I am writing a series of articles exclusively for Sierra News Online on the subject of art — a very broad subject I will tailor specifically to enlighten our mountain area readers.
Chronicling places with a fairly close proximity to us, the focus will be why they’re important, as well as on specific artists and their significance, the meaning of art terms such as Impressionism and Realism, architecture and a variety of other subjects that relate to art. Never critical about an artist’s work, an exhibition, a place or any of the subjects I write about, to me — beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
Some of you may know me as a woodworker and author of internationally recognized woodworking books, because that is how I’ve always made my living. I began my woodworking career after graduating from San Jose State University with degrees in both art history and sculpture.
I’ve always thought of my work as being a form of “utilitarian” or useful art — at least, that is how I approach every project that I do. To me it is a privilege when someone has faith in my work and then gives me the chance to prove myself. All of that aside, I am very happy to share my knowledge about the subject that I love the most: art. I do this in an effort to educate, enlighten and inform others as to how important art really is, and how fun. With this series I will point out how art shapes our lives everyday in one way or another.
How Art Shapes Our Lives: Hearst Castle
A passionate collector of art
There are some who collect art and then there are those who are obsessed with collecting art. Every once in a while, just the right combination of good timing, great circumstances and the right person can all line up to produce amazing long-lasting results for humanity. The process might take more than a hundred years to manifest into something great, but — what’s a hundred years in the whole scheme of things?
I would like to follow a story that begins shortly after the California gold rush when young George Hearst (1820-1891) left Missouri for the West in 1850 to try his hand at prospecting.
He first tried placer mining on the American river in nearby Sutter’s Mill. After realizing that most of the easy gold had already been found, George began studying geology in his spare time while running a general store that catered to miners. It turned out that his scientific approach as a mining engineer made him very rich. Eventually he was to become a partner in the Comstock and Ophir mines in Nevada, the Ontario silver mine in Utah, the Homestake mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda mine in Montana. In 1862 he married Phoebe Apperson and the couple moved to San Francisco were they lived in a house on the corner of Chestnut and Leavenworth.
George and Phoebe Hearst had one son in 1863 whom they named William Randolph (1863-1951). Young William had a chance to experience the world as few do and, at the age of ten, he embarked with his mother on a year-and-a-half long world tour. Throughout his life he dreamed of building an estate similar to those he had seen in Europe as a boy. Hearst Castle, overlooking San Simeon Bay, would become the realization of that dream. Together with famed San Francisco architect Julia Morgan, Hearst would collaborate to construct a castle like the ones he viewed on his boyhood trip.
The Hearst Castle estate has a magnificent main house, Casa Grande, and three very large guest houses. The guest houses are of the Mediterranean Revival style, while the imposing towers of Casa Grande were inspired by the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda, Spain. The entire estate is a myriad of historic architectural styles. All total, there are more than 90,000 square feet under roof within the main grounds. Hearst was an insatiable buyer who did not purchase art and antiques to furnish his home but, rather, built his castle to get his art collection out of storage and into use.
In the 1920s and 1930s a personal invitation to the Hearst Castle was something very special. The Hollywood and political elite would visit often and there could be one hundred stay-over guests at any given time. There were no restrictions on how long one could stay once invited, but your place at the dinner table would keep moving further away from Mr. Hearst as time went by. Some of the notable guests from that era include Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Bob Hope, Hedda Hopper, Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies — the list goes on.
Hearst Castle has 165 rooms, including 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms and a two-story main kitchen. The estate also has both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield and at one time housed the world’s largest private zoo. William Hearst and Julia Morgan’s twenty-eight year collaboration was destined to become one of the world’s great achievements.
After William’s death, the property and castle estate were donated by the Hearst family to the state in 1958. The castle and grounds now serve as a meticulously maintained California State Park that can be enjoyed by all of us. The park offers many tours daily and is open year round. The official website is www.HearstCastle.com. Once the guided tour is finished, guests are allowed as much time as needed to enjoy the grounds. When you are ready to leave, just get on one of the buses which run every ten minutes down the five mile winding road back to the welcome center.
Hearst Castle joined the National Register of Historic Places on June 22, 1972 and became a United States National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976.
Photos of Hearst Castle by Sal Maccarone