Friday, November 2, 2012


Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst McInerney arrive at Hearst Castle.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SAN SIMEON, CALIFORNIA—On a balmy night in October 2012, a group of bold names were gathered at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, sipping Champagne and enjoying the sunset view over ranchland and the Pacific Ocean.

Just such a scene played out many times during the ’30s and ’40s, when the mansion’s one-time owner, media magnate William Randolph Hearst, was in his heyday.

But for this recent occasion, the fourth annual Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation Benefit Weekend, the Hearst family member greeting the crowd was Anne Hearst McInerney, who, along with her husband, novelist Jay McInerney, chaired the event.

Anne is one of W.R. Hearst’s grandchildren. He had five sons, ten grandchildren, and now there are scores of great- and great-great-grandchildren.


The Hearst family is emblematic of the story of the American West. W.R. Hearst’s father, George Hearst, left Missouri for the California gold rush of 1849 and became one of the few who actually hit pay dirt.

After discovering the Anaconda Copper Mine and then the Comstock Load silver mine, he went on to build America’s largest mining company and become a United States Senator.

George Hearst also purchased thousands of acres of central California coast, which made a lasting impression on W.R. Hearst, his only son, who spent summers camping there during his boyhood.

Another childhood experience that had an important impact on W.R. Hearst was a grand European tour he took at age ten with his mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst, during which they visited European castles, museums, and other notable cultural sites.

Eventually W.R. Hearst founded his publishing and media empire, which today is one of the largest diversified media companies in the world, including daily and weekly publications, television stations, cable networks, internet businesses, real estate, and magazines such as Town & Country, Cosmopolitan, O the Oprah Magazine, and The Robb Report. In his time, he also had significant interest and influence in politics, Hollywood, and the art world.


William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan.
In 1919, at the age of 56, W.R. Hearst picked San Francisco architect and civil engineer Julia Morgan to build his castle. Initially a one-year project for a cottage, it went on until 1937, and the resulting castle contained 56 bedrooms and 61 baths plus major public rooms.

Every major Hollywood star of the era, from Charlie Chaplin to Greta Garbo and Bob Hope to Joan Crawford, as well as politicians like Winston Churchill and Calvin Coolidge, accepted invitations to the legendary weekend parties held there.

Twenty years after it was completed, W.R. Hearst’s heirs gifted the castle and its associated properties to the state of California. Today it’s a museum with a 25,000-piece collection and the most popular attraction in the state park system, generating income for all the other parks.

“All California owns it, and it’s our state castle,” said art dealer Gretchen Berggruen. “We don’t want it to fall into ruins. We are proud of it.”


I made the four-hour drive to San Simeon (midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles) from San Francisco on a gorgeous day, first heading down Highway 101.

While not the most scenic route, the drive does pass through some of the fertile farmland of the Central Valley that feeds so much of America.
Turning west at Route 56, I passed by some of the 26,000 acres of the Paso Robles vineyards, golden rolling hills studded with trees. Regrettably, I hadn’t time to drop in on any of the area’s 200 wineries.

Hearst Castle soon came into view, perched high above the ocean on the site of what publishing tycoon W.R. Hearst dubbed “The Enchanted Hill,” or La Cuesta Encantada.

His former palatial home sits in the middle of 127 acres of untouched, pristine ranch land.


I rushed to check in to the nearby Cavalier Oceanfront Resort with its fabulous Pacific views, where guests were put up. In our rooms, awaiting each guest was a J. McLaughlin tote filled to the brim—one of the best ever.
The Cavalier.
Our gift bag: a J. McLaughlin tote, stuffed to the brim with everything we needed for the weekend.
I changed quickly, and by 6:00 pm I was aboard one of the minivans driving up the long winding road to the Castle.
On the way to the castle, we witnessed this spectacular view; sometimes I forget how gorgeous the vistas are in California.
With the vibrant colors, it was our first magical moment of this enchanted evening.

Drinks were served al fresco on the terrace of the twin-domed main house, Casa Grande. Amid carefully tended gardens, we watched the sun go down and the stars come out—a stunning preview for what would be an all-around magical weekend.

To everyone’s pleasure, Patrick McMullan—the popular and generous New York society photographer, columnist, and television personality, and a good friend of the Hearst family—had flown in to record this historic event.
Noting that W.R. Hearst’s history is enmeshed with that of the state of California, Patrick recalled how “W.R. Hearst was larger than life, a fascinating guy.”

