When we first moved to California years ago, I wanted to see San Simeon, Hearst Castle.
My new friends laughed at me. "Ostentatious," "flamboyant," "garish," "tasteless show of wealth" were the words they used to explain why they had never gone.
I was expecting that. What I wasn't expecting is that I felt so comfortable there. Of all the places I had been in my life, this is where I wanted to live. Forever.
Instead of priceless antiques and eclectic styles, I saw classic, beautifully designed surroundings and comfortable old furniture inviting me to curl up with the dogs and read a book.
William Randolph Hearst amassed a fortune in the newspaper business, becoming one of the most powerful men in the country. In 1915 he hired Julia Morgan, to design and build a home on the property where his family had often gone camping when he was young.
Ms. Morgan had a degree in civil engineering from U.C. Berkeley and a certificate in architecture from the Ecole in Paris.
While most people bring back trinkets when they go to Europe, Hearst brought back centuries old ceilings, statuary, and castle walls. His huge collections of antiques were stored in warehouses, and the challenge for Ms. Morgan was to construct a property that would encompass his collection...while still retaining the informality that he remembered from his family camping days.
In the dining room today are ornate sterling silver candleabra sitting next to Heinz catsup bottles.
Construction started in 1919 and continued until 1947 as his collection was incorporated into the estate. Completed, Hearst Castle has 100 rooms, extensive gardens and two pools. An area was set aside for wild animals to roam on the grounds.
Out of the hodgepodge of Mr. Heart's shopping trips, this amazing woman had created what to me was a place of unity and serenity.
Hearst died in 1951. In 1957 the property was donated to the state of California where it is maintained as a state historic park.
Hearst loved little Dachshunds and had several of them during his life.
They followed him everywhere he went, even into the pools. He had special ramps built for them so that they could easily get in and out.
When Helen, one of his Dachshunds, died, the editor of an LA newspaper expressed his sympathy. Hearst replied with this beauiful elegy:
You know, Frank, a boy and his dog are no more inseparable companions than an old fellow and his dog. An old bozo is a nuisance to almost everybody —except his dog. . . . She always slept on a big chair in my room and her solicitous gaze followed me to bed at night and was the first thing to greet me when I woke in the morning. Then when I arose she begged for the special distinction of being put in my bed. . . .
Aldous Huxley says: 'Every dog thinks its master Napoleon, hence the popularity of dogs.' That is not the strict truth. Every dog adores its master notwithstanding the master's imperfections of which it is probably acutely aware. .
So as your dog loves you, you come to love your dog. Not because it thinks you are Napoleon, not because YOU think you are Napoleon. Not because you WANT to be Napoleon. But because love creates love, devotion inspires devotion, unselfishness begets unselfishness and self-sacrifice. . . .
Helen died in my bed and in my arms. . . . I will not need a monument to remember her. But I am placing over her little grave a stone with the inscription:
Here lies dearest Helen —my devoted friend.