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The original Playboy Mansion

Casa Grande: the main house at Hearst Castle

Sitting 1,600 feet above the Pacific Ocean in the quiet little town of San Simeon, Calif. is the massive vacation home of William Randolph Heart. Now a tourist spot along the central coast of California, the property consists of a main house, Casa Grande, three guest houses, outdoor pool, indoor pool, airport, and gardens as well as more than 300 animals. (An old fashion Hugh Hefner anyone?)

According to the soundtrack tour guide visitors listen to on their way up the 5 mile long windy driveway to the castle, at one point Hearst had the largest privately owned zoo in North America. With elks, deer, llama, zebra, and cows there are still animals on the property who are descendants of Hearst’s original zoo animals. While driving on the drive we spotted hundreds of cows, a fox and the bear cages which at one time housed polar bears.

The first stop of the Experience Tour is to the infamous Neptune pool. The ancient Greek and Roman inspired pool is surrounded by colonnades of marble which lead to marble statues at the base of a large staircase. The staircase leads up to a courtyard which is surrounded by the four main structures of the property: three guest houses and the main house. Each guest house has bedrooms, all with private baths (not the norm for the early 1900s) and sitting rooms. However none of the guest houses have kitchens. According to our tour guide, Tim, this is because Hearst wanted to spend time with his guests and meals were a time for socializing.

The Neptune Pool: the outdoor pool

During the Experience tour visitors are taken through the first floor of the main house, or Casa Grande. You begin in the foyer and sitting room area. The enormous room was built totally symmetrical with matching windows on either side of the room, decorative pews on each side of the walls and an entry way across from a double mantled fireplace which sit right in the middle of the room. Tim said this is the place where Hearst and his guests would come before their dinner to have drinks and appetizers and become acquainted with one another before they moved into the dining room.

The gothic inspired dining room consists of a narrow table, purposely narrow to make conversing easier, and 22 chairs. Instead of sitting at the head of the table, Tim said, Hearst would sit in the middle of his dinner table so that he was in the middle of the conversations. Again, the totally symmetrical room has matching windows which line the top of the two longer walls. From dinner guests would work their way into another sitting room or a billiard room to enjoy after dinner drinks and more conversation. (A kid on the tour said it must of “sucked” not to have technology back then. I think I might have to agree.)

The final stop is a slightly less impressive indoor Roman pool. Inside a room, I can’t help but consider a little gaudy. From top to bottom, including the inside of the pool, covered in mosaic tiles. This Olympic sized pool is 10 feet deep from one end to the next but has the illusion on a sloping angle like most pools having a deep and shallow end.

At the end of the Experience Tour visitors are picked up by another bus and brought down the winding driveway one more time to the visitor’s center. This is one amazing place but the entire time I couldn’t help but think, is Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner our generation’s William Randolph Hearst? One day, are we going to be taking our kids to Beverly Hills and walking through the Playboy mansion, seeing Hef’s zoo, the playmate house and most impressive the grotto? Did Hearst ever think his favorite vacation home would be walked through by thousands of total strangers over 60 years after his death? Either way, Hearst was an impressive man, with eccentric and elaborate style.

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February 9, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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