On Tuesday, my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage. He planned an elaborate mystery trip for me, not telling me anything about where we were going. Not even when we were on the plane. We were married in California and spent our honeymoon night at the legendary Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo. Our only regret at the time was that we arrived after dark and left early the next morning so we didn’t get the chance to fully enjoy this one-of-a-kind inn. So where did we go after 20 years? Yep, back to the Madonna Inn for a leisurely 3 night stay. (I may have to do a separate post someday just on the Madonna Inn. Every room is unique, decorated with it’s own theme, rock showers, a two-story waterfall at the pool, and a steak house that is completely done in pink.)
One of the days we were there, we drove up to San Simeon to tour Hearst Castle. I’m sure many of you have heard of William Randolph Hearst, the multi-millionaire media mogul who hit his peak in the 1920s and 30s. But what you may not know is that the land where Hearst Castle is situated was originally a family cattle ranch where young William grew up with his parents.
In 1865, George Hearst bought 40,000 acres of California ranchland with the wealth he’d accumulated from his mining endeavors. By the time William inherited the land from his mother Phoebe in 1919, the ranch had grown to encompass over 250,000 acres. The hill where Hearst eventually built his palatial mansion started as a favorite family camping spot. When he inherited the land, however, he decided he was getting too old to camp out and went in search of an architect to help him “build a little something”.
The architect he hired was Julia Morgan, one of the first female architects in California. Hearst chose her for his project for several reasons, one being the fact that she’d studied in Paris. Since he was a collector of European art, he wanted his home to reflect European influences. But even more valuable to Hearst, was the fact that Miss Morgan had studied concrete construction. After the devastation of the great San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Hearst wanted to ensure his home withstood whatever the California landscape threw at him.
As Wes and I toured the grounds and the inner rooms of this castle which Hearst always referred to as simply The Ranch, we were awed by the antique furniture and amazing architecture. The grand assembly rooms were panelled with 15th century tapestries and wood carvings from old European churches that still had the wooden built-in seats attached. Nothing like being so practical as to bring in antique wall panelling that could double as additional seating.
Hearst also collected ceilings. Can you imagine? What a thing to collect. But each of the 165 rooms of the castle has a different ceiling. Some are elabroate wood carvings. Other are painted masterpieces. All are awe-inspiring. This blue one from one of the upstairs bedrooms was my favorite.
Some of my other favorite rooms included, of course, the library and Mr. Hearst’s study. He had the house wired for telegraph, telephone, and teletype so he could run his empire from this remote estate. Even before the Internet, he had a fully functioning, global, home office.
Now this castle is central California’s biggest tourist attraction, but if you are looking out your window on the way up the mountain, you can still see the hacienda where the cattle ranchers continue on the family legacy. Yes, Hearst castle may sit atop the hills of San Simeon, but the Hearst family still runs their cattle ranch there. A true rancher’s legacy never dies.