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The Cultural Value of La Cuesta Encantada and the Economic Impact of Hearst Castle

The Cultural Value of La Cuesta Encantada and the Economic Impact of Hearst Castle

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The Cultural Value of La Cuesta Encantada and theEconomic Impact of Hearst Castle
Nicholas Franco, SuperintendentCalifornia State Parks, San Luis Obispo Coast District
One may hear many different reactions upon hearing the name, “Hearst Castle.” Somehave an image of a gaudy, overstuffed house. Many wonder exactly where San Simeonis. Others have only vaguely heard of it. Some imagine Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadufrom the movie
Citizen Kane 
. Others know that it was the home of one of the first truegiants in establishing a media empire, William Randolph Hearst. Whatever peoplethink, it is a place defined almost more by people’s pre-conceived perception of it ratherthan their understanding of its history and their own personal experience. It is moredefined by the sensational media that Hearst created than by the reality of the place.
Camp Hill to La Cuesta Encantada
Hearst himself did not refer to the site as “Hearst Castle.” To him, it was the Ranch,San Simeon or La Cuesta Encantada, the Enchanted Hill. It was enchanted to Hearstfrom his days as a boy traveling to his father’s ranch. His father’s story is an Americanstory and the classic Western story. George Hearst found Western treasure – silver.His fortune made in mining, he was able to expand his wealth through good businesspractices. When William was two, in 1865, his father purchased 30,000 acres on theCalifornia Coast. Over several years the acreage grew to more than 250,000 acres.Young William loved his time on the ranch where he could sleep in tents, ride horsesand enjoy the spectacular coastline in this remote section of California, halfway betweenLos Angeles and San Francisco. One of his favorite spots to camp was a hill,appropriately called Camp Hill, where there were expansive views of hundreds of milesof land, sky and water.William also loved the travels abroad with his mother, Phoebe. Phoebe exposed heronly child to the many treasures and wonders of European design and art. Here hedeveloped his taste for masterly crafted pieces. It was not simply paintings or
sculptures that attracted W. R. Hearst, it was any object that showed the craftsmanshipof the artist whether it was tapestries, architectural features, carved ceilings or furniture.W. R. Hearst collected from the arts throughout his life. He launched a media empirethat started in 1887 with the San Francisco Examiner and soon included newspapers inNew York and Chicago. Ultimately, these grew to more than 36 publications throughoutthe country. As his influence and his wealth grew, he continued his passion forcollecting. His love of architecture also grew during this time as he began to see themany ways in which ornament could be used in building.While W. R. Hearst was building his business, young architect Julia Morgan was fullyachieving her own genius. In 1894, she graduated from the University of California andmoved to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, becoming the first woman tograduate from the finest architectural program in the world in 1901. Returning to SanFrancisco, she received significant work commissions from Phoebe Hearst and throughthe rebuilding efforts after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake.Her career continued to grow as she developed a unique western style of architectureusing reinforced concrete with Beaux Arts design principles and well as influences fromAmerican and European design concepts.In 1919, a significant event happened to both Julia Morgan and W. R. Hearst: PhoebeApperson Hearst died during the influenza epidemic. Julia Morgan’s career was wellestablished, but the supporter of her early career was gone. For W. R. Hearst, hismother’s passing not only meant the loss of his remaining parent, but the inheritance ofthe entire Hearst fortune and properties, including the ranch he loved so much.At the age of 56, he writes to Julia Morgan about his love of the ranch and his wonderfulmemories of being there camping, but now he “would like to build something up on thehill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a littleold for that.”Over the next 28 years, Miss Morgan and Mr. Hearst work together through tens ofthousands of detailed designs and more than 1,000 letters to create an architecturalmasterpiece that is filled with an equally impressive masterpiece of a collection.Hearst employed and Morgan supervised hundreds of artists and constructions workers.All the while, Hearst personally selected thousands of art objects to display throughoutthe estate. This wide-ranging collection included Renaissance furniture, textiles,architectural elements, antique ceilings, ancient pottery, and silver pieces. Hearst andMorgan worked together to decide the placement of each piece within the structure.Morgan would then design the work of artisans who would create appropriate places forthe display. This blend of antique and modern craftsmanship defines the wonder of LaCuesta Encantada. As Julia Morgan noted about the site: “The country needsarchitectural museums, not just places where you hang paintings and sculpture.”
Public Perception of La Cuesta Encantada
Running a media empire, Hearst new the power of the press and used it often. Thesocial history of the ranch included the powerful and famous of the day includingWinston Churchill, Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin and Calvin Coolidge. Along with thispower to run the media and public perceptions comes those who wish to compete withthat power and have their own.In 1940, Orson Welles released his controversial movie,
Citizen Kane 
. The movie is awonderful piece of filmmaking. It is also an attack on the perception of who WilliamRandolph Hearst was. While not factual and certainly inflammatory, the image ofCharles Foster Kane in the movie is what many of the day were led to believe was thetrue history of William Randolph Hearst. In it, Kane is portrayed as a megalomaniacwho builds a folly of a castle on a hill in Florida where he lives in seclusion with hismistress. He dies in his empty castle, alone.The irony of the film is that it is how many people still today perceive William RandolphHearst and his Ranch. The man who is credited with the invention of yellow journalism,investigative reporting and news sensationalism was himself defined by that samemedia through a film that redefined who he was. The public still calls the place HearstCastle.
Donation to California State Parks
William Randolph Hearst dies in 1951. He is not alone and he is not at the Ranch asKane is at Xanadu in
Citizen Kane 
. In fact, Hearst had last visited San Simeon in 1947.After his death, the Hearst Corporation donated the hilltop and land adjacent to HighwayOne to provide for public tours of the site as a monument to Mr. Hearst and his mother,Phoebe. On June 2, 1958, the first public tours were given at Hearst Castle.Since that time, approximately 700,000 people visit Hearst Castle annually. Themission of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration, and educationof the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biologicaldiversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creatingopportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation.Preservation of the site for future generations is critical to achieving this mission. As apublicly funded site, there are many challenges to meeting the obligations of caring forthe historic structures, the more than 22,000 artifacts and the many acres of the culturallandscape. The staff focused on restoration efforts has developed an enormous skill setwith which to address preservation and restoration of cast stone features, marble andmosaic works, application of gold leafing and other similar techniques. The curatorialstaff is well trained in care of the site’s collections including the tapestries, furnishings,sculptures, paintings, ceilings and many other types of collection. The guide staff is wellversed in the techniques of delivering interpretive messages to the visitors in anengaging and relevant way that dispels myths, provides information and inspires in thevisitor an appreciation for the significance of the site.

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