What God Would Build … if He had the Money

William Randolph Hearst’s   father made big bucks from silver mining in Nevada’s Comstock Lode and then used some of the money to buy thousands of acres rancho along the California coast.  The land was really isolated back then and cheap.   It still is a bit isolated, but it is a fantastically beautiful place. 

William Randolph Hearst went with his mother on the grand tour of Europe and developed an appreciation for European art and culture.  After he made the big fortune he inherited even bigger, the project of his later life was to build this castle on the hill overlooking the Pacific.  George Bernard Shaw commented the castle at San Simeon was the kind of place God would build if he had the money.

I got my impressions of Hearst from “Citizen Kane” and his behavior during the Spanish American War.  Suffice to say that the picture is incomplete and inaccurate and I learned some history on this trip. I won’t bore you with the details, which you can easily find elsewhere.  I will contribute some pictures and comments.  

Above – you couldn’t stray off the path except at the point where the guide invited people to sit in the wicker chairs and feel for a few minutes what it is like to be rich.  Below is the indoor pool.  It is ten feet deep throughout the whole pool. The gold color you see is actually gold leaf. The man had the big bucks to spend.

Below is the outdoor Neptune pool. Many of the columns are actually from Roman ruins.  It is nice, but it reminds me of something you might find in Las Vegas.

San Simeon has a lot of bona-fide art. Hearst was able to buy much of it inexpensively after World War II.  You couldn’t do that today, both because of the prices. There are more rich people today and they have bid up the prices.  And there are also many more restrictions on export of art. 

The practical difference between rich and poor have actually decreased, despite ostensible greater income gaps. A century ago, only the rich could experience these things. Only the rich had telephones, electricity, refrigerator etc. There is a sort of threshold, when you have enough. The difference between refrigerator and having one is much greater than having a cheap version and the top-of-the-line.  Re telephones, everybody can afford phones with more features then they know how to use.

The castle is really cool, but it would have been a lot more impressive to people back then than it is now, at least to anybody who has visited Las Vegas.  We have seen reasonable copies, bigger pools etc.  Frankly, I liked the views and the gardens the most, as you might guess by my pictures. If I lived there, I would spend most of my time sitting outside or wandering the hills.