After drinks, we enjoyed a screening in the estate’s private theater of a film by director James Signorelli, a long-time friend of the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation. He made the film especially for tonight to showcase the Foundation’s work and the beauty of the California state parks system.
Amanda Hearst.
Countess Elisabeth de Kergorlay and Sharon Bush.
Geoff, Polly, Justine and, Robert Bloomingdale, with Susan Campos and Gary Wilson.
Maria Gomes, Katrina and Michael Berube, and Christine Mumford.
Amanda Hearst.
Lucinda and Charles Crocker, with Joe and Edith Tobin.
Edith Tobin, Polly and Justine Bloomingdale, Anne Hearst McInerney, and Alison Mazzola.
Jefery Levy, Jeanne Lawrence, and Jay McInerney.
Charlsey Adkins, Monnie Wills, Chirstine Mumford, Paul Vitagliano, and Diana Duncan.
Frank and Linda Vega. Anthony Peck and Justine Bloomingdale.
Jeanne Lawrence, Lucinda and John Crocker, and Gretchen Berggruen.
Justine Bloomingdale and James Signorelli.
Remar Sutton, Elisa Stephens, Sharon Bush, Frank and Linda Vega, and Michael Elder.

Rather than hosting a black-tie night, event chairs Anne and Jay McInerney had planned a “Hollywood Glamour” themed dinner, which seemed in accord with W.R. Hearst’s attitude that the Castle was, after all, a ranch.

The dinner was held in what W.R. Hearst and Julia Morgan called the Refectory, a grand room with long wooden tables under a magnificent Renaissance ceiling suggesting a monastery dining room—plus some very spectacular touches.
When Jay McInerney welcomed the crowd, he admitted he wasn’t taking his own advice from his latest book, The Juice: Vinous Veritas (there was a copy in our goody bag), never to drink the wine at a charity event because it’s “inevitably inexpensive” and “inevitably lousy.”

“Tonight is different,” McInerney explained, “since I brought my own wine maker.” He was referring to Greg Brewer, owner of the local Brewer-Clifton Winery, one of the great American vineyards. Its Sta. Rita Hills chardonnay is rated 92 by Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate.
The Refectory features high windows, bright silk Palio flags from the Tuscan town of Siena, Flemish tapestries, and gleaming silver candlesticks.
I was seated beside Joseph O. Tobin II, Chairman of the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation and descendant of one of San Francisco’s venerable clans, the de Youngs, founders of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though that paper was once the chief rival to W.R. Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, Joe noted, “Today we are friends; we get along and we do business together.”  In fact, he even escorted Anne to her debutante ball when she was younger.
Robert Bloomingdale, Jeanne Lawrence, Joseph Tobin, Elisa Stephens, and Jay McInerney.
On my other side was Los Angeles film producer Robert Bloomingdale, another Foundation board member, who noted, “Hearst Castle is the greatest asset to California tourism.”

Guest Michael Elder (from Toronto) joked, “I pretended I was Errol Flynn and imagined the many times I was a guest here.”
Kit Tamkin, Lucinda Crocker, and Michael Berube.
Jörn Weisbrodt and Alison Mazzola.

After our scrumptious dinner by New West’s Jeff and Janet Olsson, we enjoyed dessert outside on the Neptune Terrace, enjoying the flawless weather in which we ladies didn’t even need a wrap for the evening.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, was when singer Rufus Wainwright, backed by local Royal Garden Swing Orchestra, delivered a haunting rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” 

The American-Canadian singer, songwriter, and composer and his new husband Jörn Weisbrodt had just arrived from the Henry Miller Library benefit in Big Sur. “And now we’re heading to Hollywood,” Rufus said.
Rufus Wainwright performing.
Others on hand for the event: Anne’s daughter Amanda Hearst, who works for Marie Claire magazine; Robert Bloomingdale’s wife Justine “Honey Bear” Bloomingdale; Robert’s brother Geoff Bloomingdale and wife Polly; San Franciscans Charles and Lucinda Crocker; John Berggruen and his wife Gretchen; Joe Tobin’s wife Edith and his sister Katherine Tobin with Andrew Hixon; San Francisco Chronicle publisher Frank Vega and his wife Linda; Academy of Art University president Elisa Stephens; Michael and Katrina Berube; Christine Mumford; and Maria Gomes.

