Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Weirdness That is Hearst Castle

I had such a lovely, penetrating write-up about visiting Hearst Castle. There were pithy accounts of Hearst moving centuries-old oak trees to make way for construction—dug up and encased in cement for replanting, at tremendous cost. There was praise for architect Julia Morgan's clever ability to work around any design challenge thrown her way, including hanging 14th-century hand-carved ceilings weighing several tons in rooms that she designed around those ceilings at the whim of her employer, William Randolph Hearst. There was a description of the world's largest private zoo, the zebra descendants of which still roam the grounds of this continuously working ranch (I saw one, grazing among the cows).

And infused throughout was my underlying confusion and dismay when confronted with conspicuous consumption on a level that short-circuited my brain within moments of our arrival. So brain-damaged am I from my visit, that I inadvertently deleted the entire post by somehow hitting some ctrl-command key combination sent from hell to torment me on Blogger until I finally learn to back up my work. Which I will never do, because I'm like Groundhog Day when it comes to blog backup.

Hey, that reminds me, did you know Twitter wasn't backed up or archived until sometime in 2010? It's true. I read about it in Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, by Nick Bilton. So if Twitter could fail daily (remember the Fail Whale?—those were the days) and potentially lose all its data through mismanagement and hubris, I can suffer through a lost Hearst-Castle post and come out the other side a better person. A brighter day is just around the corner, especially during Northern California's unprecedented drought this winter.

Let's have a look-see at what new money and a bottomless desire for prestige and power can do to warp a landscape for all time, until the California State Park Department stops running it. Welcome to La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill)—Hearst's name for what we call the castle. Designed as a cathedral to the god of material goods, Hearst stuffed it with his ever-growing art collection, which included Roman temples and Spanish palace interior walls. He thought big and he thought non-cohesively and it shows.

I forgot to ask our knowledgeable guide what the deal is with these hairy sentinels on either side of the entrance. Why are they so hairy? Were they purchased or commissioned? Hearst installed ancient statuary alongside 20s-era sculpture throughout the grounds, so who knows? Internet, help me out here.

Hairy sentinel #1

His Sasquatch-like compatriot with club

Apologies for any blurry photos. No flash allowed within the castle, so I just tried to stand really still. Jackson took this photo which nicely contrasts the weirdness of mixing centuries of architectural interiors and decor. If you were eating your meal here, doted on by one of 80 live-in servants, you'd be regaled by the likes of anyone from Charlie Chaplin to crooked politicians buying up water rights throughout the Eastern Sierras. Fun.

I can't concentrate on my duck confit with that 14th-century ceiling overhead.

This has nothing to do with California or ranching, but it's on the ceiling, so enjoy.

Hearst and his longtime mistress, Marion Davies, sat in the middle, across from each other with guests seated in order of importance fanning out all the way to the ends of the table.

Here's our guide. He knew everything. He let us know that W.R. Hearst was no saint, having abandoned his wife and children. She wouldn't give him a divorce, so what was his choice, I guess. Tough times for human relationships among the rich and powerful.

More artistic mish-mash. The griffin statuary may be 1,500 years old. The torso, from the fourth century—who knows? Anyway, it was the holiday season, so you get that too.

Hearst, like Paul Allen, had a private movie theater, the better to see Davies' films that he produced. There are several of these caryatids in the theater. Hearst was very much into caryatids. Who isn't?


Globe-lamp poolside caryatids

Who's up for a swim in the Neptune pool? Apparently the castle's two extravagant pools were heated up until the 1970s. Hearst's granddaughter, Patty, and her family would secretly visit the house even during public tours. That means she could have been hiding behind a statue (she claims she did that) when I first saw this pool at age five. Maybe we made eye contact! We could have been star-crossed friends—me from the mean streets of Diamond Heights in San Francisco. She from the sheltered caryatid-enforced Hearst compound, wherever that was.

I love the idea of Charlie Chaplin and Louise Brooks hanging out here, sneaking alcohol into their guest cabins when Hearst wasn't looking. That Roman temple is authentic, by the way, reassembled for poolside splendor.

As you leave the pool in your damp 20s-era wool bathing costume, you spy some more statuary in a sheltered grotto. How...intriguing.

A saucy wood nymph alongside...

...Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden.

Enjoying your stay at La Cuesta Encantada?
I can understand if guests were desperate for more alcohol at this point.

Anything else? I took a wrong turn and led us to a dead-end (actually Hearst's bedroom balcony, which wasn't on our tour). The brochure said one of the fountains—maybe this one—featured statuary from Ancient Egypt that was over 1,200 years old. I can't fact-check because I threw the brochure away. I'm trying not to to be a hoarder like William Randolph Hearst, who eventually spent himself into a hole more than $100 million deep.

Tiles throughout the grounds were designed by Julia Morgan herself

And finally the Roman pool, part of a gym that was never completed, so it didn't get used much. Too bad because it's got atmosphere galore. Don't you wish a movie could be filmed here? It's very Gatsby-ish. If anyone can get financing for a Louise Brooks biopic, and this location, you're golden.

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