European castles usually follow a single architectural style and have a long, bloodied history.
Set amidst 137 acres of floral gardens, cobblestoned paths, and sculpture rich terraces, the Hispano-Moresque style main house overlooks three Italian renaissance style guesthouses and a Greco-Roman style swimming pool.
Built as a summer retreat for William Randolph Hearst, the multi-millionaire publishing tycoon and movie producer, it is one of the most opulent and extravagant estates in the world.
Materials old and new were used to construct the buildings. Steel, iron, and cement provided a base for antique architectural elements acquired from European stately homes, monasteries, and churches.
The exterior of Casa Grande, the 130 room main house, features twin towers emblazed with 12th century Spanish motifs, Moorish blue and gold tiles, and a 36-bell carillon from Belgium.
Inside, Spanish Baroque doorways blend with French Romanesque fireplaces and hand carved Spanish and Italian wooden ceiling panels. It’s a stately atmosphere that’s further enhanced (or perhaps, more accurately, overwhelmed) by gothic furniture, Persian carpets, Italian and Spanish icon religious paintings, Greek vases, and medieval tapestries.
By 1927, Hearst Castle had become the social and architectural focus of Southern California. Society gossip columnist Heidi Hopper described a visit there like being in ‘never never land’.
The weekend guest list – Winston Churchill, Gloria Swanson, Clark Gable, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin – read like a who’s who of the early twentieth century.
By day, the guests did pretty much as they liked, lounging by the pool, playing tennis, or riding out in search of the exotic zoo animals imported to the ranch by William Hearst.
But at night, one had to adhere to a set routine. Believing that it was dangerous for his high spirited and temperamental guests to wander at will during the dark hours, Hearst insisted that they all gathered in the Assembly room for drinks, the Refectory for dinner, and then the Theater for a screening of home movies.
Today, anyone can visit Hearst Castle. But they too must adhere to a set routine. No one is allowed to wander at will. Instead, they must take a tour if they want to get a glimpse into Hearst’s extraordinary castle.
(Disclosure: the writer was hosted by san luis obispo county visitors & conference bureau on her visit to Hearst Castle, staying at the FogCatcher Inn)