Others revelers included New Yorkers Serena Lese, Countess Elisabeth de Kergorlay, Sharon Bush, and PR maven Alison Mazzola, whose company organized the weekend; and Los Angelenos Jefery Levy, Anthony Peck, Gary Wilson and Susan Campos, Paul Vitagliano and Diana Duncan, Kit Tamkin, Thomas Kranz, Charlsey Adkins, and Monnie Wills. Rounding out the group were Remar Sutton from Denmark and Frances Hayward from Palm Beach.
Roberto Hassey, Alison Mazzola, Anthony Peck, Paul John and Annisa Balson, and Countess Elisabeth de Kergorlay.

Saturday morning, early birds Tony Peck, Elisabeth de Kergorlay, and Alison Mazzola were joined by Anne Hearst McInerney's cousins, Anissa and Paul Balson, for a set of tennis on the famous Hearst Castle courts, whose unique net-side glass bricks allow sunlight to flood onto the Roman Pool directly below.

Others donned walking shoes and took a vista walk under the remains of W.R. Hearst's mile-long pergola, meant to shade horseback riders.
Rufus Wainwright, Jörn Weisbrodt, and Paul Vitagliano on the Pergola Walk.

I joined another group as we went to see the Piedras Blancas shores, where at the rookery shore we observed the once nearly extinct local elephant seals. The good news is that last year over 4,500 pups were born here and the number is growing.
Our local naturalist guide gave a fascinating, in-depth lecture. He explained that the seals' travels range from Mexico all the way to the Gulf of Alaska.
From the Piedras Blancas shores ("white rocks" in Spanish), we could see the Light Station (1894) in the distance, now open for tours.
From September through November, sub-adult male elephant seals and juveniles of both genders come here to rest, fast, and prepare for adulthood, while the adults are at sea bulking up.
Throughout the year, the seals come here to molt, grow, breed, and give birth.
Our group. We learned that in early fall, the sleek young seals that came here to rest were so still that visitors thought they might be dead.

A cold lunch of sandwiches, salads, and shrimp—accompanied by more delicious wines from Greg Brewer—awaited us in the Hacienda Courtyard Patio at Hearst Ranch.

We were joined by Michael and Chonita Cleary, and Buck Layton and his wife Carolyn Wente of Wente Vineyards. "We've been in business for five generations," Carolyn said. "I'm here in support of this historic California institution."

Between courses, guests were given the exclusive opportunity to test-drive two 2013 Ghost Model sedans provided by sponsor Rolls-Royce.
Sponsor Rolls-Royce told us it takes 60 pairs of hands to design, craft, and construct the 2013 Ghost Models.
Guests gather on the Hacienda Courtyard Patio at Hearst Ranch.
Monnie Wills and Charlsey Adkins. Kit Tamkin and Katherine Tobin.
Jay McInerney, Elisabeth de Kergorlay, Rufus Wainwright, and Anthony Peck.
Jeanne Lawrence, Remar Sutton, and Serena Lese.
A cold lunch of sandwiches, salads, and shrimp was accompanied by delicious wines from Greg Brewer.

After lunch we returned to Hearst Castle for a private tour by Hearst Castle Museum Director Hoyt Fields.

He showed us highlights of Casa Grande, the estate's magnificent main house, whose imposing towers were inspired by a Spanish cathedral. This Mediterranean Revival-style palace certainly compares to any of those in Europe in grandeur and scope.

We couldn't see all 165 rooms in Casa Grande, but the views from those we did see were divine, and we were able to tour the guesthouses.
Photographer Patrick McMullan.
One of the lavish guesthouses.

W.R. Hearst traveled the globe in search of the "best of the best" art and objects with which to fill his castle. He eventually collected thousands of art treasures from all places and time periods that met his criteria.

To me, seeing objects in this kind of context always makes them more meaningful.

In addition to the gorgeous architecture and art pieces, there are 127 acres of spectacular formal gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways, much of it inspired by Italian and Spanish gardens to which Hearst traveled for inspiration.

"His vision was 28 years in the making, a true labor of love," said Frank Vega.

