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Jake Seiner
Jake Seiner

15 Fanciful Facts About the Hearst Castle

Jake Seiner
Jake Seiner

There's plenty to see as you cruise along California's famed Highway 1. But undoubtedly the most unexpected sight I came upon during a recent road-trip from San Diego to San Francisco was a small group of zebras, looking surprisingly right at home along the side of the road just south of Los Padres National Forest and somewhere north of where we'd spent the night in San Luis Obispo.

I didn't know it then, but the zebras were a sign that I had all but arrived at my destination: The Hearst Castle. Over the course of a guided tour of the grounds and a viewing of Building the Dream, a 40-minute video on the history of the castle that features some great vintage footage, I learned where the zebras came from and much more about the 20th century castle commissioned by William Randolph Hearst.

1. Many specific aspects of the castle were inspired by a trip young William took with his mother around Europe. William was born in 1863; just two years later, his father, George Hearst, purchased 40,000 acres of ranchland in San Simeon using the millions he'd made from a career in mining. The family used the property as a camping retreat. When William was 10, his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, took him on a grand tour around Europe that lasted a year and a half. Although he was quite young at the time, the trip left an impression on William and when he designed the Castle decades later, he incorporated a vast array of different European styles of architecture and artwork.

2. William inherited the land in 1919 from his mother (George Hearst had died in 1891). By then, it had grown to encompass 250,000 acres. He had plans to build a small bungalow on what the family often called "Camp Hill" and contacted the architect responsible for renovating his late mother's home.

3. The architect was 47-year-old Julia Morgan, who was the first woman to receive a certification in architecture from L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and California's first licensed female architect. "Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something," Hearst initially wrote to Morgan. But once the two began brainstorming, plans for the Castle—which was called "La Cuesta Encantada," or the Enchanted Hill—grew exponentially.

4. Hearst and Morgan worked for 28 years on the castle, spending $6.5 million on the building and $3.5 million on fantastic art from all over the world to fill the rooms.

5. Fortunately, Morgan had the forethought to use reinforced concrete for the exterior walls, necessary for the building's longevity in such a seismically-active area.

6. The Neptune Pool, one of two intricately-tiled pools on the premises, took 15 years to build. Three different versions were built during that time, each larger than the one before. The other pool is an indoor pool modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

7. Hearst loved trees. During excavation for the castle, he had live trees carefully dug up and transported to a new location on the mountain side. As if that wasn't enough, he and his crew planted 70,000 trees on the property during his years there.

8. The outside, with the palm trees and the views of the water, are all California. But the interior rooms are so strikingly similar to European castles that the set designers for Harry Potter used Hearst's dining hall as inspiration for the one at Hogwarts.

9. The walls of the dining hall are lined with 15th century choir stalls, which included an architectural feature that allowed choir boys of yore to slump back and rest their feet while still appearing to be standing. In Hearst's heyday, this feature was greatly appreciated by the waitstaff.

10. In addition to Casa Grande (the main building), which has 38 bedrooms and 42 bathrooms, a private theater, library, billiard room, etc., there are three guest houses on the property: Casa Del Monte (House of the Mountain), Casa Del Sol (House of the Sun), and Casa Del Mar (House of the Sea), where the Hearst family lived for a year.

11. Hearst entertained a number of political leaders, cultural icons and Hollywood's elite at the Castle—all with noted actress (and notably not-his-wife) Marion Davies as hostess. The invitations were often open-ended, but several guests noted that, as their stay wore on, their seat at dinner moved further and further from Hearst himself—a subtle hint that they had overstayed their welcome.

12. Hearst hosted all sorts of theme parties for his famous guests. Clark Gable and Cary Grant, among others, attended a pioneer-themed bash. And for Hearst's 71st birthday, the festivities were Civil War-themed.

13. Ever the businessman, Hearst had 100 different telephones placed around the premises so he was never out of touch. He even had one telephone installed behind a tree along the path, which not only helped him keep up with business matters but also allowed him to wow guests with his ability to conjure up the baseball score mid-horseback ride.

14. Also in the name of keeping tabs on his media empire, Hearst received a copy of each of his newspapers at the castle every day. A private plane that often brought guests along with the papers made the daily trip to the estate's private landing strip.

15. And about those zebras? Hearst established an impressive menagerie, formally called the Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology, during his time at the castle. You can see the empty cages that once held grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, and an elephant on your ride back down the mountain to the visitors center, but most of the animals are long gone. Hearst began selling off the animals in response to financial difficulty during his lifetime. After his death, many of those that remained were donated to zoos. The zebras, however, along with some other species like elk, sheep and goats, were allowed to roam free on the mountainside. Today, descendants of those zebras can still be seen on the property.

All photos courtesy of Jake Seiner

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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
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This Just In
For $61, You Can Become a Co-Owner of This 13th-Century French Castle
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images
Guillaume Souvant, Getty Images

A cultural heritage restoration site recently invited people to buy a French castle for as little as $61. The only catch? You'll be co-owning it with thousands of other donors. Now thousands of shareholders are responsible for the fate of the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers in western France, and there's still room for more people to participate.

According to Mashable, the dilapidated structure has a rich history. Since its construction in the 13th century, the castle has been invaded by foreign forces, looted, renovated, and devastated by a fire. Friends of Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers, a small foundation formed in 2016 in an effort to conserve the overgrown property, want to see the castle restored to its former glory.

Thanks to a crowdfunding collaboration with the cultural heritage restoration platform Dartagnans, the group is closer than ever to realizing its mission. More than 9000 web users have contributed €51 ($61) or more to the campaign to “adopt” Mothe-Chandeniers. Now that the original €500,000 goal has been fulfilled, the property’s new owners are responsible for deciding what to do with their purchase.

“We intend to create a dedicated platform that will allow each owner to monitor the progress of works, events, project proposals and build a real collaborative and participatory project,” the campaign page reads. “To make an abandoned ruin a collective work is the best way to protect it over time.”

Even though the initial goal has been met, Dartagnans will continue accepting funds for the project through December 25. Money collected between now and then will be used to pay for various fees related to the purchase of the site, and new donors will be added to the growing list of owners.

The shareholders will be among the first to see the cleared-out site during an initial visit next spring. The rest of the public will have to wait until it’s fully restored to see the final product.

[h/t Mashable]

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