party we ever had at San Simeon. With well over a hundred people coming, it was most everybody in the in the motion picture industry: the Gary Coopers and the Thalbergs and the Warners and Gable and Bill Powell, and a lot of the nespapermen, publishers and editors. But not Chaplin. He wouldn’t go to any party. ” – Marion Davies
“We were always having parties – costume parties, birthday parties, even weddings….
Over the years, Hearst hosted virtually everyone who was anyone at Hearst Castle. Colleen Moore and her First National Pictures film producer husband John McCormick visited, and Louella Parsons and her third husband Harry W. Martin honeymooned at the ranch. Joseph P. Kennedy 1940 Bebe Daniels and her husband Ben Lyons (1945). Cary Grant 1946
Even during the early years of the Great Depression, life at the ranch was still lived on a large scale. Former President Calvin Coolidge and his wife stayed for 6 days in 1930. When George Bernard Shaw made a rare visit to the U.S. and to Southern California in 1933, he made a point of visiting the ranch.
“Swank is still hopefully carried on at San Simeon where Marion Davies presides, and there are comparatively few week-ends that do not find a throng of guests…A round of enjoyments, which have ranged from turtle races to indoor repartee with George Bernard Shaw. Parties are still reputedly very expensive in that locale, but for the rest, filmdom is moderately conservative now.” – Picture Play, October, 1933
Hearst Ranch Weddings and Honeymoons
Given the remote location, elaborate furnishings, and fairytale-like setting of Hearst Castle, it’s no wonder that several couples chose to tie the knot at San Simeon.
We had at least four weddings there. Mary and Bill Curley, who was from the New York Evening Journal – he wasn’t the Mayor of Boston. And Maitland Rice and Noreen Phllips. George Hearst married Lorna, his second wife, at San Simeon, and Patricia and Arthur Lake got married there. The ceremonies were held in the living room. We’d have flowers and decorations, and bridesmaids. But nobody ever spent their honeymoon there. I had to order the dresses for mary and Bill Curley’s wedding. Doris Duke, Mary Sanford and I were the three bridesmaids and Mrs. Hal Roach was the matron of honor. I rang up Orry Kelly and said I needed the gown in just tow days; and he produced the stuff. Everything arrived all right, even the wedding ring.
Hearst’s son John Randolph Hearst was married to Gretchen Wilson Smith at San Simeon in March 1933. His oldest son George Hearst married for a second time around after June 12th, at San Simeon. marrying Lorna Velle.
Arthur Lake married Patricia Douris Van Cleve, Marion Davies niece (daughter of Rose Davies and George Bi Van Cleve), at San Simeon , July, 25, 1937
Arthur Lake – “Together with Pat, who is a niece of Marion DAvies, he was a member of the party William Randolph Hearst took on a six-months luxury cruise of Europe aboard his palatial yacth in 1936. – Radio Mirror, October 1939
“The Hearst plane which crashed Thursday Night at San Simeon, killing Lord and lady Plunkett and Pilot Tex Phillips, had carried E.B. Hatrick, of Cosmopolitan, and his aide, Billie Williams, from the Hearst ranch to attend the mayer dinner just prior to the crash. The plane was on its way back from los Angeles after Hatrick and Miss Williams debarked for the mayer fete.” – Motion Picture Daily, Feb. 26, 1938
From Under My Hat (1952) by Hedda Hopper
The Self Enchanted – Mae Murray: Image of an Era (1959) by Jane Ardmore
Part of Spartacus was filmed at San Simeon
“William Randolph Hearst almost always has a crowd of leading motion picture people for the weekend at his ranch at San Simeon. Recently the guests learned of a side of Mr. Hearst about which few people know. About ten o’clock Saturday evening Mr. Hearst disappeared; he was not seen again until six in the morning. Then, rather haggard, tired and worn, he made his way to his apartment in the main building at the ranch. It was o unusual for him to be up until such an hour that some of the guests made enquiries. They found that he and a veterinary surgeon had spent the night trying to save the life of a Dachshund puppy, and that when the little fellow died it was in Mr. Hearst’s lap. He was as broke up as if he had lost a friend. That’s W.R.” – Cal York’s Gossip, Photoplay, March 1935
Hearst Castle Highlights
William Randolph Hearst spent $37 million on the castle buildings, and another $50 million on acquiring the largest art collection ever owned by one person. He collected so much that even Hearst Castle and his other mansions combined, could not hold it all…several warehouses stored the excess pieces of furniture, artifacts, paintings, tapestries, and more. William Hearst never let his senior years keep him from collecting art, running businesses, and making (and spending) money.
