Road Trip Take Two, Day 6

(Neptune Pool in Hearst Castle)

Remember how I mentioned that there are a variety of towns and attractions along the PCH? So did we. That's why today we went further south along California 1 and kept going until we reached Hearst Castle.

Who was Hearst? Some guy with a castle perhaps? Technically, but you know more about him than you think, since he owned two movie studios, two radio stations, eight TV channels, several newspapers and a handful of magazines. Statistically speaking, everyone has contact at least once daily with something that he controlled.

Mr. Hearst's father had earned his fortune through the gold rush and thus had a large plot of land in San Simeon, California to which the Hearsts went on camping trips. Over the years, Hearst (junior) developed his own vision for their sizeable chunk of land on the border between northern and southern California.

Having invested in the entertainment industry, Hearst made a fortune of his own as a result – one that was basically limitless. During the Great Depression, he mentioned that while people were cutting things from all sides, things like movies were kept in families' budgets, as they did a good job of taking their minds off converting their new car into a horse buggy.

As a result, neither Hollywood nor Hearst felt the effects of the depression on their own backs. Although, it was relatively impossible anyways since both his story and that of his castle began long before that.

In 1919, he decided to build an opulent structure where he could go on vacation in lieu of their old cottage that his father took them to, on the same property.

Remember your childhood, when you went to the store and you wanted that one and that one and that one and that one? Hearst maintained this mentality as much as he maintained his own life, thus such decisiveness was applied to the building of his castle.

He spent ten million in that era's dollars on his castle; six went to the construction and labor, and four went into buying all of the exquisite artwork that adorns every single square foot of his project.

This grand total is nine hundred million in today's dollars. But if you wanted to build a copy of his castle today, you couldn't, even with twice that budget. Sure, you could build a physical copy, but there would be none of the artwork. The reason is that, as the tour guide eloquently put it, countries aren't so willing to sell valuable things anymore.

In Hearst's era though, things were different. Because of the aftermath of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, Hearst bought ancient Greek ruins, Roman pools, Spanish ceilings, classic French furniture, Turkish rugs, and perhaps even a couple of real live unicorns for his castle, which took decades to completely finish.

Sure, the building was done within a normal period, but Hearst constantly changed opinion about something or got more ideas to expand his project further. It only stopped when his heart did during the 1950's.

Evidence of this is visible in an area that is not. Namely, the main stairs where the bus drops you off was once a full staircase top-to-bottom, but is now in non-continuous parts joined by landings. Under all of this is another open area/landing that was used at one point.

However, when Hearst decided on the full continuous staircase, he just built it over that first landing, which as such is effectively preserved under today's stairs just like a pristine fossil.

There are about six different tours you can take: each covers a different part of his castle. You arrive at the visitor's center, buy a ticket to one of the tours, and board a bus that takes you on the Italian mountain road up to the castle. The place is so high up that it's above the clouds (think SFU) and as such avoids the cold spell that we've been experiencing in this part of California.

If you have time from when you bought tickets until when your bus leaves (and you will, there's too much people in your way), you can visit the gift shop and buy a cowboy hat or a statue with three naked ladies 'mingling' with each-other; you can buy a coffee that's Starbucks-but-just-don't-call-it-Starbucks, or you can buy some food made from animals from the on-site ranch.

The only problem with the bus ride up to the castle is that you're not driving. Otherwise, everything is epic. More-so since it's not yours, and as such, you don't have to pay for the upkeep.

Hearst mostly donated the property to the state of California as a state park (like Yosemite), though his descendants still own bits like the aforementioned road, and many of the houses not on the tour route scattered across the property, among other things.

Technology has advanced since Hearst's death, though the state has kept his property exactly as it was when he last saw it. There aren't even ropes to keep you off the furniture as you do your tour: you are expected to stay on the carpet path that they have laid for everybody save the caretakers.

Speaking of which, that technology has somewhat morphed Hearst's generous (but necessary back then) job offers. Namely, there were three dozen gardeners or butlers in his time, but now there are nine of each category.

On our tour, we saw a guest house: he often invited famous people to stay at his castle, most staying for months at a time in rooms with marble bathrooms, intricate imported ceilings, silk furniture, unique rugs, and a view of the rolling hills with planted trees tickling the Pacific Ocean.

Among many other things, we also saw the Roman pool, dug into the rock under the existing tennis courts, boasting full flooring made with Murano tiles and real gold. He even had his own zoo there at one point.

So, Hearst Castle is so opulent that it makes its own beef and has real gold on the floor of the pool. And it's worth a look. Do it.

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