- Historic Sites
Lord Of San Simeon
In his old age, William Randolph Hearst did a stately pleasure dome decree, and yet the secret river, youth, escaped him
August 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 5
Conchita Sepulveda, an old Hearst family friend who had become society editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, arrived at San Simeon for a visit on August 6, 1945. Hearst met her on the terrace, but he was not his usual pleasant self.
“A terrible thing has happened,” he said, his face grave.
“What is it?” she inquired.
“They have dropped an atomic bomb on Japan.” He was visibly upset. A prediction he had dashed off thirteen years earlier—“The next war will be a terrible story of the … horrifying destructiveness of modern agencies of war”—had come true. The gentle, human side of Hearst was stricken at the thought of a bomb so frightful that it killed thousands of people, even though they were Japanese. He had indeed come a long way. The man who was born before the Battle of Gettysburg, who had seen the first railroad built across the nation and had taken more than a week to cross it as a boy on the same railroad, who had cheered the air age and feted Lindbergh, had now lived to see the atomic age.
A page of more personal history was torn away when Miss Davies decided to sell her beach house, which was little used now. It was difficult to keep it staffed with servants, and the tax drain was heavy. The place was almost as much of an anachronism as San Simeon, for there were few in 1945 who could afford such an establishment. It brought only $600,000 when it was sold to a real estate operator who planned to convert it into a private beach club. The price was almost exactly what its thirty-seven imported fireplaces had cost. The silver, porcelain, furniture, and other appointments were auctioned in New York, bringing another $204,762.
Hearst had to give up his tennis and now swam only occasionally, but his teletype instructions to his editors were as pithy as ever. He seemed in a perpetual chill and wanted all the castle fireplaces going full blast. But if he felt the aches of old age, he did not complain. He had never been a complainer.
Public opinion had mellowed somewhat toward Hearst, although some liberals would never forgive him. March 4, 1947, marked the sixtieth anniversary of the day back in 1887 when, as a pink-cheeked young man, he had officially taken over the San Francisco Examiner from his father. Republican Senator Arthur Capper rose in the Senate that day to deliver a eulogy, praising Hearst for his work for labor, woman suffrage, and peace.
Throughout Hearst’s career, said Capper, he had found “a human factor that especially marks him. Nothing engages his sympathy so quickly as the helpless on earth; nothing inflames his anger so much as wrong to those helpless.”
At the same time, Republican Representative Edith Nourse Rogers eulogized Hearst in the House where he had served as a congressman four decades earlier, saying, “Whenever the term of public servant requires a synonym, I believe it will be Hearst.”
Possibly the old man’s heart could not stand the shock of hearing praise emanate from both houses in Washington. Shortly afterward, he suffered a painful seizure. It was diagnosed as auricular fibrillation, a serious heart condition. He recovered partially, but he would never be a well man again. His physicians warned him that he must no longer stay at remote San Simeon. He must move to the city where he could be under the care of a specialist.
Hearst wept as he made the last trip down the Enchanted Hill—through the electrically opened gates, through the zoo—on his way to Los Angeles. One can picture him turning his head on the coastal highway to catch a last glimpse of the far-off twin towers on which he had spent thirty millions—the towers that represented his youthful dream of triumph and mastery, now shattered by age. He was only mortal after all. He knew he would never come back.