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

Nicholas Franco, Superintendent California State Parks, San Luis Obispo Coast District One may hear many different reactions upon hearing the name, “Hearst Castle.” Some have an image of a gaudy, overstuffed house. Many wonder exactly where San Simeon is. Others have only vaguely heard of it. Some imagine Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu from the movie Citizen Kane. Others know that it was the home of one of the first true giants in establishing a media empire, William Randolph Hearst. Whatever people think, it is a place defined almost more by people’s pre-conceived perception of it rather than their understanding of its history and their own personal experience. It is more defined 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 Hearst from his days as a boy traveling to his father’s ranch. His father’s story is an American story 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 business practices. When William was two, in 1865, his father purchased 30,000 acres on the California 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 horses and enjoy the spectacular coastline in this remote section of California, halfway between Los 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 miles of land, sky and water. William also loved the travels abroad with his mother, Phoebe. Phoebe exposed her only child to the many treasures and wonders of European design and art. Here he developed 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 craftsmanship of 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 empire that started in 1887 with the San Francisco Examiner and soon included newspapers in New York and Chicago. Ultimately, these grew to more than 36 publications throughout the country. As his influence and his wealth grew, he continued his passion for collecting. His love of architecture also grew during this time as he began to see the many ways in which ornament could be used in building. While W. R. Hearst was building his business, young architect Julia Morgan was fully achieving her own genius. In 1894, she graduated from the University of California and moved to Paris to attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, becoming the first woman to graduate from the finest architectural program in the world in 1901. Returning to San Francisco, she received significant work commissions from Phoebe Hearst and through the rebuilding efforts after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Her career continued to grow as she developed a unique western style of architecture using reinforced concrete with Beaux Arts design principles and well as influences from American and European design concepts. In 1919, a significant event happened to both Julia Morgan and W. R. Hearst: Phoebe Apperson Hearst died during the influenza epidemic. Julia Morgan’s career was well established, but the supporter of her early career was gone. For W. R. Hearst, his mother’s passing not only meant the loss of his remaining parent, but the inheritance of the 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 wonderful memories of being there camping, but now he “would like to build something up on the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little old for that.” Over the next 28 years, Miss Morgan and Mr. Hearst work together through tens of thousands of detailed designs and more than 1,000 letters to create an architectural masterpiece 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 throughout the estate. This wide-ranging collection included Renaissance furniture, textiles, architectural elements, antique ceilings, ancient pottery, and silver pieces. Hearst and Morgan 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 for the display. This blend of antique and modern craftsmanship defines the wonder of La Cuesta Encantada. As Julia Morgan noted about the site: “The country needs architectural 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. The social history of the ranch included the powerful and famous of the day including Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin and Calvin Coolidge. Along with this power to run the media and public perceptions comes those who wish to compete with that power and have their own. In 1940, Orson Welles released his controversial movie, Citizen Kane. The movie is a wonderful piece of filmmaking. It is also an attack on the perception of who William Randolph Hearst was. While not factual and certainly inflammatory, the image of Charles Foster Kane in the movie is what many of the day were led to believe was the true history of William Randolph Hearst. In it, Kane is portrayed as a megalomaniac who builds a folly of a castle on a hill in Florida where he lives in seclusion with his mistress. He dies in his empty castle, alone. The irony of the film is that it is how many people still today perceive William Randolph Hearst and his Ranch. The man who is credited with the invention of yellow journalism, investigative reporting and news sensationalism was himself defined by that same media through a film that redefined who he was. The public still calls the place Hearst Castle. Donation to California State Parks William Randolph Hearst dies in 1951. He is not alone and he is not at the Ranch as Kane 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 Highway One 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. The mission of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration, and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation. Preservation of the site for future generations is critical to achieving this mission. As a publicly funded site, there are many challenges to meeting the obligations of caring for the historic structures, the more than 22,000 artifacts and the many acres of the cultural landscape. The staff focused on restoration efforts has developed an enormous skill set with which to address preservation and restoration of cast stone features, marble and mosaic works, application of gold leafing and other similar techniques. The curatorial staff 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 well versed in the techniques of delivering interpretive messages to the visitors in an engaging and relevant way that dispels myths, provides information and inspires in the visitor an appreciation for the significance of the site.

Over the years, many decisions have been made that balance the need for visitor access with the duty to be responsible stewards of the site. Simply having that many feet walking on Persian rugs and that many hands near works of art is a challenge. We meet that challenge by constant monitoring of the tour routes and the impacts that are occurring. One example is the floor of the Roman Pool. It is one of the most spectacular sights on the hilltop. As such, it is important that visitors have a chance to see this space. However, the only way to view the area is by walking on a giant mosaic of glass tiles and gold leafing. The decision was made that a clearly defined path of travel will allow visitors to see the room and that area will be allowed to suffer the impacts of the many people walking on the tiles. As such, a program is in place to constantly repair the area using the techniques of the craftsmen who created it during Hearst’s time. This keeps the site’s appearance in tact for the visitors while protecting the original tiles in the other areas of the room.

A different strategy is used in the dining room, the Refectory. Antique banners from the Palio delle Contrade races in Siena, Italy hung in the room adding color to the Refectory. However, the silk flags became so fragile that their hanging in the room was a threat to their long term preservation. There was no way that the flags could be displayed as originally intended and be preserved. The flags were reproduced so that reproductions can hang in place to give the visitor the view of the room while the original flags were placed in storage under conditions to insure their long term preservation.

