The Cambrian

History of Hearst Ranch is focus of new book

The cover of 'Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy'
The cover of 'Hearst Ranch: Family, Land, and Legacy'

Hearst historians usually focus on the power, wealth, news savvy and celebrity friends and foes of William Randolph Hearst. But the latest in a trilogy about him and Hearst Castle, his lavish San Simeon estate, also reveals many lesser-known aspects of the late media titan and his family.

The diverse history was reflected by the guest list for a sneak-preview, book-signing party at the Hearst Dairy Barn on Nov. 2. Hearst Castle historian Victoria Kastner, who researched and wrote the book, and Stephen Hearst, W.R.’s great-grandson, signed copies of “Hearst Ranch: Family, Land and Legacy.”

The book covers four generations of Hearsts, from Sen. George Hearst through his son W.R. Hearst, W.R.’s son George R. Hearst Jr., to George’s son, Steve Hearst, host of the party and author of the book’s forward.

Guests included a diverse crowd of about 250 people with lots of Stetsons and cowboy boots, business owners and employees, corporate execs, law enforcers and politicians, artisans and writers, oenophiles and beer drinkers, those who live in upscale Bay Area neighborhoods and residents of San Luis Obispo County.

As Steve Hearst, a Hearst Corp. vice president, noted with a laugh, “This project is at least 300 percent over budget … but what a joy it has been, being involved” in capturing and preserving a more diverse look at his family’s history.

The book’s outsized dimensions and quality pictures and portraits by three specialist photographers would qualify it as a coffee-table tome. But the easy readability of “Hearst Ranch” belies that definition. It’s a charming companion piece, the prequel, if you will, to two previous Hearst books by Kastner, Hearst chronicler and biographer.

She loves to root out historical tidbits, trivia and gems. Kastner used more of Hearst’s own writings in text of this book — in the previous two volumes, those writings showed up more often in footnotes.

For instance, in 1885, W.R. was a homesick young man at his New Hampshire boarding school when he wrote to his mother, “I have settled into a state of perpetual homesickness … I never knew how much time there was in two months before, and how long it could be strung out.”

The book also offers readers a behind-the-curtain photographic glimpse of the beautiful 82,000-acre cattle ranch that surrounds the Castle and beyond. The ranch, still owned by the Hearst family, operates under a 2005 conservation easement.

The book includes many archival and recent photos of the family and the ranch, its dramatic coastline and its many century-old ranch buildings and residences designed by longtime Hearst architect Julia Morgan, none of which are open to the public.

The book is an ode to a family — a famous, wildly wealthy and powerful family for sure — but also to cowboys and those who love and respect that way of life. As Kastner said at the party, the latter included W.R. and George R. Hearst, who were proud to be ranchers who loved their land and enjoyed raising cattle and riding the range.

The book is dedicated to George Hearst, who was interviewed for it but died in June 2012 before it was published. The book’s final chapter is dedicated to the late attorney Roger Lyon of Cayucos, a vital cog in achieving the conservation solution for a ranch that had been planned for decades to be developed.

And the historical tidbits? For instance, W.R. raised Hereford and Durham cattle in San Simeon, adding the Angus breed later. The ranch also kept Jerseys for the dairy, because Jersey milk made the best Camembert and Swiss cheeses. The Castle ranch also raised hogs and poultry, although W.R. apparently was never satisfied with the quality of the chicken produced there.

And the book includes many insights into the legendary men and women, including Morgan, W.R’s mother Phoebe, wife Millicent and paramour Marian Davies.

For instance, W.R. wrote to his father, too, pleading for the purchase of some 100,000 acres of ranchland in Mexico, admonishing George to not spend so much money on thoroughbred race horses, or chiding his father for not answering letters.

A “CBS This Morning” film crew from the news show was expected at Hearst Ranch on Thursday, Nov. 14, to interview author Victoria Kastner and Stephen Hearst about “Hearst Ranch: Family, Land and Legacy.” Vanity Fair magazine will post an online profile of the book on Nov. 18, Kastner said, with up to 18 photographs.