Tales from Town

The indispensible little lady behind the big tycoon’s Castle

Historian to give talk about architect Julia Morgan's work with W.R. Hearst

Special to The CambrianFebruary 5, 2013 

William Randolph Hearst was the eccentric genius behind the giant Hearst Corp. media empire and an estate we now call Hearst Castle. One of the nation's most controversial public figures, he was known for yellow journalism and headline grabbing. Hearst ranch in San Simeon had been purchased and developed by U.S. Sen. George Hearst, father of the publisher. In 1919, Hearst decided to build his castle and put Julia Morgan, a famous San Francisco architect, in charge of planning. Within a few years as many as 650 men were working on the Castle and grounds at one time, ships were bringing whole cargoes from Europe where Hearst and his agents were buying castles, furniture, artifacts, relics--whatever took his fancy. In the late 1920s, presidents and potentates, millionaires and movie stars, politicians and poets would form the parade winding up the narrow road to the Enchanted Hill. By 1941 the era of stars visiting the hill was essentially done, though construction would continue in fits and starts. As Japanese submarines began shelling the coast and sinking ships, Hearst moved away from his beloved home on the hill. His newspaper's anti-Japanese viewpoints made him wary of offering an attractive target to the Imperial Government. Declining health in 1947 forced him to leave San Simeon, and construction was halted after 28 years. At the age of 89 Hearst died in Beverly Hills in 1951. In 1958, the lonely Castle came under state administration and was opened to the public. Read more »


Want to learn the secrets behind the legendary little lady who stood up to the mighty titan, William Randolph Hearst? Is that a myth, or about a warm working relationship between two highly talented 20th-century titans? Victoria Kastner, Hearst Castle researcher and author, will discuss fascinating facts and insights as she presents “Julia Morgan: a Closer Look,” when she serves as the keynote speaker for the Cambria Historical Society’s “Silver and Gold” Recognitions Dinner.

Kastner, a UC Santa Barbara graduate, earned a master’s degree in museum management at George Washington University. She has worked as a historian at Hearst Castle for 30 years and has written and lectured extensively across the country. In 2009, she was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show.

Kastner authored two books in collaboration with photographer Victoria Garagliano. “Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House” was published in 2000 and “Hearst’s San Simeon: The Gardens and The Land” in 2009. She currently is working on “Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy,” due in 2013.

Members of the historical society will meet at Cambria Pines Lodge to honor new and old members on Sunday, Feb. 24. A sit-down banquet followed by a brief informational meeting and recognition of volunteers, then Kastner’s talk.

A special highlight of the evening will be a ceremonial “burning of the mortgage” at 5:30 p.m. in the Lodge’s huge fireplace by the donors to the One Hundred Angels Fund. They contributed at least $1,000 each to retire the remainder of the mortgage from the original purchase of the former Guthrie-Bianchini House. This was accomplished between November 2011 and December 2012.

In 2001, a small but committed corps of the historical society bought the decrepit home and three lots at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Streets for $500,000 from the California state probate court, where it had languished for about 50 years.

Since then, they have raised additional funds and secured grants for restoration and reconstruction of what is now the Cambria Historical Museum and Heirloom Gardens. Opening in December 2008, the Board of Directors and dedicated volunteers have welcomed more than 25,000 visitors for free tours inside and outside, as well as major events. President Jack Breglio will outline future plans to implement their vision and mission, including new displays and exhibits to be introduced March 21.

Yard sale, docent training

The museum store committee will have a yard sale from 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Burton Drive entrance. Proceeds will help finance new items for the shop.

Succulents in charming containers suitable for Valentine gifts, as well as plants from the museum’s nursery, will also be available. Mike Rice, head groundskeeper, requests that homeowners who may be eliminating or thinning heirloom plants from their gardens contact him at 927-3310 for pick up.

Rancher historian Dawn Dunlap will do a specialized training and tour for docents from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, to enhance their repertoire of information about early day Cambria residents and structures in historic East Village. This is an integral part of ongoing education, with the potential for guided and self-guided tours for the public in the future.

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Dine & learn

The public is invited to attend the Cambria Historical Society’s annual Recognitions Dinner and hear guest speaker Victoria Kastner on Sunday, Feb. 24.

A no-host social hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m., with dinner at 6 and the talk to begin about 7:15 p.m. at Cambria Pines Lodge, 2905 Burton Drive.

Available entrées are prime rib, salmon or a vegetarian ravioli medley. The cost is $32. Reservations are due by Feb. 12; mail checks, entrée choice, phone number and email address to CHS, P.O. Box 906, Cambria CA 93428.

For details, call 927-3159 or go to www.cambriahistoricalsociety.com.

New memberships and reinstatements are available for $30 for families or $100 for businesses.

Tales from Town is special to The Cambrian. The Cambria Historical Museum at Burton Drive and Center Streets is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays. The Heirloom Gardens are open for public enjoyment every day. For more, call 927-2891 or go to www.cambriahistoricalsociety.com. Consuelo Macedo is a Cambria Historical Society board member.

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