For many people worldwide, San Simeon means Hearst Castle. For Marjorie “Marj” Reid Sewell of Cambria, however, San Simeon is “where I belong. I have such a connection there.”
Sewell was born in San Simeon in 1932 and lived there until she left to attend San Jose State in 1949. Hers was an idyllic upbringing in a tiny coastal village with a killer view.
“Growing up in San Simeon was an absolutely fabulous experience,” she said. “It was such a very special place to be, such a community. Talk about kids being raised by a village!”
From first through eighth grade, Sewell attended the tiny, one-room 1870s-era Pacific School, which still is in San Simeon. William Reid, Sewell’s father, managed the greenhouses at William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop estate, including baby-sitting Marion Davies’ orchid collection.
“One of my father’s favorite guests was (Hearst gossip columnist) Luella Parsons, who was an avid gardener,” and frequent guest at the estate, Sewell recalled.
The town’s youngsters “hiked all over the place on the ranch, where the airport is now, on the (San Simeon) Point.” In fact, Sewell said her heart still believes “the point is mine. I love that point.”
She said, “You could see the Castle through the back window of the Pacific School classroom.”
Gazing out that window, Sewell “went on so many ‘magic carpet rides,’ the teacher would say, ‘Marjorie would get a lot more done if she didn’t daydream so much.’ But I think daydreaming is important,” especially when there’s something so spectacular to trigger the imagination.
The veteran teacher still has strong connections to San Simeon. A State Parks history docent, she dons period costumes to portray a Hearst guest during the monument’s seasonal night tours. Sewell also is a volunteer at the Coastal Discovery Center, and she makes scarecrows to display in San Simeon locations during the October Scarecrow Festival in Cambria and San Simeon.
She also teaches new Castle tour guides about San Simeon history, including the fact that there was an entire town there during the whaling and dairy-shipping days in the late 1800s, with about 45 houses, two hotels, the county’s first commercial pier, a saloon, livery stable, stores, blacksmith shop, butcher shop and lots of people.
Today, San Simeon Village includes W.R. Hearst Memorial Beach, the pier and point, Sebastian’s General Store and Café (a state historical landmark), Hearst Ranch Winery, a U.S. Postal Service branch, historic mission-style Hearst warehouses and a couple of homes built for employees of W.R. Hearst. A 1928 warehouse and the stucco Hearst houses built in 1930 and 1931 were designed by Castle architect Julia Morgan.