Monday, March 12, 2018

A Castle For The People?

William Randolph Hearst built a stunning castle on the California coast and filled it with priceless artwork and artifacts. What would happen to his castle after its king had passed on? 

As we would find out, the exclusive gates to his castle would be thrown open to the public; or at least the members of the public willing to shell out the money to do so. Was this what Mr. Hearst had wanted? Maybe. 

But if that was the case, why did Hearst have a legendary argument with his architect, Julia Morgan about the Castle’s visibility from the main highway? Ms. Morgan had wanted to remove some large trees so that people on the highway could see the house. Hearst nixed that plan; he reportedly told her that the eyes of the common man should never gaze upon his castle. He invited a ton of people to stay and play in his castle, but only those rich and famous people who interested him. A who’s who of Hollywood and political leaders would gaze upon his lavish grounds and enjoy his hospitality. Certainly not the common man.

Many of his famous guests told apocryphal stories in which a wistful Hearst asked them what should be done with his castle upon his death. In the stories, they allegedly suggest donating the place to the state to run as a museum. Of course, they thought nothing about it until years later when they heard that the famed Castle was being opened to the public. Even Marion Davies, Hearst’s mistress of his heart and his Castle claimed that it was she who planted the idea in his mind. These stories seem a bit farfetched considering Mr. Hearst’s opinion on how visible his castle should be.

So how was the decision made to open the castle as a museum? In his will, Mr. Hearst made no special requests about his castle. His wife, Millicent Hearst, really wanted nothing to do with a place she associated with Mr. Hearst’s mistress. Millicent reportedly spoke with a Berkeley development officer as she was dealing with her husband’s financial matters (both Mr. Hearst and his mother had donated millions to Berkeley) and told him about her problems with determining what to do with the castle. He was the person who suggested that she could donate the place to the state of California who could run it as a museum. The idea appealed to Ms. Hearst who did that very thing.