Son of the West, King of the Castle
In Hearst's mind, to have the compound of his dreams, money was never a hurdle. When a 100-year-old oak stood in the way of one of his design whims, the tree was moved (at a cost of about $40,000), rather than destroyed; towers were demolished and rebuilt as the scale of the building expanded; swimming pools were ripped out and replaced twice. With all the comings and goings of animals, guests, workers, and priceless art, it's no wonder, said Lyons, that the lord of the manor was sometimes testy.
On one night Lyons described a driver was late getting back from Hollywood with a movie to be screened that evening. In his rush to deliver it, he nearly ran over Hearst's cherished hound, Helen. "We heard W.R. yelling in his high voice, 'You're fired, you're fired, you almost hit the dog,' " Lyons recalled. "Miss Davies was running along behind, saying, 'You're not fired, you're not fired, keep doing what you were doing.'"
Davies was always the funny mollifier, Hearst's true love, muse, and confidant. Of all the fictions mixed with facts in Citizen Kane, the one that reportedly cut Hearst deepest was the insinuation that Davies—thinly disguised in the movie as Kane's second wife, a blond alcoholic—was devoid of talent and dependent on Hearst to prop up her career. Even Orson Welles said the opposite was true. "Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen," the director wrote in a 1975 foreword to Davies's posthumously published memoir. "She would have been a star if Hearst had never happened."
The man who could and did buy everything saved his Castle's best view for himself. It's the vista from his bedroom window of the roaring edge of the Western frontier, a dividing line of crashing waves and swirling foam where the Pacific flirts with the weathered hills. Hearst was a true son of the West, and even those who hate much of what he stood for have to admire his exuberance and undying faith in the future. "Many Easterners never clearly understood what made Pop and his fellow Westerners tick," Will Hearst Jr. once wrote. "[His] America was yet to be discovered—a land and people of incalculable hope amid endless horizons."
Like her client, Julia Morgan was a demanding workaholic who lived on coffee and chocolate bars and spent 28 years of weekends overseeing construction at San Simeon. She kept busy in San Francisco during the week, designing at least 700 other buildings in her lifetime. Hearst's oversize abode isn't the only place to get swept away by the architect's pioneering work.
In 1897, when Julia Morgan first applied to the architecture school at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the admissions officials hadn't bothered to conceive of the notion. A woman architect? But why?
Soaring churches, groundbreaking women's clubs, hundreds of homes both grand and spare, sumptuous swimming pools, and Hearst Castle are Morgan's eloquent retort.
All this from a person who looks in photographs like a timid soul. Owlish spectacles overshadow her features and her petite frame appears featherlight. But Morgan (1872-1957) possessed the spark to spend two years in Paris fighting for—and winning—entrance to the world's most prestigious school of architecture. "She had to have enormous persistence," says Nancy Loe, archivist for the Julia Morgan Collection at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Her creativity flowered mainly in California and embraced many styles—arts and crafts, Gothic, Italianate, and others. Despite this diversity, one word unites her eclectic oeuvre: romantic.
It's not so much an architectural label as pure, heartfelt description. See for yourself at these treasures:
Morgan insisted that her designs complement the surrounding landscape. Asilomar, a retreat/conference center in Pacific Grove run by the California State Parks, is the apex of that ideal. Her buildings soar with open ceilings, redwood beams, stone fireplaces, and earthy elegance befitting the cypress-strewn, ocean-side site.
The Berkeley City Club is a six-story neo-Gothic fantasy of garden courtyards, intimate alcoves, and dramatic fireplaces. "It was her castle," says Lynn Forney McMurray, Morgan's goddaughter. Today, the club is open to the public for dining.
Oakland's Chapel of the Chimes, a crematory and columbarium, glows with the golden sunlight that filters through its stained-glass ceilings. Morgan crafted a spiritual maze of 150 rooms, no two exactly alike. Visitors are welcome daily 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Morgan had been in practice for only two years when she accepted the monumental assignment of repairing San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel, which had sustained severe damage in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The Fairmont was the first hotel in the city to reopen (with a party that featured 600 pounds of turtle and 13,000 oysters).
Frugal travelers with an imagination will enjoy the Hacienda, a mission-style ranch estate where the Hearst family entertained celebrity pals. Today the property, in remote Jolon, California, is owned and surrounded by Fort Hunter Liggett army base.