On a hot California day in 1925 newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst drove to his construction project overlooking a bay midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. His mountainous 250,000-acre ranch was called Rancho Piedra Blanca–White Stone Ranch–and here as a boy and a young man Hearst had loved to camp, hike, and savor the glorious view down to the curving peninsula protecting the bay below. However, at age 56 Hearst had confided in architect Julia Morgan, “I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little too old for that. I’d like to get something that would be a little more comfortable.”* So in 1919 Morgan began designing something “a little more comfortable” that also met Hearst’s other more extraordinary specifications.
Hearst was delighted with the progress on the project. Nevertheless, on this particular day, August 13, 1925, he also took a few moments to send a cable to London. The recipient of the cable was Alice Head, editor of Hearst’s three-year-old British version of Good Housekeeping. She read the message multiple times to make sure she had not imagined it:
WANT BUY CASTLE IN ENGLAND PLEASE FIND WHICH ONES AVAILABLE STDONATS [sic] PERHAPS SATISFACTORY AT PROPER PRICE BUT PRICE QUOTED SEEMS VERY HIGH SEE IF YOU CAN GET RIGHT PRICE ON STDONATS OR ANY OTHER EQUALLY GOOD
The brief cable was stunning: in under forty words Hearst had authorized Head to see about the purchase of any English castle of good quality at an acceptable price. The request was probably unique in the history of the world; and, as a personal order from her American boss, it sent a dazed Head scurrying to turn her hand to the task.
Any observer standing beside Hearst at that moment would have been equally startled; because on this day when Hearst authorized the purchase of an English castle, he was overseeing the construction site of what would become the spectacular Hearst Castle. He fondly referred to his castle overlooking San Simeon Bay as “the ranch,” but he formally named it La Cuesta Encantata, The Enchanted Hill. It would cost over half a billion dollars in 2018 value and take thirty years to complete.
In the next post, let’s see why an American would buy a second castle.
Photo Credit: Free Image, Wikipedia
*Wilson, Mark Wilson: forward by Lynn Forney McMurray. Julia Morgan:
Architect of Beauty. p. 105