This underscores a clear distinction of what exactly Hearst Castle is. If it were simply a historic home, we may not care about the artifacts and allow them to deteriorate. Or, we may determine that the artifacts should all be removed and replaced with replicas. If it were a museum, we would ignore its decorative aspect as a furnished building and move artifacts to better display them to the pubic and ignore the way they were displayed during Hearst’s time. However, the site is both a historic home and a museum with a world-class collection. As such, the placement of artifacts within rooms are part of the harmonious design envisioned by Hearst and Morgan. The intrinsic value of each item is only enhanced by seeing its placement within the space created by Morgan. We make every effort to keep everything authentic to Hearst and Morgan’s design. However, as the two examples above highlight, decisions may be made in the best interest of artifacts or in the best interest of the visitor depending upon the specific issue at hand. The Economic Engine of Heritage Tourism One of the ongoing debates and struggles throughout historic preservation, parks and other related fields is finding that right balance between preservation and use. The arguments are frequently that only through use of preserved sites will there be the understanding and value to save them. At the same time, the overuse of sites and irreplaceable artifacts can destroy them for future generations. At Hearst Castle, there is an incredible amount of pressure to “use the site.” These pressures come in many forms. Hearst Castle is part of California State Parks. As with most public park agencies, California State Parks is dependent upon General Fund revenues to operate. There is always increasing pressure to bring more revenue to the agency to relieve some of the General Fund obligations. At sites like Hearst Castle, a very large amount of revenue could be generated by charging a high entrance fee and

additional fees for “value-added” features. Maximizing per-visitor revenue would also likely lead to a slight decrease in visitation. We have a recent example to evaluate the theory. In 2000, California had a significant surplus of revenue and, with a healthy General Fund, increased support to California State Parks and reduced the fees to sites by nearly half. The goal of this action was to make parks more affordable to a larger economic cross-section of the people of California. The number of tours given did, in fact, increase slightly by 7%. The revenue did decrease by about 5%. However, as the economy tends to change rapidly, California found itself in a deficit by 2003. To address this, California State Parks was directed to raise its fees back to its previous levels. Visitation declined by 11%. However, revenue increased by over 12%. There are frequently calls for government to run more like business. It clearly costs more to operate the site when there are more visitors. A decrease in attendance reduces the operating costs. If you can decrease your operating costs while still increasing revenues, that would be a business success. One could argue that the fee could continue to be adjusted higher until revenue was maximized and the threshold of diminishing returns by declining attendance affecting revenue is reached. This would have another positive affect on the collections. Less people traveling through the site means that there would be less impact to the collections and would result in better preservation of the many artifacts and the structure. While reducing visitation has a positive impact on preservation of the site and collection, and if revenues are up, that may be good for the site, there is the overall economic impact for heritage tourism in the area. San Luis Obispo County relies on tourism for a substantial portion of the local economy. The County sees over $900 million spent annually that is directly related to tourism. The average visitor spends $87 per day on hotels, restaurants, and retail items in the local area. Using this formula, a reduction of 10% in visitation has an impact of more than $6 million to the local economy annually. Another way of looking at the impact of Hearst Castle to the local economy is, using the same figure, that the site is responsible for generating more that $60 million annually to the local economy. The critical element here is looking at the revenue needs of the site without losing site of the overall economic health of the local economy. The analysis of this dynamic may be one of the most dangerous activities that a cultural sites does. Sites like Hearst Castle need to be aware of revenues, costs and economic impacts, but that is not the measure of success. Conclusion The fundamental measure of success for any organization is how well it is achieving its mission. For Hearst Castle, the question we must ask is not revenue based or even

how well we are preserving the structure. It is: are we operating in a way that best provides for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California? Revenue is one measurement. So, too, is attendance. The condition of the site and its collection are critical to achieving the mission. There are many measurements, but focusing on measurements makes it easier to lose sight of the mission, and, as a result, the purpose, authenticity, and value of the site may be lost. The flexibility and adaptability of the organization is the key to adjusting to the various impacts from visitation and the pressures that come from external forces. However, if the satisfaction of the mission is held as the constant measurement, the right decisions will be made. The pressures and the impacts from them can be positive if one thinks creatively to address the many issues and ideas that are brought forward, but the decision on what direction to take a program or operation is always measured by how you will best achieve your mission. For Hearst Castle, we will provide for the visitor’s health, inspiration and education. That is our mission. We will do this by protecting the artifacts, the buildings and the landscape and by delivering relevant and inspiring tours. Marketing efforts and activities that do not compromise our mission are welcome and encouraged. Those efforts that would compromise our mission are not permitted. Ultimately, we want the visitor leaving with the same sentiment that Hearst wrote to his mother about San Simeon: “I love this ranch. It is wonderful. I love the sea and I love the mountains, and the hollows in the hills, and the shady places in the creeks, and the fine old oaks, and even the hot, brushy hillsides—full of quail—and the canyons—full of deer. . . I would rather spend a month at the ranch than anyplace in the world.” Bibliography Aidala, Thomas R. Hearst Castle, San Simeon. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1981. Almanac of Architecture and Design, 2007. Boutelle, Sara Holmes. Julia Morgan, Architect. Revised and enlarged edition. New York: Abbeville, 1995. California State Parks. Data from files at San Luis Obispo Coast District Office. California Travel and Tourism Commission. California Fast Facts 2006. Carringer, Robert L. The Making of “Citizen Kane.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Dean Runyan Associates, California Travel Impacts by County, 1992-2004. Kastner, Victoria. Hearst Castle: Biography of a Country House. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2000. Nasaw, David. The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Robinson, Judith. The Hearsts: An American Dynasty. New York: Avon, 1991.

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