Day Sixteen: The Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California (1975)

RetroSign3-1975Day 16 (Sept. 9, 1975): Mom, Dad, Kurt and I checked out of one “castle” (the seaside motel called Castle Inn in Cambria, Calif.) in search of another – the sprawling Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.

Listed as both a National and California Historical Landmark, the eclectic Hearst Castle is a place you have to see to believe. According to Wiki, the estate feaures “56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo.”

William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), the American newspaper publisher, chose the site on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Simeon, California (halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco) to build his several mansions and to display his large collection of art and antiques. Open for public tours, the Hearst Castle and grounds are sometimes collectively called “San Simeon“.

The Castle, built between 1919 and 1947, was never fully finished because of persistent tinkering and design changes by Hearst. For example, the outdoor Neptune Pool, located near the edge of the hilltop, was rebuilt three times until Hearst was satisfied. The pool has incredible views of the mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the main house. Adjacent to the pool is an ancient Roman temple front, transported entirely from Europe.

The Neptune Pool (Photo Credit: Stan Shebs)
The Neptune Pool (Photo Credit: Stan Shebs)

I remember all the “ooohs” and “aaaahs” of the public during the guided tour of the Neptune Pool and the main mansion. At the time, the water in the outdoor pool shimmered with the clearest blue tones. Unfortunately, since 2014, the pool has been drained dry because of severe drought conditions and leaks in the pool.

Two historical footnotes are connected with the Hearst family.

First, the lead character in Orson Welles’s film, Citizen Kane (1941), was patterned after William Randolph Hearst. The movie is often voted “the best movie of all time” by critics, filmmakers and fans.

Warning: Spoiler ending for Citizen Kane

The second odd footnote concerns Hearst’s granddaughter, Patty Hearst (born 1954). In 1974, while a 19-year-old student, she was kidnapped by a left-wing terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army and, she claims, she was brainwashed and threatened with death. Patty Hearst made propaganda announcements on behalf of the SLA and was convicted of bank robbery, following her discovery 19 months after the kidnapping. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter, and she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

A Final Footnote: My old Journal notes that after the tour, we ate at a local Sambo’s Restaurant. (“We had a hamburger with french fries and a Coke served on a frisbee, which we could keep.”)

At its peak, Sambo's, the American restaurant chain, had 1,117 outlets in 47 states.
At its peak in 1979, Sambo’s, the American restaurant chain, had 1,117 outlets in 47 states.

Because the name “Sambo” was perceived as a pejorative against African-Americans, the restaurant faced many lawsuits and protests. Images inspired by the book, The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899), often decorated the restaurant’s walls – including a dark-skinned boy, tigers, and a pale, magical unicycle-riding man. But the downward spiral of failed corporate name changes, corporate decisions and bankruptcy could not stop Sambo’s demise. By 1983, Sambo’s had closed its doors, save for the one original remaining restaurant in Santa Barbara, California.

Interactive Google Map of the places mentioned above:

Map-Cambria to SanSimeon to SF


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