Hearst Castle was unlike any other residential construction project.
It had an unlimited budget, warehouses of antiques purchased the world over, a talented architect, Julia Morgan, whose perfectionist client wasn’t afraid to rip up a building when a space failed to live up to his expectations. The outdoor Neptune Pool went through three builds before it was “finished.”
If William Randolph Hearst were alive today, workers would still be finishing the structure.
Hearst overextended his empire building with a half-dozen opulent residences, including a modernization of a real 12th-century castle in Wales, St. Donats. Tax trouble, World War II and finally old age slowed, then halted construction at Hearst Castle.
For many local craftsmen, the Castle was a meal ticked even in the lean years of the Great Depression. Telegram-Tribune reporter Michael Raphael wrote this Sept. 12, 1969 story:
Hearst Castle carpenter: ‘They tore down as much as they built’
James John Angellini, better known as Jack, is a native of San Luis Obispo who worked for 53 years as a carpenter. He reminisced the other day, dwelling mostly on his favorite job — Hearst Castle.
“Oh man, that was a good job,” Jack said, laughing over the good times the 83-year-old man had before and after World War II as a carpenter on the buildings of the late and famous publisher, William Randolph Hearst.
“Everything had to look rough, old and aged … it’s harder to make things look old than to do a neat job,” Angellini said.
He described how the castle was closed during the war, and how he went to the castle after it opened again for what he thought was a quick job.
“Ted Maino sent me to build a box for the dachshund,” Angellini related. “ I didn’t think he’d like it but he said, ‘That’s a work of art.’ He was tickled to death … he was crazy about that dog.”
“I ended up staying there a year that time,” Angellini said.
Angellini, who has “practically been in this neighborhood all my life,” helped build the Greyhound Bus terminal, the county garage and 100 homes, including an all-wood construction house that Angellini described as his toughest job.
He took part in construction of many “good buildings here in town,” he said. He worked for contractor W.J. Smith for 18 years, and then for Maino Construction Co. for another 18.
He best remembers his work “for the old man” — Hearst.
Before the war, he put up ceilings in the famed castle and cottages.
Hearst “was a heck of a nice guy … he always said hello,” Angellini said. “I got along fine up there.
“We didn’t dare nail anything solid because Hearst had to pass on it or it had to come down. Hearst couldn’t visualize it in his own mind,” Angellini said. “They tore down as much as they built,” he said.
After the war, he worked mostly on deteriorated woodwork and statues. “I’d glue it together or pin it up to keep it together,” he said.
He and other workmen could not go into Hearst’s residence before 10 a.m. “I couldn’t hammer before 10 because of all the steel in the building,” Angellini said. “But there was plenty to do.”
Angellini was told not to ride the elevator after 10 a.m. and when working in the castle he’d have to walk the 100 feet up the stairs even to go down “for a nail or something,” he said.
“But I was lucky that they sent me up there to build that dog box,” he said. “I ate the best there was there.”
Rationing was still in effect, but that had no effect at Hearst’s castle, he said. “I lived like a king … ate steaks … I gained 10 pounds while I was there. The only thing we had to furnish was our own sugar.”
Angellini was “getting scale” wages, plus room and board. “They wanted people they could trust,” he said. “They trusted me.”
The riches of the castle were apparently tempting to many, but “I minded my own business. I was in every room of the castle,” he said.
His favorite room is the upstairs library with its handcarved beams, a room he did not work on, he said.
Hearst allowed $100,000 for work on buildings at the part of the ranch near Jolon, and wanted windows put in the concrete walls, ranging in thickness from six to 12 inches, Angellini said.
Hearst wanted eight suites built that depression summer, it was 35 miles from the castle to the Jolon camp, and the windows had to be cut by hand, Angellini said. And it was “hot and cold country. I was tickled to leave when the job was done.”
“He only slept there one night,” Angellini said. “I think he sold it to the government when they took over Hunter Liggett.”
Angellini retired from carpentry 15 years ago.
Now, the slightly stooped man, hard of hearing but with a full head of rich white hair and sparkling brown eyes, laughs often and “just putters around.”
He and his wife, Otelia, also 83, will celebrate 60 years of marriage on Dec. 7. They keep up the garden because “you gotta do something,” he said.
His three grown married children are Francis Ritzinger of San Luis Obispo, Donald Angellini of Paso Robles and Lucille Reel of North Hollywood. The Angellinis have four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Angellini doesn’t smoke — he quit 53 years ago because he had a “tobacco heart,” he said.
“I fool around the house now,” he said. “Once in a while I do repairs for nothing to help friends.”
“I’m getting too damn old to do much. It tires me out. But you just can’t lay around,” he said.
Two of Jack’s old friends drove up to sit and talk with him on the front porch of 866 Mill St., where Jack lives now, a block from his birthplace, and as we left we could hear Jack reliving some of the “good old days.”
David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, email@example.com, @DavidMiddlecamp