La Cuesta Encantada (Hearst Castle) San Simeon, California, USA

La Cuesta Encantada, also nick-named “Hearst Castle” is an easy target of scorn. It’s a monument to the bowerbird tastes of the latter day carpetbagger, William Randolph Hearst. A cashed-up Hearst swept through a devastated cash strapped Europe after both world wars buying up decorative arts that caught his eye without much of a coherent plan of what to do with it all when he got back home. His only aim seemed to be to decorate his dream house, which was designed and being built (it was never finished) by the very capable Julia Morgan. Most of La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) is of the “Mediterranean Revival” style with various other styles thrown in for good luck.

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 It’s a sort of rich man’s pastiche of Disneyland meets Hollywood. The main building looks like a cross between a Mediterranean church and a Tyrolean Berghaus. The plethora of religious decoration on display almost leads one to think that Hearst was a devout man of Catholic faith. Apparently the only Catholic thing about Hearst was his taste. All the religious subject of the “art” was basically a manifestation of the fact that the church was the major arts patron in Europe for the last thousand years. All the great medieval and renaissance European artists did most of their work for the church, so as a consequence; most well made decoration of that time was religious in nature.

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Part of me (the part that ignores the way Hearst behaved politically) can sympathize with Hearst and how he led his life. Why not build a dream house and decorate it to your own taste? Why not have huge dinners every night with the most interesting people of your age? What could be better than a good food and good company in salubrious surroundings?

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 Hearst paid well and provided a lot of employment to the area around San Simeon. If I had the kind of money that Hearst did, I’d probably live in a similar way with the exception that I’d give a major chunk of the money away to charities like the Malambo Women’s Club and the Fred Hollows Foundation. I’d also commission new works by living artists rather that collect art from dead artists. It’s better in my mind to feed a living artist than a living art dealer.

If you are going to the west coast of the US, I recommend going to Hearst Castle just to see his swimming pools!

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The Roman pool was used in the 1960 Kubrik movie Spartacus and it is the setting of the famous deleted “eating oysters” and “eating snails” scene which was used by Lawrence Olivier’s character Crassus as code for, sexual preference is a matter of taste rather than morality. It’s an amazing scene for it’s day and all the more bizzare for the fact that Tony Curtis delivers his lines with a Bronx accent.

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The indoor pool under the main building is an Art Deco tour de force in gold and lapis lazuli cloured tiles.

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