Monday, August 27, 2007

THE HEARST CASTLE; AMERICA'S BEST KEPT TOURIST SECRET

In 1977, a close friend had bachelor party...that never happened.

On the way to his big event, my friend who was NOT a drinker, quietly sat in the back of my car and unbeknownst to another friend and I, drank half a bottle of cheap wine...Blue Nun, to be specific.

By the time we got into Manhattan, he was ranting. After we parked, he became so loud and obnoxious that our entire group of eleven was refused entry into the comedy club "Catch A Rising Star." The future groom was so whacked and out of control that his younger brother (Mr. I'm Too Cool For Everybody), volunteered to take him home. Our pointless night took the rest of us to an empty "old-man" bar where we chased 95c shots with 40c six-ounce Piels draughts... and went home.

A couple of days later, a twist in the story gave it a happy ending. My friend (the future groom) said his brother struggled to keep him on his feet until they got their apartment's door. His brother propped him against the wall with one hand. Then grappled with a ton of other crap in his pocket to get his keys. When he fumbled the keys, they dropped to the floor.  My teetering friend was difficult to keep on his feet as his brother bent down to retrieved them.  That's when my friend vomited on Mr. I'm Too Cool For Everyone's head.

Today's blog features that same friend, more specifically his wife. Before they got married, someone once said that I was jealous of his wife because she kept him and I apart. This wasn't at all true however, I was jealous of HIM...not in any kind of weird way...but because that nimrod had such a wonderful girl.

Down-to-earth, intelligent, pretty and funny, the reality was, I enjoyed her company more than his. After college, he and I went our separate ways until a chance encounter when I lived in Las Vegas. He was living in Los Angeles and was attending a business seminar at the Flamingo-Hilton. Our schedules clashed while he was in town so we promised to keep in touch.

Months later in May 1980, I heard about the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California. I arranged to borrow my roommate's car and called my friend in L. A. He cleared the day and I set-out for my first drive through the Mojave Desert. That leg of the trip can be saved for another time but its safe to say that before cell-phones, Map-Quest and lap-tops; it seemed like was a death-defying experience to a first-timer...flying solo...in someone else's car.

When I arrived, I was informed that my friend couldn't go because he had to firm-up the finer details of a new business venture. However, he asked if it would be all right if his wife went in his place, (the deal he was working on resulted in him buying a worm farm in Maine...that's right, you read it correctly, a worm farm in Maine).

The next morning, I was elated by this change of events. She and I set-out for one of the happiest non-family related days of my life. The scenic drive through Oxnard, Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach along coast highway (Route-1) was memorable. But the one thing that was more beautiful than our surroundings was, her. The therapeutic conversation flowed as we spoke and laughed for 195 miles.

Just past the town of San Luis Obispo in San Simeon, the Hearst Castle is cut into the jagged cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean .

THE BIG HOUSE "CASA GRANDE," (rear). THIS PICTURE DOESN'T DO JUSTICE TO THE PROPERTY'S SCOPE.

La Cuesta Encantada or "Enchanted Hill" was built as a pleasure palace by newspaper publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (Patty Hearst's grandfather). Construction started in 1919, continued for more than thirty years and was never considered finished. This oblong complex includes: a 115-room main house, guests houses and pools as well as 8 acres of cultivated gardens, and the ever-popular "so much more."

AERIAL PHOTOS CAN'T DEMONSTRATE THE ESTATE'S VASTNESS.

In these corporate times, it's hard to imagine an individual could ever own so much stuff. To accumulate it, Hearst treated Europe's financial hardships prior to and during WWI like a colossal yard sale. He bought up unimaginable volumes of antiques and art treasures and decorated his houses to the delight of visitors such as: President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Lindbergh as well as Charlie Chaplin and hundreds of other Hollywood luminaries and business moguls.

After Hearst's death, his heirs donated the land and everything on it to the state of California. The curator's then divided the castle into three separate tours. I don't recall which one we took or how they differed but I would expect them to all be worthwhile.

Our drive back to L. A. was capped-off with a detour into the mountains of Santa Barbara. She recommended a favorite restaurant and I wasn't disappointed. Overlooking the Pacific, this famous shack-like eatery (the name escapes me) was rustic (open air...no windows), yet elegant.

Twenty-seven years later, I still refer to the Hearst Castle as our country's best kept tourist secret. In 1995, I wanted to recreate that day when my family and I were in San Diego but it was too far to take baby Andrew. I'd love to go back but until I do, I can still Google it to refresh the great memories. You should check it out too and tell me how right I was.

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