There are 2 pools at Hearst Castle…below, the outdoor Neptune Pool many years later, in 2009, taken from above with the countryside beyond in the background.
(Hearst Castle Neptune Pool Photo: Jim G)
Initial plans were for an ornamental pool and temple, until Hearst requested Morgan
“Make the pool longer than it is, as long as a swimming pool. Mrs. Hearst and the children are extremely anxious to have a swimming pool!“
Construction for the first version of the Neptune Pool was completed in 1924. The second version of the pool, a substantial enlargement, was created between 1926-1927. The current version of the pool (built between 1934-1936) is 104 feet long, 58 feet wide and 95 feet wide at the alcove end. It features colonnades, statues, an oil-burning heating system, Vermont marble, and on the sides of the colonnades, 4 17-century Italian bas-reliefs.
Below, another view of the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, taken from the pool level with some of the other castle buildings in the background.
(2012 Hearst Castle Neptune Pool Photo: King of Hearts)
The indoor, tiled Roman Pool at Hearst Castle (below) was part of the Roman Pool Complex, which also included sweat baths, a handball court, exercise and dressing rooms. It was built from 1927-1934 and is decorated with eight marble statues of Roman gods, goddesses and heroes carved in Italy starting in 1930, and shipped to California. The walls of the mausoleum are marble, with vaulted arches of blue and gold mosaic tiles; the roofs and dome are covered in dark blue tiles, and a star pattern inspired by the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.
(Hearst Castle Roman Pool 2012 Photo: King of Hearts)
William Randolph Hearst also acquired $50 million in New York City real estate (as well as other properties world wide).
As the Depression ground on, the tone of reports about Hearst’s lifestyle and the castle began to be less admiring. The film industry was as hard hit as anywhere, and there was a walk out at Columbia Pictures in response to a cut in pay for union members.
“William Randolph Hearst, from behind his barbed wire and gunmen at San Simeon, himself a producer of pictures, roars at the national government, telling the President how to run the Government – and totally ignores the misery of 30,000 studio workers, out of employment because of the strike…Mr. Hearst, trying to save himself income tax by advocating a sales tax, doesn’t give a tinker’s damn for working people and their misery…If things get much worse a few thousands of starving working people may want to use those 250,000 acres of land wired in at San Simeon…Our great American Land Baron has what the hungry homeless will need in a pinch…And how they will take it when circumstances compel!” – Moving Movie Throng, by John Hall, Hollywood Filmograph, July 1933
Hearst suffered a heart attack in January 1933 and was confined to his ranch.
However, by the mid-1930’s, the Great Depression had hit hard and the Hearst news empire (never his biggest money maker) was on shaky ground. The Hearst Corporation underwent a reorganization ordered by the courts in 1937, and from then on Hearst’s power in that organization was minimized. Newspapers, other properties, and companies were liquidated, and Hearst began to sell off much of his art collection – $11 million dollars worth that first year alone. Another 20,000 pieces were put up for sale in 1941 (all this put only a small dent in his art collection and other holdings). Today the Hearst Corporation is still a privately held media conglomerate.
Meanwhile, construction on Hearst Castle continued on until ill health forced 84-year-old senior citizen William Hearst to move with Marion Davies to a more urban setting in 1947.
In 1957 Hearst Castle was donated to the state of California by the Hearst Corporation – it is now an operating museum with daily tours, a State Historical Monument, and National Historic Landmark. The breathtaking Hearst Castle overlooks the ranch, surrounding countryside, and the Pacific Ocean.
British Pathe’s video coverage of the opening of the new state park (below) offers some panoramic views of Hearst Castle and a glimpse of the Hearst family heirs in 1958.
Visit Hearst Castle at 750 Hearst Castle Rd., San Simeon California. If you can’t go in person, take this aerial tour by the Smithsonian Channel.
The New Movie Magazine, April 1930
The Times We Had: Life With William Randolph Hearst (1975) by Marion Davies, edited by Pamela Peau and Kenneth S. Marx
Note: This article was first published in 2015 as Remembering William Randolph Hearst, Part 2 of 3. It has been updated with new & additional content.*
*Images are believed to be in the public domain, used by permission, or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, YouTube, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*