3/23/16 (Wednesday) in Atascadero, CA (Atascadero-Elks)
It’s hard to know where to begin. Our drive to the castle was beautiful. W. R. Hearst was the son of George Hearst who got rich from mining then bought thousands of acres of Central California coastal range land (Mexican range land before that). He hired locals to run his ranches and grew ever richer. WR Hearst went to Europe with his mom and fell in love with the architecture and the art that he saw there. When George Hearst became the California Senator, he gave the responsibility of his newspaper (San Francisco Examiner?) to WR who parlayed that into ownership of many publications, even a movie studio. Thus when he got really wealthy he decided to build a small cottage at the top of his favorite hill, overlooking the ocean. “I would like to built something up on the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little too old for that. I’d like to get something that would be more comfortable.”
He loved to build, so it grew into many cottages and a huge castle that he filled with a great deal of artifacts (the ceilings were purchased from ancient places around the world) and antiques.
Not only is his castle 5 miles from the current Visitor Center, just off Hwy 1, in the days he was there Hwy 1 didn’t exist. Most people arrived by train to San Luis Obispo, then by car (provided by Hearst) over 43 miles of dirt road, (there’s a landing strip for the few who braved flying in his plane, just below the castle), or came by boat to his harbor below. By the way, his ranches still exist, all around the castle and beyond. They sell the beef (grass fed, no hormones, all born on his ranches) at the Visitor Center. Like Vanderbuilt, this place isn’t cheap: $25/person for 1 tour. We took 2 tours: Grand Rooms (1st floor) and Upstairs (2nd,3rd, and 4th floors). Enjoy these highlights.
The Great Room, where everyone was invited to have cocktails before dinner, required to attend.
The Refractory, where all were led for meals. Hearst sat in the center (back to tapestry). Those who’d recently arrived sat near him. The longer they’d stayed the farther they were seated from him.
Next they could play billiards (everyone, including women and children) or watch a movie in his home theater.
Upstairs were the guest rooms. By the way, it was all built of reinforced concrete (new for the time), with all their power (electric) and water created there. The lamp shades were taken from actual Gregorian chant books.
His bedroom. The Lampshades here are made from parchment (animal skin). A visitor once told our guide told a story of how Hearst used human skin and showed our guide a book mentioning the use of kid (meaning young goat) skin. The one on the right starts with the word “Indenture”. The panels are his ceiling. The icon is an original, the copy is in some famous museum (I forgot the name). I love the beautiful pink lamp-forgot its story. His personal bathroom and closet are just off his bedroom.
In his Gothic study, which included personal library (around 7,200 books). This is the sole portrait he sat for, only because his mother kept asking him to do it. There were Christian artifacts throughout his buildings, mostly for their beauty. After joining a couple different religions he decided they weren’t necessary and absolutely wouldn’t have a chapel included in any of his places. He described himself as Christian of no denomination.
We got to top off our beautiful visions with more beauty from nature on our way home.
I forgot to mention that while at the castle we splurged on lunch there and met the nicest people. A couple from the area and their friends from England, that they were visiting favorite California places with. When they learned we were camping at Atascadero they insisted we give Sylvester’s Burgers a try, so we went there for supper (at Atascadero). Were they ever right!!! Hot, big and juicy, is their slogan. So true. Sorry, I had such fun eating I forgot to take photos.