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