This article was originally published in August 2017.
I have just returned from my old and dear friends’ week-long 25th wedding anniversary celebration at Wyntoon, the 60,000 acre Hearst estate located near Mt. Shasta in Northern California. William Randolph Hearst, the famous tycoon and newspaper proprietor, purchased the property in 1929.
After leaving Harvard, this son of a wealthy 49er who made his fortune in gold and silver mining asked his father if he could take over the San Francisco Examiner, which he did in 1887, because he saw a future in the media. ‘WR’, as he is referred to by the family, had many grand and ambitious plans. One was to build a 68 bedroom castle at Wyntoon on the bend of the McCloud River. This design by Bernard Maybeck was not dissimilar in form but considerably larger than the present day Disney Castle as seen at Disneyworld. However, at this time, his accountants told him he had to scale back his spending so what he built instead, with the help of Julia Morgan, his female Beaux Arts trained architect, was a cluster of houses that imitated a Bavarian village. Here is the genesis of fairy tale architecture in California.
WR had wide interests in all European cultures, as witnessed by his purchase and construction of numerous large palaces all over the world to house his vast and varied collections. At the height of his collecting, it has been estimated that he controlled 20% of the world’s art and antiques. However, WR’s first trips to Europe, accompanied by his mother and tutor, took him to Bavaria among other places, and Germany remained his favourite destination. We forget this, but at this time before the First World War many wealthy Americans looked to Germany for their cultural lead. Consisting of three houses named after Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Wyntoon was also to be the repository of his German art and antique collection which it is to this day. Angel House, Cinderella House and Bear House were completed in 1933 and were decorated on the exterior by the Hungarian illustrator Willy Pogany who also happened to work for Walt Disney. These murals, however, are bright and cheerful in contrast to the often dark tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Bear House, Wyntoon, by Julia Morgan (completed 1933)