Hearst Castle


“I would like to build 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 a little more comfortable.”

— William Randolph Hearst

“William Randolph Hearst said this to the architect Julia Morgan,” Denise said.

Russ and Denise were seasoned guides, and tonight they were overseeing the matriculation of newly graduated docents at Hearst Castle. Enamored with the majesty and history of the place, the couple opted to throw a significant portion of their free time reliving the good old days of California opulence and excess. Everyone dressed in period clothing.

A week earlier, Russ brought his Schipperke, Bo, to Rory for his vaccinations. Impressed with the young doctor’s enthusiasm, he invited Rory and Katie to graduation night. Rory, in his usual ‘Hey, follow me, I’ve got a great thing going’ attitude, summarily invited René and Pelipa along. Russ took the faux pas in stride, remembering what he was like a long time ago.

“Would you like a glass of wine, Doc?” Russ offered Rory a drink. The catered affair offered beverages and hors d'oeuvres at either of two tables in the open-air temple. There were also two waiters circulating with the platters of treats.

“What’s the difference between guides and docents, Russ?” Rory asked.

“Guides are official. Except for special occasions like tonight, we wear uniforms, while the docents dress in period costumes. The guides wear gray slacks, white shirts, dark blue ties, and a blue blazer with nametags and State Park patches stitched on. The state pays us. The docents are volunteers who work five to ten hours a month.”

The group was mingling with others around the outdoor Neptune Pool under the ancient portico of the Roman Temple.

“This is a big gathering, Russ. How many people are in this class?”

“Only eight, but the party is open to their spouses and friends. This is also a yearly staff reunion, the culmination of the year. This is our night to recreate history. The park service replaced the old broken outdoor lighting system. We will offer year night time tours in the summer. We have selected more docents to accommodate the extra visits.”

“Would you like hors d'oeuvres?” A catering waitress displayed a tray of goodies.

“Sure,” Rory said.

“Right here at the Neptune Pool is where most of the tours start,” Russ explained as he pointed to the ancient temple facades surrounding the pool.

“Hearst bought entire pieces of antiquity. He purchased whole buildings, even temples, ordered them dismantled and brought them here. The wall behind us is the facing of a three-thousand-year-old Roman temple.”

“These night parties allow us to become part of the ageless dream,” Denise said as she joined her husband and Rory. “We love it when we can dress in the period and feel more a part of it.” Denise showed off her nineteen twenties style dress with the long fringe falling in several layers. Russ had a twenties style ‘zoot suit’ with a dark blue fedora.

Russ continued the Hearst Castle story. “After George’s death in 1891 in Washington DC, William Randolph’s mother, Phoebe, returned to California and restarted construction on a palatial residence in Pleasanton. For the project, Mrs. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan as her architect. Her ideas impressed William Randolph.”

“I heard George Hearst, Billy’s gold and silver mining father paid for everything,” Rory said

“Yes and no, Doctor Evans,” Denise replied. “By the late 1800s money from mining was petering out. This castle on the hill was the brainchild of his son, William. The land was already in his family’s name, but San Simeon was a camping spot for them. Not until William Randolph made it big in the publishing business was he able to see his vision through. He was a self-made fellow, and I don’t think anyone called him Billy.”

“I bet his mom did,” Rory was into nicknames.

“But Denise, William’s father gave him his first newspaper…” Russ exclaimed.

“Wow, which one?” Rory interrupted Russ.

“The San Francisco Examiner. In 1887, when he was twenty-four.”

“But that’s like giving your son a million dollars when he leaves home. How did his dad get into the publishing business?”

“He won the paper in a gambling debt.”

“No shit! The man finds gold and silver in the mountains and then gains ownership of a San Francisco newspaper in a card game. Man, I wish I were there. Shoot, as long as I’m wishing, I’d like to be his son.”

“Wait, wait, William did do a lot of it on his own,” Denise persisted. “Shortly after being given the Examiner, William Randolph purchased another newspaper, the New York Journal, which would become the second in a long list of newspaper holdings he gained in the next decade of his life. At his peak, he owned over two-dozen newspapers nationwide. In fact, nearly one in four Americans got their news from a Hearst paper.”

“He must have liked the newspaper business,” Rory said.

“It was in his blood. Enrolled in St. Paul’s Preparatory School in Concord, New Hampshire at 16, William continued his education at Harvard where he showed the first signs of becoming a future publishing tycoon. At Harvard, he excelled in journalism and acted as the business manager of Harvard Lampoon. His election to the “Hasty Pudding” theatrical group revealed his talent and interest in drama. “Denise continued to defend her favorite tycoon. “Plus, it was his work in the theatrical group that led him to find his wife.”

“And his mistress,” Russ whispered in Rory’s ear.

“Russ, remember we cannot talk about that,” his wife remonstrated. “They have never proven it.”

“Like global warming?”

“Okay, Russ, go find someone else to talk to. I can manage the doctor’s Hearst education without you.”

Dismissed by his wife, Russ clinked his wine glass with Rory’s. “Ask her about the alcohol thing.” He whispered, then sauntered off to make nuisance elsewhere.

Sipping her chardonnay, Denise continued. “Construction began when Hearst inherited the family’s wealth. Hearst’s mother, Phoebe, died in the influenza epidemic, and William Randolph inherited this land and other Hearst properties and an estimated $11 million.

In 1919, William Randolph hired Julia Morgan to design the main building and guesthouses for his ranch in San Simeon. He instructed her to build ‘something that would be more comfortable’ than the platform tents they were using when they stayed here. Morgan’s classical training in Paris, her background in engineering, and her use of reinforced concrete suited her well for the project.”

“It was probably a dream job for her, designing modern structures to fit Mr. Hearst’s eclectic tastes, you know?” Rory said.

“Are you an art lover, Doctor Evans? Russ thinks he is, and his art wisdom increases the more wine he sips.”

“Oh no, not at all. Building a castle would be a cool puzzle, you know, building an entire complex to house priceless artifacts.”

“But it didn’t come all at once, Doctor Evans. They rebuilt this Neptune Pool three times. There were many do-overs.”

Katie walked up to them, smiling. Finding his free hand, she grabbed it and began swinging it. “I’m glad you’re a vet, or we would never have met, you know?” She kissed Rory on his cheek.

Denise held out her hand to Katie. “You must be the Doctor’s fiancée. Hi, I’m Denise Surber.”

“I’m Dr. Katie Reynolds; most people call me Dr. Katie. And you are Denise, the better half of Russ?”

Denise laughed. “For forty-eight years, now.” She pointed to Katie’s pearl necklace. “That’s a beautiful necklace, Dr. Katie.”

“Thank you! It’s my engagement necklace. After this comes the wedding ring, right Rory?”

“Yep.” He nodded, with a proud smile.

René neared holding a glass of wine in each hand.

“A little thirsty, René?”

“Rory, didn’t anyone tell you about the alcohol rule?”

“No, what is the alcohol rule?”

Troublemaker Russ returned, also holding a glass in each hand. He gave one to his wife as a peace signal. He knew it was okay when she smiled, nodded, and accepted the new glass for the empty one.

“Hearst had a thing about drinking alcohol, he banned it here. Remember, this was during Prohibition. It was illegal to handle and consume alcohol for non-medicinal reasons.”

“Hearst wasn’t a drinker, Russ.” Denise still tried to steer the conversation the politically correct way.