Hearst Castle was in the festive swim of things Sunday, Oct. 21, as hundreds of people gathered to celebrate a monumental achievement, the complete $5.4 million rehabilitation of the 104-by-95-foot outdoor Neptune Pool and alcove.
The iconic, marble-tiled structure is one of the most popular sites on the former estate of millionaire media mogul William Randolph Hearst. It’s also reportedly one of the most photographed swimming venues in the world.
About 250 people attended the “Great Gatsby”-inspired event, including about 50 in 1920s-style apparel.
During Sunday’s brief ceremony, current and past State Parks executives and others, including Friends of Hearst Castle president and former KSBY anchor Jeanette Trompeter, praised the honorees — the men and women who had dedicated so much time and effort during the past few years to restoring the massive pool and making it wouldn’t leak anymore.
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Until the refurbished, repaired pool was refilled in August, it had been empty since 2013.
“It was a great way to bring the train into the station,” so to speak, according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the state park district that includes Hearst Castle. The event celebrated “the future for a project that was a labor of love for many folks” who came from near and far to mark the completion.
Falat said a State Parks engineer from Sacramento told him at the event that “even though he’d been working on the project for four years plus, when you really see it in this light, it shows how important the project was and what it means to everybody.”
“This was such a large undertaking and a long-term project.,” Falat said. “They invested so much time, energy and work.”
The event was a cooperative venture between State Parks and Friends of Hearst Castle, the nonprofit group that helps support conservation, education, special events and more at the accredited historic house museum.
The afternoon soiree around the pool included local wines and appetizers and a rare synchronized swimming performance in the pool’s chilly waters. Attendees paid up to $135 a ticket to be there.
After the celebration ended and most of the people headed back down the hill by bus, the second half of the afternoon’s festivities began: A private swim party for 50 people who’d paid for the pricey right to actually swim in the pool.
Falat reported that, despite the “warm, beautiful day,” by the time the swimmers got in the pool, the water temperature was “about 60 or 62 degrees,” with air in the mid-60s, so “there wasn’t a lot of long-term swimming … more a lot of jumping in and jumping back out again.”
During both parts of the celebration, “the aura was very positive,” he said, “with a lot of excitement, a really joyous atmosphere. It was a spectacular event … very positive for the attendees, the Castle, Friends (of Hearst Castle) and State Parks as a whole.”
The Friends fundraiser swim replaced the group’s customary Holiday Dinner in the Refectory event. Tickets to the exclusive swim party cost up to $1,500, and they sold out faster than an Olympic swan dive.
The Neptune Pool is not open for public swimming except for rare events sponsored by the Friends of Hearst Castle — small private parties usually won with high-ticket bids at fundraiser auctions.