A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
I first visited Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California, in 1978. The tour was conducted more like an informal swirl through a friend’s home. The lighting was poor, and items seemed casually thrown together. The second time I visited the park, in 1997, it had been acquired by the state of California and a visit to the new museum was divided into separate tours. My partner and I were so fascinated that we took all four, two in the morning and two in the afternoon. We became so well acquainted with the docent that we later had drinks . . . that is not true . . . I wish. He was a handsome blond man. Anyway, by that time, the entire property had been curated and updated so that it looked more as it would have in its heyday, the 1920s and 1930s.
Loe’s book, which I bought on that latter trip, has remained on my shelf until now, but it is no less interesting. The content is as much about the original owner, William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate, and his architect partner, the renowned Julia Morgan, as it is about the property itself. In fact, the book seems more about Morgan, an early feminist and a rare woman architect at that time. Hearst may have liked her in part because she was able to create almost every feature he wanted, even if it meant destroying a newly built basement wall to widen his bowling alley to three lanes from two—a whimsy that he scarcely utilized in his lifetime. But he also respected Morgan’s opinion and taste, because she was usually correct in her judgment. I still find the idea fascinating that a mere mortal could make his every wish come true (except that wish to live forever). What it must do to one’s psyche to get one’s way ninety-nine percent of the time.
To some eyes, the castle is a mishmash (or is it now mashup?) of every major historical architectural period and every major culture in the world. To others it represents the hubris of the ultrawealthy. To me it sings of the creativity of two people rich with ideas and nearly unlimited resources. Late in life, Hearst would be forced to sell off certain assets in order to take care of his $126 million dollar debt. Now that’s living! And yet he would still hold onto his Casa Grande, as he so fondly called it, for a bit longer.
Nice work if you can get it!
TUES: A Writer's Wit | Marian Wright Edelman
WEDS: A Writer's Wit | Gwendolyn Brooks
THURS: A Writer's Wit | Frank Lloyd Wright
FRI: My Book World | Gabor and Guttenberg, American Carnage: Shattering the Myths That Fuel Gun Violence (School Safety, Violence in Society)