“I love this ranch. It is wonderful. I love the sea and I love the mountains and the hollows in the hills and the shady places in the creeks and the fine old oaks and even the hot brushy hillsides – full of quail – and the canyons – full of deer. It is a wonderful place. I would rather spend a month at the ranch than anyplace in the world.”
– William Randolph Hearst, 1917
William Randolph Hearst wrote these words to his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, in 1917, while camping with his wife, Millicent, and their five sons on a sunny hilltop overlooking the Pacific. Today, Hearst Castle occupies this site. Hearst and his talented architect, Julia Morgan, began building this vast twin-towered mansion in 1919 and continued its construction for twenty-eight years. At the time of this letter, however, the hill was bare except for a small cabin and a few tent platforms. William Randolph Hearst formed a deep attachment to this land, which he had known since his childhood. His letter still provides an accurate description of his beloved ranch at San Simeon.
In his devotion to then site, William Randolph Hearst followed a family tradition. His father, George Hearst, was a wealthy miner who bought property near San Simeon Bay in 1865, when William was only two.
George built a long wharf and a large warehouse on the bay, and raised thoroughbred horses nearby. As he gradually acquired more ranchland, he discouraged local commerce rather than increasing it. His land agent griped that George wasn’t aggressive enough, preferring instead to leave San Simeon unaltered “for the boy.”
Phoebe Apperson Hearst survived her husband, who died in 1891, and she too acquired property at San Simeon until her death in 1919.
William Randolph Hearst made the largest acquisition of all, buying 153,000 acres of adjoining ranchland to the northeast. In 1925, when the ranch was at its height, it encompassed approximately 250,000 acres.
In expanding and improving the ranch, Hearst pursued the interests of both his parents. His hilltop Castle honored his mother’s love of art and architecture. He kept his father’s ranching traditions alive and well. Though George Hearst spent far more time apart from his son than with him – pursuing mining investments throughout the west – he and young Willie (as W.R. was known in the early years) often camped together in San Simeon.
William Randolph Hearst was the first member of his family who chose to be a rancher. His parents were both raised on Missouri farms. When they came west to California in 1862, they were hoping to leave their agrarian past behind. As the sole heir to their vast mining fortune, Hearst could have lived in the city and devoted himself solely to commerce. Instead, he became a powerful newspaperman who owned twenty-eight dailies, more than a dozen magazines, and numerous radio and film companies. Through it all, he remained active in every aspect of ranching in San Simeon, as thousands of letters he exchanged with Julia Morgan and with his ranch employees attest. Morgan’s many original ranch buildings not only survive, but remain in daily use today.
The Hearst family’s early stewardship of this site continues, though the ranch was nearly developed after William Randolph Hearst’s death in 1951. The Hearst Corporation received approval in 1964 to build eight concrete and glass-cities for 65,000 residents – with amenities including a large university, a commercial airport, and a yacht harbor in San Simeon Bay. When this ambitious scheme was dropped, the corporation pursued various development proposals over the next forty years, including plans for a 650-room luxury hotel, a twenty-seven-hole golf course, and a desalination plant.
In 2005, under the direction of Hearst’s great-grandson, Stephen Hearst these efforts were finally averted. The corporation created a conservation easement, ensuring that San Simeon’s 82,000 acres will remain a family cattle ranch in perpetuity. They also donated thirteen miles of pristine coastline to the people of California, protecting this vast stretch of beautiful and accessible shoreline from commercial development, in what has been described as the largest and most complex conservation deal in the United States.
George, Phoebe, and William Randolph Hearst would surely approve. In 1922, W.R. (as he was known in adulthood) told an investigative reporter: “I am a rancher enjoying life on the high hills overlooking the broad Pacific. If you want to talk about Herefords I will talk with you, but not about politics.”
One hundred and fifty years after the Hearst Ranch began, Hereford and Angus cattle still graze these pastures, and its high hills still overlook the broad unspoiled Pacific.
History – Notable Years In The History of the Hearst Ranch
1865 – George Hearst purchases the 48000 acre Piedra Blanca Rancho
1886 – Piedra Blanca Rancho grows to 270,000 acres
1891 – Senator George Hearst, elected in 1887, dies in Washington, DC.
1919 – Phoebe Apperson Hearst dies of Spanish Flu at her Hacienda in Pleasanton, Ca.
1919 – William Randolph Hearst begins building the Hearst Castle at the Hearst Ranch, a large integrated farming and ranching operation at this time.
1947 – W.R. Hearst leaves the Hilltop for the last time. He moves to Beverly Hills where he spends his last three years.
1951 – W.R. Hearst dies in Beverly Hills, Ca.
1957 – Hearst Corporation and the Hearst family donate the Hilltop to the State of California.
1958 – Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument opens to the public.
1965 – Hearst Corporation purchases the Jack Ranch
2002 – Hearst Corporation and the American Land Conservancy announce the framework for the Hearst ranch Conservation Project to preserve the unique working landscape of the Hearst ranch forever.
2005 – Hearst Ranch Conservation Project closes escrow transferring 13 miles of coastline to State hands and forever protecting the 82,000 acre Hearst Ranch.
2007 – Hearst Ranch Beef Kiosk opens at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center
2008 – Hearst Ranch named 2008 California Beef Cattle Improvement Association Commercial Producer of the Year
2009 – Hearst Ranch and Anaheim Convention Center partner on grass-fed beef cattle-shares
2010 – Hearst Ranch Winery is launched
2011 – Hearst Ranch Beef and Whole Foods Market Southern Pacific Region pioneer a new culinary movement, introducing seasonal Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Beef to select Whole Foods stores in Southern California. Hearst Ranch Winery named 2011 “Winery of the Year” in the Central Coast Wine Competition.
2012 – Hearst Ranch Beef concludes second season as seasonal grass-fed beef producer for Whole Foods.
2013 – Hearst Ranch Beef concludes third season of seasonal grass-fed beef production with Whole Foods. Hearst Ranch Beef is featured in 22 Whole Foods markets in the Southern Pacific Region.