National Lampoon's (California) Vacation Part IV
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 13
Megan and I got up early and regretfully said goodbye to the craziest hotel we've seen, let alone stayed at, so we could make it to San Simeon in time for our 10:20 tour of the Hearst Castle. Now, for those not familiar with the Hearst Castle, this may seem like a pretty odd tourist destination. Especially when you consider that when Megan asked me before our trip what the one thing I wanted to do when we got California was, and I said that we should tour the Hearst Castle.
The reasons I wanted to take the tour are numerous, but basically it all starts with my love of the movie Citizen Kane. The movie was loosely based on the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), with Orson Welles' Charles Foster Kane standing in for Hearst. The movie even featured a fascimile of the Hearst Castle which they called Xanadu. After seeing Citizen Kane and sunsequent doccumentaries about Hearst, many of which feature the opulance of Hearst Castle, I knew that it would be quite a sight to behold first hand.
The pictures above are two I took from the visitors' center. Before his death, the castle sat on a huge chunk of property that was 250,000 acres in size. Big enough to house Hearst's own private landing strip for his plane, the castle itself, servants quarters, a ranch for the ranchers, cattle, and at one time the world's largest private zoo. Not only does the property still house cattle, but other animals from the zoo also roam the hills to this day, including Roosevelt elk and zebras! The only way allowed to the castle is to take a bus for a 5 mile ride from the visitors' center.
The first stop on the tour is the Neptune Pool which looks out to the mountains of the central coast. One really cool aspect of the design of the pool is that it looks completely level, when in actuality it is 3 ft. deep at one end and 10 ft. deep at the other.
This is the rear entrance to one of the guest houses, the Casa del Sol. This particular guest house overlooked the pool and also connected to the pool's changing rooms. This was one of three guest houses at the castle and with 18 rooms and 2,604 square feet, it's probably bigger than most visitors regular houses.
The front of Casa del Sol.
One of the bedrooms inside Casa del Sol.
This is the exterior and entrance to the main house at the castle, Casa Grande which is 60,645 square feet. To give you some perspective as to how big it actually is on the outside, those crosses at the top are 8 ft. tall. Casa Grande is so big in fact that if you want to see the whole thing, you have to take multiple tours.
Here's a shot of the first of 5 rooms we got to see at in Casa Grande. This one was called the Assembly Room and it was freakin' huge. I don't remember the exact dimensions, but our tour guide said that the square footage for the room itself was bigger than the average four bedroom house. My favorite architectural detail about the room was that the ceiling could be raised and lowered to better suit the artwork on the walls when they were occasionally switched out.
Here's a shot of the Refectory, the only dining room at the castle. Supposedly, newer or favored guests got to sit closer to Hearst. Those he was tired of were seated farther and farther away from him.
This is a detail of the Refectory ceiling.
Here's a shot I stole off of the web of the Billiard Room. Since they don't allow flash photography and there's scaffolding up for restoration they're doing to the ceiling, I couldn't get a decent shot. But I wanted to post it to point out how insanely rich this guy was. That ceiling that they're restoring? It's a15th century ceiling from Barbastro in northeastern Spain which Hearst had shipped over and installed. Think about that. That ceiling dates back to before Columbus "discovered" America and this guy had it put in his house. Normally, that would probably be astounding enough in and of itself, but its even more so when you consider that he ended making it the centerpiece for what basically equates to his "rumpus room."
This is Hearst's private movie theatre. Keeping in mind that its the biggest room in Casa Grande, it kind of puts your home theatre to shame, huh? It actually reminded me somewhat of the old Westroads Theatres inside the mall. Except much, much nicer.
Detail of a statue in the theatre room.
The last stop on the tour was Hearst's indoor pool, or the Roman Pool. This pool was amazing. Ornate and beautiful as it was, it was seldom used as the pool was 10 ft. deep throughout and unfortunately, most people at the time didn't know how to swim. My favorite element was the little alcove you can see in the upper right which was also the diving platform. By the way, just so you know, if it looks like gold at the Hearst Castle, it is. All that gold tile you see in the Roman Pool is tiles of actual 24k gold sandwiched between tiles of clear glass. Megan and are actually thinking of using a similar technique when we remodel our bathroom...
Another shot of the Roman Pool.
And that was it. After taking the bus back to the visitors' center, Megan and I made our way back down the coast, but not before we stopped to check out some seals hanging out on the beach.
I know that they look like they're all dead, but trust me, they were just sunning themselves.
Anyhow, we drove all the way back to LA and stayed at the Holiday Inn by LAX. Our final night was unspectacular, as I'm sure any stay at a Holiday Inn just having finished immersing ourselves in the architecture of the Madonna Inn and the Hearst Castle.
Before I go, though, we have one last picture that I snapped in LAX waiting to board our plane.
Check out the Rear Admiral on the laptop. Only in LA, my friends, only in LA...