Long before he erected a castle along the California coast, William Randolph Hearst, a cowboy at heart, tended to his sprawling estate—lions and all. The new tome Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy explores the lay of the land.
“I love this ranch. It is wonderful. I love the sea and I love the mountains and the hollows in the hills and the shady places in the creeks and the fine old oaks and even the hot brushy hillsides—full of quail—and the canyons—full of deer. It is a wonderful place. I would rather spend a month at the ranch than anyplace in the world.” – William Randolph Hearst
Hearst and [architect] Julia Morgan did not have to invent a model farm. The Hearst family had owned and operated the ranch at San Simeon for fifty-five years when ground was broken for the hilltop buildings in February 1920. Construction continued for the next twenty-eight years, during which time Hearst and Morgan focused on the ranch buildings nearly as often as the hilltop ones. Though she had no prior experience in this form, Morgan designed San Simeon’s dairies, stables, dovecotes, hay barns, bunkhouses, aviaries, and orchards. She improved existing buildings, making them both more functional and more picturesque. She also oversaw the creation of many new ranch structures, including fish ladders, dams, bridges, reservoirs, rock walls, airplane hangars, landing strips, garages, polo fields, warehouses, and hundreds of miles of backcountry roads. Hearst was involved in every aspect of the building process, as more than one thousand of their surviving letters and nine thousand architectural drawings attest. One of Hearst’s earliest letters to Morgan emphasized: “The main thing at the ranch is the view.”
Hearst’s animal collection expanded quickly. Morgan wrote him later that year: “The lions are beauties—about the size of St. Bernards and as well kept and groomed as human babies.” Exotic species including kangaroos, antelope, zebras, elephants, jaguars, polar bears, and giraffes began arriving in large numbers, eventually totaling approximately three hundred animals. To increase the dramatic effect, they mixed many of the grazing species together. Though picturesque, it was problematic. The animals often failed to mix well together, and it was challenging for Hearst’s guests and hilltop employees to drive up a six-mile road through a wild animal park.
Hearst invited a few genuine Hollywood cowboys to the ranch, including Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson, and Will Rogers. The majority of his guests, however, only played cowboys onscreen. Hearst was thirty years older than most of them, which might explain his particular delight in leading them on long rides to the Hacienda. The journey was more than twenty miles. Many must have felt as Clark Gable did, when he reportedly whimpered to Gary Cooper after a long day in the saddle, “When we get to the brow of the next hill, we’ll see Los Angeles!”
As Vice-President of the Hearst Corporation’s Western Properties division, Stephen T. Hearst oversees the ranching operation today. He is also William Randolph Hearst’s great-grandson and one of sixty-five surviving members of the Hearst family. He states: “The Hearst Ranch still raises some of the finest cattle and horses. The Hearst Ranch now comprises more than 82,000 acres, making it the largest cattle ranch on the California coast. Seven generations have been privileged to be a part of the Piedra Blanca Rancho, the original name of the Hearst Ranch at San Simeon, California. I believe this very special place is home to every member of our family, no matter where they get their mail.”
Images and Text Excerpt from Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy By Victoria Kastner and Foreword by Stephen T. Hearst; Published by Abrams, 2013. Text © 2013 Hearst Holdings, Inc.