The Cambrian

Hearst Castle roof repaired just in time for expected El Niño

Crews work to replace tiles and make other repairs on the roof of Hearst Castle.
Crews work to replace tiles and make other repairs on the roof of Hearst Castle. Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle has completed a 19-month project to repair the red tile roof on the historical monument’s main house — the 68,500 square-foot, 38-bedroom La Casa Grande — just as weather forecasts began predicting a wet El Niño winter ahead.

The $3.6 million roofing project, which wrapped up in midsummer and included nearly 14,500 square feet of ceramic tile and shored up underpinnings, had been planned for several years as part of state-funded maintenance designed to protect the Castle and the more than 20,000 artworks, artifacts and treasures inside.

According to Brooke Gutierrez, acting district superintendent for the State Parks San Luis Obispo Coast District, the California Legislature authorized the roof work in July 2014, using funds from the 2012 Assembly Bill 1478, which provided $10 million for capital improvements at California’s state parks.

A project to redo the iconic Neptune Pool also was part of that action. Gutierrez said Thursday that the pool project is “currently in the design process, so the cost depends on the scope of the bid. But we’re still pursuing a 2016 completion date.”

Because so much water was leaking from the outdoor pool in midsummer 2014, the 345,000-gallon pool was drained as a conservation measure. It has been empty ever since.

The castle is the former estate of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

According to State Parks, when repairing a designated historic building, special care must be taken to maintain the estate’s historic fabric. In the roof project, for instance, original materials were reused whenever possible, and workers employed mostly traditional methods of fastening the replacement tiles.

In the roof’s flat areas, special grates were used to attach the tiles, museum director Mary Levkoff said.

“I was told that on the flat areas, the idea is to avoid drilling attachment hooks for the tiles because that might create more susceptibility to leaks,” she said. “The tiles are attached to grates which are, in turn, attached to the substructure.”

That reduces the number of drill holes needed to complete the job.

Gutierrez said the roof project included special considerations to protect bats during their breeding season, and the project saved and reused as many of the original lichen-covered roof tiles as possible. A side benefit of retaining the lichen is the living patina it gives those tiles, she said.

As important as the roof work was, it’s just one of the many projects State Parks has done or planned for Hearst’s sprawling former estate.

For instance, Spectra Company, the restoration company on the current project, has done several other recent jobs at the monument, including restoring 28 stained-glass windows. The firm also restored the sills and door thresholds on the five “Tower Windows.”

Service providers

Roofing contractor: Best Construction Services, Gardena

Architectural services: by Page and Turnbull, San Francisco

Historic restoration contractor: Spectra Company, Pomona