Sharon Bush concurred, and called the tour "phenomenal."

After lunch we returned to Hearst Castle for a private tour by Hearst Castle Museum Director Hoyt Fields.

He showed us highlights of Casa Grande, the estate's magnificent main house, whose imposing towers were inspired by a Spanish cathedral. This Mediterranean Revival-style palace certainly compares to any of those in Europe in grandeur and scope.

We couldn't see all 165 rooms in Casa Grande, but the views from those we did see were divine, and we were able to tour the guesthouses.
Hoyt Fields playing tour guide.
To honor W.R. Hearst and to ensure that the museum has the feel of an actual home, everything is in place exactly as he left it.
Many rooms were designed around items that W.R. Hearst had collected.
The wall tapestries and the ceiling carvings were the starting point for the design of the Refectory.
In keeping with the informal ranch tradition, W.R. Hearst's dinner condiments were served straight from the bottles.

German-born Jörn Weisbrodt and I wondered whether W.R. Hearst had visited Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle on his childhood grand tour, built in 1869 by King Ludwig II, the patron of composer Richard Wagner.

I first saw it during my college year spent in Heidelberg and it's the quintessential fairytale castle, so much so that it was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland.
Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle, from the side.
The front of Neuschwanstein Castle.
There are definitely are some similarities between Neuschwanstein Castle and the Hearst Castle. Both are situated on breathtaking mountain peaks and both are fantasy architectural wonders that required persistence (and, of course, deep pockets) to build.

Certainly both have captured the public’s imagination. Neuschwanstein has welcomed over 50 million visitors since it was opened to the public on August 1, 1886. In just the last year, Hearst Castle has received 1.1 million visitors, and the number is growing.

But one big difference between taking your family to Disney’s and Hearst’s Castle is that the Hearst is the real thing. It was used as a family castle and it’s a museum with masterpieces from around the world.
Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle takes inspiration from Neuschwanstein Castle.

The Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation’s mission is to support and preserve the 25,000 artifacts in the museum, which has both national and state historical landmark status.

Its needs are substantial because much of the money raised here provides financial support to all 270 units in the entire California state park system.

How could one pass up the chance the chance to frolic in one of the world's most beautiful pools, flanked by Greek-style statues and a Roman Temple?
I had always thought of this as Hearst Castle, but I’ve come to regard it as the Hearst Museum, one of the state’s most important and historic institutions, as worthy of accolades and support as other first-rank museums.

“I first loved it as a child and now I revere it as an adult,” said Elisa Stephens, President of the Academy of Fine Arts in San Francisco. “It’s a California treasure in the same category as San Francisco’s Legion of Honor museum, LA’s Getty Museum, and all the other prominent museums.”


Our next stop was the much-anticipated Neptune Pool Party. The synchronized swim team The Unsyncables wowed us with their routines set to 1940s music that reminded us of the era of Esther Williams and her crew.

Sponsored by swimsuit brand Jantzen and Invista (parent company of the Lycra brand), the Unsyncables looked lovely in their limited edition Jantzen Peplum Maillot swimsuits made with Lycra Beauty fabric in “Neptune Nectarine.”

I must admit a few of us were a little apprehensive of donning our own bathing suits in this company. We heard the water was slightly chilly, as the water is spring-fed. But we were brave and jumped in anyway.
Greg Brewer, Kerri Murray, Riley Brewer, Murphy Brewer, Sofie Schuster, and Charlie Brewer. The brightly colored swimsuits were a standout. A portion of their sales will benefit the Foundation.
The Unsyncables looking lovely in their "Neptune Nectarine" suits and matching bathing caps.
Jörn Weisbrodt, Alison Mazzola, and Rufus Wainwright.
As we exited the pool, sponsor Missoni Home had a surprise for us: large, brightly colored bath towels to dry ourselves and take home as a gift.

