Walter Mencken 2:08 p.m., Aug. 27
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Heading to Hearst Castle
Castles in California? I never would have imagined. Having been to Europe three times and seen them in Prague, Edinburgh, and London, you can imagine my amazement when I heard about it. Taking a trip from San Diego to San Simeon, I was more than excited when I finally came to what founder William Randolph Hearst referred to as ‘The Enchanted Hill’. Purchasing my admission ticket at the visitor’s center, I then enjoyed a scenic bus drive to where the actual ‘castle’ was. During the drive, I was surprised to hear a recording of the voice of ‘Jeopardy’ host Alex Trebek explaining several facts related to the castle and its founder. Born April 29th, 1863 to a silver baron father and a school teacher mother, Hearst spent the majority of his youth traveling the world with his mother. While doing so, he learned to appreciate the art and architecture that he saw there, especially in Europe. In his late 50’s, Hearst, already a successful newspaper publisher, hired Julia Morgan, a renowned architect, to help him complete his dream of bringing the magic he encountered in far away places to his family estate. With production beginning in 1919, it wasn’t completed until 1947 and cost an estimated 10 million dollars which, at that time, was a fortune! Reaching the castle, I was taken a back at the similarities to the ones I had seen before in Europe. The entrance to El Casa Grande, the name of the main building, had doors that looked like they were originally intended for a cathedral. The fountains in front were also very impressive. Meeting the tour guide, I readily entered El Casa Grande. Surrounded by eloquent art from places and time periods as diverse as ancient Greece and Rome to medieval Spain, France, and Italy, I stood and listened as the tour guide spoke of several stories and anecdotes and also named a who’s who of the visitors to the castle. Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, The Marx Brothers, Several Presidents and foreign dignitaries were only but a few who visited regularly. From the pool-hall lounge to the enormous dining room to every bedroom that was the size of a small house, yes all 56 of them, to say that Mr. Hearst had exquisite taste was a definite understatement. The ceilings of every room were custom made and some had to be flown in all the way from Europe, wow! When the tour ended, I was free to explore the Castles’ gardens, tennis courts, and both of its swimming pools. The gardens were lovely, with several exotic plants from all over the world. The first pool I looked at was the Ancient Rome inspired ‘Neptune Pool’. Complete with statues of the Roman Sea God and several nymphs and swans, the view from the rest of San Simeon below was serene. I then followed my feet to the rightfully named ‘Roman Pool’. With the appearance of an indoor Roman bathhouse, it was the only portion of the gymnasium completed and was rarely used. On the bus trip back to the visitor’s center, I wasn’t disappointed at all nor do I believe anyone would be who comes to the ‘Enchanted Hill’. There, one could experience the opulence of castles from overseas without the plane trip usually required to do so.