Hearst Castle is the palatial estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. It is located near San Simeon, California, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Donated by the Hearst Corporation to the state of California in 1957, it is now a State Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark, open for public tours. Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), but he usually just called it “the ranch”. The castle and grounds are also sometimes referred to as “San Simeon” without distinguishing between the Hearst property and the unincorporated town of the same name.
The Castle was built on a 40,000 acre (160 km²) ranch that William Randolph Hearst’s father, George Hearst, originally purchased in 1865. The younger Hearst grew fond of this site over many childhood family camping trips. He inherited the ranch, which had grown to 250,000 acres (1,000 km²), from his mother, Phoebe Hearst, upon her death in 1919. Construction began that same year and continued through 1947, when he stopped living at the estate due to ill health. San Francisco architect Julia Morgan designed most of the buildings. Hearst was an inveterate tinkerer, and would tear down structures and rebuild them at a whim. For example, the opulent Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times before Hearst was satisfied. As a consequence of Hearst’s persistent design changes, the estate was never completed in his lifetime.
Hearst Castle featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo. Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds. Morgan, an accomplished civil engineer, devised a gravity-based water delivery system from a nearby mountain. One highlight of the estate is the Neptune Pool, which features an expansive vista of the mountains, ocean and the main house.
Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. The Hollywood and political elite often visited, usually flying into the estate’s airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were among Hearst’s A-list guests. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since “the Ranch” had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do. The estate’s theater usually screened films from Hearst’s own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions. If you take a tour, you will be treated to short news clips from the 1930s: