Debbie’s Week at a Glance: Back to the (Hearst) Castle

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There are no bad views.

I went back to the Castle. Can you blame me? I refer of course, to Hearst Castle, where only two months ago, we celebrated Amanda Hearst and Joachim Rønning’s marriage. 

This week’s event, the Annual Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation Weekend, helps insure that the beautiful artifacts within the castle are preserved for this lucky group, but more so, the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.


A photo of Amanda Hearst Rønning and Joachim Rønning at their wedding here, two months ago.

The Hearst family donated the Castle to the California Park system in 1958. It is now the largest revenue producer in the state’s parks system. But the monies cover the building and grounds only — not the thousands of paintings, tapestries, silver and precious objects that William Randolph Hearst collected throughout his life time and which lie within. The Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation gathers a dedicated group of supporters on this weekend every year to preserve and restore these important objects.


I hate people who post pictures of private planes. So here I am, self-loathing, with Milly de Cabrol.

A few of us tucked in on Thursday, a day early, so that hosts Anne Hearst McInerney and Jay McInerney could get organized with the masterful supervision of Alison Mazzola and team. We settled into our period, antique-filled guest rooms at the Senator’s House.


The Senator’s House.
Our host, Jay McInerney and Christopher Mason.
More reasons to hate me. Caviar greeted us at the Senator’s House.
Alison Mazzola and Remar Sutton, overseers of the event and The Associates.

While The Castle is state owned, in Mr. Hearst’s lifetime there were 425,000 acres and fifty miles of shorefront.  The Hearst family still own thousands of acres of land, the Old San Simeon Village and this house. Senator George Hearst, a mining magnate and William Randolph’s father, first came here with his wife Phoebe and created The Hearst Ranch — Piedra Blanca Rancho. Phoebe, the Senator’s wife, was a noted feminist suffragette and philanthropist in her own right. It was she who discovered the Castle’s noted architect, Julia Morgan.


L. to r.: Phoebe Hearst — suffragist, feminist, philanthropist; Phoebe Hearst’s portrait and portrait ready, beautiful Paula Peck.

It’s difficult to adequately describe the grandeur of Hearst Castle, aka La Questa Encantada, The Enchanted Hill. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when he visited:  “It’s what God would’ve built if he had the money.” And the grandeur is more magnificent, knowing the Hearsts share it with the world.

This weekend though, we lucky supporters got to experience some rare, off the grid moments.  That first night, for example, we dined al fresco, under the stars with a separate table of the gorgeous, young associates. My idea of dinner theater.


Thursday al fresco dinner at the Senator’s House.

Friday, I accepted an offer to hike to The Point, a bluff overlooking the ocean that abuts Old San Simeon Village, the last estate village in America. I forgot what ardent outdoors people Paula and Tony Peck (yes – the son of) are.  In an effort to only take a carry on for my week away, I neglected to pack sneakers. Nicky Hilton will be happy to know that her Nicky Hilton x French Sole, leopard, suede, ballet slippers clung admirably to the steep path and dusted of nicely at the end. Audubon I ain’t.


L. to r.: Friday hike to The Point, under the eucalyptus trees; Eucalyptus tangle.
Beachfront Hearst property.
The Point. Too cold to swim but mesmerizing to view.
Precarious peak.
Tony Peck and Christopher Mason, trail blazing.
We walked beyond the point. Me in my Nicky Hilton for French Sole ballet slippers. Yup, I’m a virtual Paul Bunyon.
We were almost locked in. There are worse places to linger.
Entrance to Piedra Blanca Ranch.

Friday night we powdered and pouffed and climbed the long hill (in a bus) to The Castle, where we sipped champagne to go with the caviar on the terrace. This was followed by a clever and illuminating film about The Castle in WR’s private screening room, where he would screen movies every night.


A Castle guest house.
Suggestive and sublime statuary.
L. to r.: More nubile youngsters; Some of what this weekend restores and preserves.
Many stairs and levels, the better to see the ocean.
L. to r.: Glitter and gold was the dress code. Beth DeWoody and Paula peck nailed it, and Tony Peck was pretty dazzling too, in his Huntsman dinner jacket; My darling housemate and gallant escort, Christopher Mason.
L. to r.: World’s best hosts, Jay McInerney and Anne Hearst McInerney, the latter in her knockout Zang Toi choker; Robert and Justine Bloomingdale, she with her grandmother’s elegant purse. Style courses through this family’s veins.
L. to r.: Karen Santo Domingo and Milly de Cabrol; Hearst Castle preservation Foundation Board member, Greg Hampton.
L. to r.: Jay McInerney and honoree and sponsor, Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton Vineyards; Organizer extraordinaire, Alison Mazzola.
L. to r.: Beth DeWoody and Ben Berube; Beth’s notable, monogrammed back.

Jay McInerney presented Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton Vineyards with an award to thank him for his years of support. We thank him for the gallons of his amazing wine we consumed over the weekend.


L. to r.: The sun sets on San Simeon; Waving us in to dinner.
Know your place.
L. to r.: Lighting whimsy on the Castle; The theater.
Jay introducing honoree, Greg Brewer.

Dinner was held in The Refectory at the one, long table that WR fancied. The Castle’s dedicated Director Mary Levkoff gave us just the right amount of history, then we went back to the compelling steak (which may have been Hearst’s own beef, but I don’t want to think about it as I just communed with a cow and her calf, earlier. Why can’t they invent an Impossible steak?).


The Refectory table, where WRH dined.
Tapestry in The Refectory.
L. to r.: Flags in the Refectory; Castle’s passionate Director, Mary Levkoff.
Peeking into the living room, after dinner.

Dessert and Jay’s traditional cheese course lured us back to the terrace, where a talented little band entertained and we felt just like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, swirling in the moonlight.


L. to r.: Newlyweds Amanda and Joachim; and Amanda’s brother Randy who walked her down the aisle.
L. to r.: Stacey and Ted Dobos, part of the San Francisco posse; and from Virginia, Danielle and Ronald Bradley.

Saturday was a groaning board of possibilities: horseback riding, yoga, Castle tour, zebra tracking (yes — they remained after the menagerie closed, and flourished in the African-like climate and terrain). I chose the art class, and was astonished and slightly jealous, to discover Beth DeWoody doesn’t just collect … that girl can paint!


Art class at the Senator’s House.
Beth DeWoody and I opted for the still life on the table.
Beth is a talented artist — who knew?
Another BRD creation!
My effort.

Lunch was in the Bunkhouse, the former home of the Hearst ranch cowboys. Dorothy Kastner, Hearst Castle and Julia Morgan historian, told us about Julia, the trailblazing architect of The Castle and more. She was WR’s right-hand woman … design wise.


L. to r.: The Bunkhouse, where the cowboys lived; The Bunkhouse foyer.
Back on the Ranch.
Lunch at The Bunkhouse.
Victoria Kastner, architect Julia Morgan’s historian.
The line for the homemade ice cream truck.

We took a little tripette into the famously kitchy, but dear town of Cambria. There you find many neon renderings of frogs drinking martinis, and sculptures to match. I suspect they are hanging in basement bars, country wide, next to the Herculon Lazy-Boy.


In Cambria, two gnomes and their humans.
L. to r.: Cambria, Capital of kitch. Here a flower dog and its real life inspiration; It’s the Annual Scarecrow Season.

Back to the Castle and into The Neptune swimming pool, which is dazzling but cool. I watched from afar, dry and toasty under my Hearst Castle towel.


Afternoon swim at The Castle’s Neptune Pool.
Hardy swimmers.
Tony, capturing Paula. Who could blame him?
Draped in Hearst Castle towels.
I tried to peek.

The fellows were happy to lose the ties and tie a bollo instead for Saturday night’s dinner at The Hearst Ranch Dairy Barn. The rousing auction featured premiere tickets to Joachim Rønnings’ movie, Maleficient; personalized cashmere sweaters from Huntsman; and many, many other alluring goodies.


Western dinner at the Dairy Barn.
We swapped black tie for jeans.
Buzzy silent auction …
Where tickets to the premiere of Joachim’s new movie, Maleficent, were a hot item.

The California Cowboys entertained during dinner and got us on our feet afterwards. And Christopher Mason composed and performed a ditty, ‘Home, Home on Hearst Ranch’. Fitting, funny, fab.


L. to r.: Randy Hearst Harris; Anne and Jay hoe-ing down.
Wendy Stark.
L. to r.: Beth DeWoody; I whip these boots out for this every year. No other time.
Christopher Mason composed and sang “Home, Home on Hearst Ranch …”
Dosey do-ing.

And off we went, Sunday morning, the Castle in the background and our memories, and real life ahead. Sigh.


Genuine cowboy pups bid us adieu.

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