Historical Collections: Hearst Castle

Best known for its rumored inspiration of Great Gatsby’s home (in the 1974 film adaptation of the book), Hearst Castle holds one of the most stunning collections of antiquities.  Located at the top of Camp Hill, the original house started off as no more than a family camping site.  It was after the death of his father and mother, George and Phoebe Hearst, that William Hearst turned the family camp site into the grand estate we see today.

Upon both of his parent’s death William Hearst inherited 40,000 acres (162 sq. km) of land, and $11 million (roughly $162.2 million in today’s currency).[1]  This large inheritance went on to help support his media empire of newspapers, magazines, and radio stations which he ran from his estates in California.  With his preexisting and incoming wealth Hearst was able to build “La Cuesta Encantada” (translated: The Enchanted Hill) with the help of Julia Morgan.  Julia Morgan was a well-known architect with a firm in San Francisco, with a reputable background.  She was one of the few women who graduated with a degree in civil engineering from UC Berkeley, and considered “America’s first truly independent female architect”.[2]  Over a 28 period Hearst and Morgan created the stunning estate comprising of 58 bedrooms, 60 bathrooms, 41 fireplaces, and 18 sitting rooms.[3]

Hearst had always been a collector at heart, which became apparent after his mother’s death. [4] Much like his contemporaries, Hearst purchased quite a bit of his collection through the well-known art dealer Joseph Duveen.[5]  A logical move, since Duveen had access to some of the most extraordinary works on the market.  His partnership with Duveen also provided his collection with the prestige of East Coast and Old World status.  A collecting trend that can still be seen today in many of the Silicon Valley elites purchases of art and luxury items.  

After decades of wild parties with some of the most celebrated actors, actresses, and political figures of his lifetime, Hearst was forced to leave the castle due to his diminishing health and never returned.  In 1958 the Hearst Corporation donated the castle, gardens, and a majority of Hearst’s collection to the state of California, who in turn made the donated estate into a state park for the public. [6]  

On a practical note, it should be mentioned that visitors are not permitted to walk freely throughout the main house, but rather must sign up for a guided tour of specific rooms (thusly one is unable to visit the estate in its entirety).  I would recommend the Grand Rooms and Upstairs Suites tours.  Both take visitors through some of the most impressive rooms of the house.  During these tours visitors are given the chance to see some of Hearst’s incredible collection.  

One part of the collection that pleasantly surprised me was the number of ceilings that Hearst had collected throughout his lifetime. Ranging from 16th century Spanish to 18th century Italian, it is no wonder guests were enchanted by them (to the point some guests had certain rooms they would hope to be placed in during their stay at the estate).  According to the tour guide, Hearst allegedly got into a few bidding wars with the Rockefellers over some of the ceilings seen in the main house today.

My, personal, favorite part of the collection has to be his numerous French/Flemish tapestries.  The quantity and quality of the tapestries is astounding, and beautifully displayed for visitors to admire.

Overall the estate and collection are breathtaking.  Considering how few historical collections CA holds (in comparison to its East Coast counterpart), this is one of the crown jewels of the West Coast.  While San Simeon may be a bit of a trek from Monterey or Los Angeles, it is a worth while stop.  For those who do may the stop, I recommend popping by San Luis Obispo (home to the famous Cal Poly college), where there are numerous coffee shops, restaurants, and the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

William Hearst (taken around 1910)
Julia Morgan (taken around 1926)


1.     “Hearst Castle,” Wikipedia, last modified 2 January, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearst_Castle.

2.     “Hearst Castle,” Wikipedia.

3.     Ken Murray, The Golden Days of San Simeon, (Los Angeles: Murmar Publishing, 1995), p.1. and Hearst Castle website’s ‘Facts and Stats’ page, http://hearstcastle.org/history-behind-hearst-castle/facts-and-stats/.

4.     According to the official Hearst Castle tour guide, Hearst showed an interest in antiquities from an early age and it wasn’t until after his mother’s death that he began to ravenously collect.  This was due to the alleged scolding his mother gave him for trying to collect too many artifacts in his younger years.

5.     Samuel Nathaniel Behrman, Duveen: The Story of the Most Spectacular Art Dealer of All Time, (New York: The New Yorker/The Little Bookroom, 1952) p.65.

6.     “Hearst Castle,” Wikipedia.


Behrman,  Samuel Nathaniel. Duveen: The Story of the Most Spectacular Art Dealer of All Time. New York: The New Yorker/The Little Bookroom, 1952.

"Hearst Castle", Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearst_Castle.

Murray, Ken. The Golden Days of San Simeon. Los Angeles: Murmar Publishing, 1995.

Image Credits

Featured image, Hearst Castle Panorama [link]

William Hearst and Julia Morgan images, [link]

Note: All views and opinions expressed are the author's own. If you feel there is missing information or wish to discuss any of the works please contact me.