The Cambrian

Hearst Castle's Neptune Pool will be filled this summer for the first time in years

Tour takers at Hearst Castle should see something sometime this summer that’s been anxiously awaited for several years: Approximately 345,000 gallons of water glistening in the iconic outdoor Neptune Pool.

California State Park officials hesitate to give firm estimates for when crews actually might start refilling the formerly leaky pool after its lengthy renovation and facelift.

But “we’re still on track for a summer unveiling… barring any issues,” said Dan Falat, superintendent of the state park district that includes the castle, last week.

The state is spending an estimated $5.4 million to refurbish the 80-year-old, 104-by-95-foot pool, a complex task that had been made more urgent by ongoing and expanding leaks. Estimates in 2013 were that the pool was leaking between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of water a day.

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During a May tour, State Parks’ Harold Hadley points out statuary that needs to be returned after tile is set in place as part of renovation work on the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Contractor T. B. Penick & Sons of San Diego and various subcontractors began the renovations and repairs in earnest two years ago, but the project’s planning process in Sacramento and San Simeon had been underway for about a decade.

It’s not been a quick fix.

The weather-sensitive restoration project included removing all the old tile; finding leaks and stopping them with expandable foam; sanding the concrete shell; redoing the filtration, piping and flow systems; adding its first real waterproofing and a flexible membrane liner; resurfacing the pool and installing about 10,000 replica white marble tiles and 4,500 green serpentine pieces.

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The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, seen here in 2010, has been empty and undergoing repairs for much of the last few years. Manny Crisostomo mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

The tile was obtained from Carl Schilling Stoneworks quarry in Vermont, the source of the originals. The marble tile is actually white, not blue or teal, contrary to the countless photos of the Neptune. Those colors are reflections from the sky.

The massive pool is reportedly one of the most frequently photographed in the world with its spectacular hilltop setting — famous for shots of sunlight dancing on the water, fog wafting over it and vivid sunset reflections.

Other parts of the site, including Art Deco statues and pedestals, are also being restored and/or repaired.

Original construction of the Neptune spanned from 1924 to 1936, with three different versions of the pool, each one larger than its predecessor.

The Neptune has been mostly empty since early 2014.

The contractor filled the pool briefly last year to test the water tightness of the repairs, but that water was drained so the work and subsequent re-tiling could proceed.

The Neptune was refilled briefly in 2014 with water donated by Hearst Corp. for a Lady Gaga video shoot. Gaga made various donations to related causes, and the water was piped back into the castle’s irrigation system, which is where it would have gone anyway.

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