"Tonight is a Tequila night," Jay exclaimed enthusiastically, as the "Caballero's Fiesta" began in the old Dairy Barn. We downed Margaritas, enjoyed mariachi music, and gave deep thought to which of the auction items to bid on!
Remar Sutton, Chonita and Michael Cleary, Michael Berube, and Frances Hayward.
Jörn Weisbrodt, Frances Hayward, and Rufus Wainwright.
Alison Mazzola and Chonita Cleary. Carolyn Wente and Buck Layton.
Katrina Berube, Justine Bloomingdale, Sharon Bush, and Jeanne Lawrence.
Serena Lese and Frances Hayward.
Kit Tamkin and Elisa Stephens.
Amanda Hearst and Rufus Wainwright.
The Tex-Mex feast featured tender and delicious grass-fed Hearst Beef, quesadillas, and chimichangas from local restaurant McPhee's Grill in Templeton.
Monte Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band played during dinner and for dancing afterwards—tempting us with country and old time rock and roll.
Edith and Joe Tobin. Elisabeth de Kergorlay.
Jay McInerney and Jefery Levy.
The entire weekend was much like W.R. Hearst's house parties are reported to have been—a warm, club-like gathering where even newcomers immediately felt like old friends.

"Anne does everything right! The enthusiasm of the hostess, the charm of her husband, and the spectacular setting made this the most beautiful evening," said James Signorelli, speaking for every one of us, I am sure.

"To experience this weekend is to get involved in this Foundation," Joe Tobin said.

"The Chief" with Marion Davies.
Absolutely! We all agreed we could do it again next year and even bring our friends to relive history at this house party.

We could imagine what it must have been like to be hosted by "The Chief" (as W.R. Hearst was called by his newspaper men) and his actress girlfriend, Marion Davies, during that time. Magical it was!


On Sunday after breakfast, guests began to return home one by one. As I had rushed to get there, I decided to meander my way back to San Francisco and "smell the ocean."

My first stop was back to the 80,000-acre Hearst Ranch, which since 1865 has been a cattle ranch. Today it's one of the largest working cattle ranches on the California coast.

It raises grass-fed, free-range, organic beef available for purchase on-site or online. I bought and polished off en entire packet of the ranch's beef jerky, the best I've ever had—seriously.

I stopped at the well-organized visitors center and watched the film "Hearst Castle, Building the Dream," on a five-story-high screen in the Hearst Theatre, a brilliant production. I spent an hour afterwards browsing the gift shop, tempted by so many of the books and tapes about Hearst Castle: great historical reference works.
Hearst Castle sits on a ridge overlooking the ranch, where you can still see zebras, as once there was a zoo on the property.

I had spotted a sign for the fourth annual Scarecrow Festival sponsored by the Cambria Historical Society. I've passed this town many times, but was always rushing, so today I took the time and drove five miles south to Cambria, an artists' community on the Pacific.

A boomtown in the 1800s, Cambria was a center of mining, lumbering, whaling, and agriculture. It also benefitted when W.R. Hearst began building his palace, with the influx of construction-related workers who needed support service.

I spent a leisurely afternoon visiting the historic village. I walked and drove around searching for the most unique of the scarecrows, stopping for English tea and visiting art galleries along with all the other "Sunday afternoon drivers."

Later that afternoon, I decided to drive the scenic route Highway 1 through Big Sur, the 90-mile stretch of rugged and spectacular coastline between San Simeon and Carmel. This drive is best during daytime due to its windy roads and spectacular views.
Fortuitously, the only car I was able to rent for the weekend was a red Mustang convertible, absolutely ideal for this adventure.
I passed all the familiar landmarks: the coastal bandit town Lucia; the Escalen Institute, where Joan Baez had just performed in honor of its 50th anniversary; Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park; the Henry Miller Memorial Library; the luxurious Post Ranch Inn and Ventana Inn; Nepenthe, the casual bar and grill overlooking the Pacific; and Pfeiffer Beach.
At sunset, still in Big Sur, the sky and the hills glowed in colors that looked as if it were on fire; but the colors were real.
I decided to spend the night in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Despite its fame, Carmel remains a charming village with fairytale cottages and a lovely stretch of beach. It's such a romantic spot that just about every couple I passed were holding hands.

The next morning after walking the pristine sandy white beaches, and through the village with hanging banners with a big portrait of Clint Eastwood, a local (who also happens to be on the board of the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation), announcing the annual Carmel Art and Film Festival, coming the next week.
When I arrived back in San Francisco, I realized that I never tire of touring this part of California. It's always relaxing, spectacular, and unchanged and heavenly.

I've made a vow to return this winter and write more about it so others will be enticed to visit. They won't be disappointed.
Photos by Jeanne Lawrence and Drew Altizer.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.