William Randolph Hearst ran a newspaper empire in the days when newspapers were king.
Today, his creative energy lives on at La Cuesta Encantada — the Enchanted Hill, his famous castle filled with art and antiques near San Simeon on the Central Coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which he shared at the end of his life with longtime mistress/actress Marion Davies.
But what I didn't know until later research was his effort on behalf of European Jewry during the Holocaust.
Hearst published news about Hitler's liquidation of the Jews well before other American newspapers were doing so, and he also advocated a Jewish homeland.
As a newspaper publisher, he was all hands-on (especially when engaged in a bout of "yellow journalism" — shady, if not altogether misleading, reporting — with longtime publishing nemesis Joseph Pulitzer when both ran New York papers).
Around 1:30 on any given morning — after dinner with his guests in the magnificent refectory room and after taking in a movie with them in the castle's theater — he would retire to his third-floor residence and edit the major stories that would appear in his newspapers the next day.
Construction of his fairytale castle began in 1920 and continued until 1947. Today, it is part of the California State Parks, and welcomes about a million visitors each year who enjoy its magnificent gardens and terraces, its spectacular interiors and the rich flourishes of art.
We boarded the Hearst Castle tour bus at the spacious visitor center for the five-mile drive up the hill to the castle — home of the man immortalized in the Orson Welles 1941 classic, "Citizen Kane."
Rooms With a View
One of the keys to appreciating the castle is, of course, knowing the story of Julia Morgan, the young San Francisco architect whom Hearst hired after she was in business for only three years.
Ironically, Hearst told Morgan that the castle would take no more than two years to complete, but their collaboration lasted more than 20 years, culminating in an estate numbering 156 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.
Morgan was a pioneer in her own right, using steel-reinforced concrete, and becoming one of the first women to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering.
If you're looking for a place to stay while visiting the castle, the Morgan, named after the architect, is a very comfortable boutique hotel nearby in San Simeon, featuring displays of her drawings for the castle.
Morgan described the castle enterprise as a small southern European village high above the Pacific, a good description when one considers her arrangement of the Mediterranean Revival guest cottages, the gardens, and of course, Hearst's imposing, 115-room residence, the Casa Grande, whose towers call to mind a European cathedral.
The first thing we saw as we walked up the steps of the castle grounds was Neptune's Pool, a magnificent outdoor, Greco-Roman work with four 17th-century Italian bas-reliefs on the sides of massive colonnades.
Then, in one of the guest cottages, I imagined we were eavesdropping when I spied a straw hat sitting on a Stetson box — much as a guest might have left it!
In the massive refectory, we stood next to the long dinner table, imagining Hearst's guests in animated conversation under reproductions of medieval flags from the sovereign Italian city-state of Siena.
Oddly enough, the table was set picnic-style, with paper napkins and bottles of French's mustard and Del Monte tomato ketchup, perhaps a reflection of the "roughing it" aura that was meant to conjure up a pre-castle atmosphere.
Meals would include beef from the Hearst property's working cattle ranch.
Hearst's guests were a veritable "Who's Who" of the rich and the famous, with movie stars like Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford; top political leaders such as Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge; and notables like Will Rogers and the American astronomer Edwin Hubble. The entertainer Bob Hope and his wife Delores also spent their honeymoon here.
If you were a newly arrived guest, you would be seated close to Hearst, but as your stay extended, you'd be moved further down the table — a subtle reminder from your host.
When you visit, be sure to take in the quaint village of Cambria, a few miles south of the Morgan, to enjoy its many restaurants and cafes, and galleries and shops, including great antiques.
For more information, see: www. HearstCastle.com.