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San Simeon Builder's Forgotten Notes : Cache Enriches Castle Lore

January 27, 1985|EVELYN De WOLFE

The legendary castle of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, high above the hills of San Simeon, has been described from every possible viewpoint and its contents meticulously noted and catalogued.

Still, this extraordinary landmark that has been variously described as a museum warehouse, corporate headquarters, resort hotel and expanded camp, continues to hold history buffs spellbound and hungering for anything new to surface and be added to its rich folklore.

Related memorabilia preserved by the castle's builder, the late George Loorz, on the most important project of his career, lay forgotten for years, shoved back in a closet in the Loorz family home. Its contents had never before been examined by Loorz's son, Bill Loorz, Stolte Inc.'s chief operating officer, until a reporter's curiosity nudged him.

Took Role for Granted

"I guess I had never realized the historic value of these personal letters and notes scribbled on bits of paper, on the backs of check stubs and even on brown paper bags, that were exchanged between my father, his client, William Randolph Hearst, and Hearst's architect, Julia Morgan," Loorz said.

"It may be that, over the years, we simply took for granted the key role that Dad and other Stolte workers played in building one man's architectural whim--the Enchanted Hill."

George Loorz became a partner of F. C. Stolte in 1932, and was for many years president of Stolte Inc., until succeeded by his son Bill.

"Actually, Dad's papers also reveal a little-known side of Julia Morgan, one of the first women to break the barrier into the male-dominated world of architects," he said. "My own childhood recollections of Mr. Hearst and of Julia Morgan in those early years in and around the Hill when my father was building the castle, are still vivid in my mind."

Drawings for the castle were drafted in 1919, and the castle opened in 1925, although construction continued through the late 1930s.

The correspondence Loorz agreed to share with Times readers covers those early years when Bill Loorz entered first grade at the community's one-room schoolhouse shared by 12 other students.

"Julia Morgan was full of surprises and had a genuine fondness for us children. When I was about 6 years old and hospitalized in San Luis Obispo, she wrote to me every day and sent me a gift with each note. She was a fascinating woman."

Born in San Francisco in 1872, Morgan was recognized as a genius during her lifetime. She received her degree from the prestigious L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (the first female student admitted to that institution) and began her profession as the first certified American architect in 1902 at the age of 30.

Morgan closed her San Francisco offices in the early 1950s, having designed more than 800 buildings, including the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Building at 11th Street and Broadway, during her long career.

Worked for His Mother Morgan was known to Hearst's mother, Mrs. Phoebe Hearst, and had worked on several family properties before William Randolph Hearst started the development on the bare hill at San Simeon in 1919 and selected Morgan as his architect.

Probably the most innocuous remark relating to the monumental architectural undertaking that followed came from Hearst himself when he told Morgan: "We are tired of camping out at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something."

By the time George Loorz was given the assignment to construct that "little something," it had turned into a major on-going project that would eventually rival the most sumptuous architectural aspirations of any potentate and be visited by nearly 1 million tourists annually.

The original parcel of land on which the castle was built consisted roughly of 250,000 acres of coastal ranch land on a plateau in the Santa Lucia Mountains that had been acquired by Hearst's father, Sen. George Hearst, for 60 cents an acre. The property, once part of the old Piedra Blanca Spanish grant, was ringed by 50 miles of California seacoast and total wilderness.

It was at La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill), once the heart of the Hearst publishing empire, where William Randolph Hearst kept in touch with what went on in the world through his private teletype and telephone systems. To the Hill, by coveted invitation, came the great names in every field.

Involved in Details Known to one and all as The Chief, Hearst involved himself obsessively in the smallest details of design and construction of the hilltop castle and its three guest houses, often providing magazine illustrations of complex ironwork he wished duplicated by local artisans. The main house, which Hearst named Casa Grande, had 38 bedrooms, 31 baths, two libraries and 14 sitting rooms and the adjoining houses had a total of 46 rooms.

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