Unusual Tourist Sites: San Simeon Hearst Estate in California Part 2

About the unusual tourist site of San Simeon Estate, home of William Randolph Hearst in California, history and information.

San Simeon State Park, California

No practical objection stood in the way of a Hearst wish for long. When Julia Morgan pointed out his private rooms could not have the view he wanted because that view was from the roof, he ordered another story added and named it the Celestial Suite. If a grove of trees was in the way, Hearst, who could not stand to see a tree cut down, had the complete grove carefully transplanted. When he decided to install an entire set of Gothic choir stalls, to match one he already had, price was no object in tracking down and buying individual stalls from a multitude of owners. Rare animals from all over the world were brought in for his private zoo, housed not in cages but in specially enclosed acreage.

Hearst managed to outspend a personal income estimated at $15 million a year, one million going annually for his collections, and more millions allotted for the tremendous costs of building and maintaining San Simeon and other sumptuous residences. Early in W. W. II the estate was closed for a time, partly for economy, but also because Hearst thought the towers of La Casa Grande a likely target for Japanese submarines.

Later Hearst returned to his dream palace but it was never the same. His companies had been reorganized, reducing both his control and personal income. San Simeon was mortgaged and nearly lost but no one would foreclose on a white elephant. The zoo was given to municipal collections, although a few strays remained and their progeny can still be seen wandering the nearby hills.

Even now he continued to add to La Casa Grande, installing an indoor pool worthy of a Roman Emperor. Its imported Italian tiles were laid in intricate designs by imported Italian workmen. He died while making plans for the addition of another wing.

Hearst willed San Simeon to the people of California but the State was initially reluctant to take on a property that had an estimated annual upkeep of over $100,000 without the extra costs of entertaining Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, and half of Hollywood. When it finally opened to the public in 1958 one of the 1st guests is said to have asked, "Where is Rosebud?"

Three 2-hour tours are available to visitors at San Simeon. Tour I takes visitors through the grounds, one guesthouse, the 1st floor of the main building, and Hearst's private theater. Tour II includes the libraries and approximately 26 rooms in the upper floors of the main building. Tour III covers the last-completed section of the estate plus the garden and pool areas. It is advised that visitors begin with Tour I. You may obtain tickets up to 60 days in advance by writing: Hearst Reservation Office, Dept. of Parks and Recreation, Box 2390, Sacramento, Calif. 95811. Tickets may be purchased at the San Simeon ticket booth, but visitors should arrive early, as all tours are frequently sold out by midmorning.

Admission: Tours I and III: $4 adults, $2 children 6--18; tour II: $5 adults, $2.50 children 6--18; all tours are free to children under 6. Hours: 8 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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