When William Randolph Hearst decided in 1919 to undertake “a little project” atop the family camping site overlooking San Simeon Harbor, he needed an architect with the endurance to manage the project over time (it took 28 years). Someone who could collaborate with his larger than life character. Someone with an artist’s eye who could procure hundreds of treasures from all over the world and know just what to do with them. Someone with the engineering acumen to design a gravity-based system to collect water from mountain artesian wells and pipe it to the vast estate. Someone with the architectural vision to design an 80,000 square foot complex featuring 58 bedrooms, 60 bathrooms, 41 fireplaces, two olympic-sized pools and intricately designed gardens covering 127 acres.
He chose Julia Morgan, a diminutive and introverted engineer and architect who had to fight for the right to her education. As the only woman in her graduating civil engineering class at University of California, Berkeley, Morgan set her sights on studying architecture at the Paris École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. The school had never admitted a woman. She was not even allowed access to the classroom and had to sit outside. After three tries and a lot of persistence, she gained acceptance and graduated with a certificate in architecture in 1902.
Back in California, she became the first woman to obtain an architect’s license. Her first employer boasted that Morgan was “an excellent draftsman whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman.” By the time her work caught Hearst’s eye, she had many impressive projects in her portfolio and her own firm. She quickly won status as Hearst’s chief architect and developed hundreds of projects for him over the years.
Morgan never married and surprisingly little is known about her life, but she famously remarked that “my buildings will be my legacy… they will speak for me long after I’m gone.”
Indeed, Morgan’s accomplishment at Hearst Castle is almost inconceivable. She supervised nearly every aspect of construction—including the purchase of Spanish antiquities—and personally designed most of the grounds, pools, structures, and even the workers’ camp and castle zoo. One of her biggest challenges was integrating Heart’s vast art collection into the Spanish Colonial Revival style structures and grounds.
Museum on The Enchanted Hill
Hearst’s “Enchanted Hill” (as he liked to call it) abounds with thousands of historic objects from around the world—in the gardens, guest houses, and Casa Grande. It was Hearst’s wish that the property be opened to the public after his death so that those who might not have the opportunity to enjoy world-wide travel might have an opportunity to enjoy some of them here. Among these are the Sculptures of the Goddess Sekhmet (dating back to c. 1550-1070 BCE Egypt) that sits majestically as a fountain on the esplanade; the Roman columns (dating back to 1st-4th centuries CE) and 17th century Italian statue of Neptune that provide the focal points of the Neptune Pool.