San Simeon
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Architect Julia Morgan
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Location San Simeon, California   map
Date 1922 to 1939   timeline
Building Type large house, villa complex, castle
 Construction System concrete
Climate mild
Context rural hilltop, coastal hills
Style Historicist Romantic
Notes "Hearst Castle" for the publishing magnate. Located along the California coast near San Luis Obispo.


Photo, exterior, looking down toward pool and sweep of landscape.

Photo, exterior, looking up at twoer

Photo, exterior, looking down toward pool


Elevation Drawing



Site Plan Drawing

Plan Drawing

Discussion San Simeon Commentary

Built on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean two hundred miles south of San Francisco, San Simeon, the villa estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was designed and built over a period of 20 years.

The Main Building was placed on the highest part of the site with two towers, modeled after towers in Ronda, Spain, flanking a gabled projection with a central entrance. Lower on the slope, large 'cottages', terraces, pools and gardens make a hilltown-like complex.

The buildings are poured in place reinforced concrete with tile roofs, fireproof and braced for seismic forces. Craftsmen, carpenters, plasterers, stone casters, tile layers and skilled wood-carvers added the stylistic ornament, which made settings for numerous art objects, collected by Hearst in travels abroad. The eclectic whole is basically southern Spanish Renaissance in style with Gothic influences integrated.

The interiors similarly incorporate works of art with crafts interiors of plaster, tile, cast stone and wood carving. Gardens, pools and terraces, are articulated by colonnades, pergolas and carefully positioned art as well, including a Greco-Roman temple facade and a wellhead from Verona.— JY

The Creator's Words

William Randolph Hearst in letter to Julia Morgan:

"The San Diego Exposition is the best source for Spanish in California. The alternative is to build this group of buildings in the Renaissance style of Southern Spain. We picked out the towers of the Church at Ronda. I suppose they are Renaissance or else transitional, and they have some Gothic feelings; but a Renaissance decoration, particularly that of the very southern part of Spain, could harmonize well with them. I would very much like to have your views on what we should do in regard to this group of buildings, what style of architecture we should select. . . .I am not very sure about my architecture. . . . but after all, would it not be better to do something a little different than other people are doing out in California as long as we do not do anything incongruous? I do not want you to do anything you do not like."

Sara Holmes Boutelle. Julia Morgan Architect. p177.

"We are building for him a sort of village of a mountaintop overlooking the sea and ranges of mountains, miles away from any railway, and housing incidentally his collections as well as his family. Having different buildings allows the use of varied treatments, as does the fact that all garden work is on steep hillsides, requiring endless steps and terracing."

Julia Morgan letter in Ibid., p. 184.

"What we would like are ceilings, especially door trims, interesting architectural motifs -- not so much furniture as objets d'art."

Julia Morgan letter in Ibid., p. 184.

"The place on the hill grows -- and from a distance begins to assume the look of an old hill town. There is no effort to make the buildings themselves other than modern. They photograph badly, so I judge the actual charm is in the color -- for the garden begins to be lovely in a sophisticated way."

Julia Morgan letter in Ibid., p. 185.

". . . . but Mr. Hearst said last night 'You know we sent Mr. Byne a perfectly good set of pictures of possible looking patios and cloisters, and surely some of those Signors, Dukes, etc. are hard enough up to part with one of them.' I have in my charge something like four carloads of objects, the majority of which are small so that what we need are big things to use to make settings with. . . ."

Julia Morgan letter in Ibid., pp. 185-6.

"I look now at all the old medieval hill-top castles with a sense of fellow-understanding and sympathy with their builders -- and so too grasp the nature of your physical (and moral) struggles."

Julia Morgan letter in Ibid., p. 186.


Site: Hilltop, 5 miles up winding path above the Pacific Ocean shore; 1,600 feet in altitude, above old whaling village of San Simeon.

Construction:Morgan's invoice for cost of construction (1919-1942): $4,717,000. (Boutelle, p. 214).Morgan's fee is estimated at $70,755. She both designed, supervised and ran the job. She made 558 trips between 1919 and 1939 by train for weekend work sessions on the site.

Poured in place reinforced concrete construction, with main building faced in stone.Fireproof and seismic braced construction throughout.

Four stairway towers, 24 feet in diameter, with earthquake-proof design.

Remarkable fine grade of concrete made from rock quarried on site and sand from the shore, with salt washed out, and white sand from Carmel.

Work done on site by carpenters, plasterers, stone casters, and skilled wood-carvers, who lived on the site or in village, many houses designed by Morgan. Morgan ran the job.

Siam teak to roof towers and carved to ornament balcony between them.

Program and built features:Main Building and guesthouses: 127 rooms, 58 bedrooms, 49 baths, 18 sitting rooms, 2 libraries.

Outbuildings: greenhouses, hot houses, kennels, switchboard and newspaper offices, her own architectural office (called the shack), zoo animal shelters.

Landscape Features:
- pergola (encircling the hill for more than a mile), tall enough for "a tall man with a tall hat on a tall horse".
- pools: main outdoor pool, the Neptune Pool, over 100 feet long with 345,000 gallon capacity, surrounded by two semicircular colonnades of marble. (At the center, Hearst installed a Greco-Roman temple facade.); indoor "Roman" pool.

"The engineering of the Neptune pool is as much a triumph as its aesthetic impact. On a site excavated from the steep hillside, the pool is hung by reinforced-concrete beams from the concrete retaining wall in such a way that a seismic movement would let it sway but not break. Water flows in from natural springs above, piped into two reserve tanks of tremendous capacity, one of 345,000 gallons, the other of 1,200,000 gallons. Below the pool is a large room housing a complex filter system based on the purifying power of sand and an electric heating unit used to keep the water at a brisk 70 degrees Fahrenheit." (Boutelle, p. 206).
- tennis courts above Roman pool.
- terrace for Neptune pool houses 17 dressing rooms with baths and mirrors in foundations.
- garden design and planting and supervision of gardeners.

Sources on San Simeon

Thomas R. Aidala. Hearst Castle San Simeon. New York: Hudson Hill Press, 1981. F868.S18A33. ISBN 0-933920-19-9. LC 81-6408. drawing of site plan, p43. drawing of first floor plan of main building, p75. drawing of second floor plan of main building, p75.

Sara Holmes Boutelle. Julia Morgan Architect. Color Photographs by Richard Barnes. New York: Abbeville Press, 1988. ISBN 0-89659-792-X. LC 87-29008. NA737.M68B68 1988. drawing of front elevation of main building, p188. exterior photo of main building towers, p191. interior photo of suite, p199. interior photo of study, p10. interior photo of assembly room fireplace, p195, partial image. exterior photo of tower at twilight, p215. exterior photo of pool, p207.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about San Simeon


Web Resources
Links on San Simeon

Hearst CastleThe official web site, with tons of information.

San Simeon at ArchiplanetFind, add, and edit info at the all-buildings collaboration

We appreciate your  suggestions  for links about San Simeon.

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