Search Modern Luxury

Kings of the Castle

Every September, a bicoastal group of cultural arbiters, lead by philanthropist Anne Hearst McInerney, travels to San Simeon, Calif., for the annual Hearst Castle House Party, a weekend of auctions, dining and hobnobbing that helps raise funds to preserve California’s free state parks. Here, Castle board member Remar Sutton recalls the splendor of this celebratory weekend.

Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s historic estate, is a national and California historical monument and home of the annual Hearst Castle House Party.

Photo by ©Bob Krist/Corbis

Some years ago, a young Danish nobleman, after a weekend of parties in the Hamptons, rested his booted legs on an ottoman and laughed, “You Americans! You attend three parties in one weekend. We attend one party over a weekend!”

The baron would have been right at home at Anne Hearst McInerney’s energetic, eclectic annual weekend party at her grandfather’s epic estate, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif. This year, kayaks, “California casual” attire, hiking and, for the first time, a spirited group of young internationals revved up the usual verve. Our theme for the weekend: Jazz Age Glamour. The theme lived up to its billing.

McInerney and the rest of us, who are directors of the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation, host the weekend’s activities each fall. Our weekend gathering is always limited by available seating at the first night’s event: dinner in the castle refectory. Though few tuxedos are in sight, the refectory itself is formal and splendid, starting with the exquisite art-glass lamp illumining the refectory entrance.

“That lamp is an auction item,” I mentioned to foundation director Greg Hampton as he walked by.

“Sure it is.”

“No. It really is. The artists donated it.”

“Oh, I’ve got my eye on that,” said Samia Staehle, Annie McInerney’s cousin from Washington state.

Don’t get in the way of dueling Hearsts at an auction. The next night, Staehle and her husband, Daryl, outbid Anne and her husband, Jay McInerney, for the one-of-a-kind creation by the fabled Preston Studios.

“The lamp looks amazing,” Staehle said from her home the next week. “After installation, we basically sat on the couch for the evening, staring at it. I can think of worse things to do.”

The young crowd, seated at their own long table, heated up the refectory. Alexander Munro, 27, a nobleman from Denmark, peeled off his formal doublet jacket and surveyed the scene. “This is really impressive,” he said. He should know. Munro lives at Ledreborg Palace, home to his Danish mother’s family for 250 years. His father jokingly calls his mother “nouveau riche.” The Munros have lived on their estate at Foulis Castle in Scotland for 987 years.

At dinner’s end, we ambled, Champagne in hand, along that vast, curving esplanade that connects Casa Grande to a piazza overlooking the iconic Neptune Pool and, miles below us, the California coast, the ocean glimmering as if lit by fireflies. The Royal Swing Orchestra was already at play (music from Top Hat), and it was again the young eagles who were first energized. Chiseled and poised Joe Lonsdale swept English Cook—as elegant as a Steichen photograph—across the Spanish-tiled piazza. It could have been Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers—in fact, it was, long ago, when they danced on the very same spot.

Lonsdale is one of those Silicon Valley brilliants and a philanthropist at 31, and Cook is an art historian and a true Southern belle
from Atlanta.

True Southern ladies, regardless of their age, have an elegant energy. Cyndae Arrendale and Janie Fickling Skinner proved this point the next morning when they met us for an 8:30am kayak trip. Unsurprisingly, few of the younger crowd showed up. They’d had a late evening around the oceanside fireplace on San Simeon Bay, many of them talking about social-media sites. Few of them knew that the quiet person sitting by Amanda Hearst was one of the first five employees at Facebook, Matt Cohler, age 36, and on the Forbes Midas List.

So, while the younger contingent slept off the late night, Skinner and Arrendale, contemporaries of their parents, led a dozen of our guests on a paddle tour along the dramatic Hearstian California coast.

“What an incredible adventure!” Arrendale said. Then she and Skinner jumped in their bright red convertible and headed off to join more of us in a hike through Ozymandias, the deserted, tumbledown pergola built for William Randolph Hearst on the hills just below the castle.

For 1.5 miles, the pergola snakes along the ridges overlooking the coastline. W.R. Hearst, a tall man, built it high enough that he could ride his stallion under it without taking his hat off. Long ago, the pergola was covered in thousands of fruits and flowers, many very rare.

Next year we’re thinking of offering cuttings from the remaining flora entwined along the pergola as our top auction item. Wouldn’t that really define a “one-of-a-kind” garden addition?

I haven’t told you about our special expedition up the coast for a curated tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station, which guided hundreds of ships brimming with treasures for W.R. Hearst as they headed for San Simeon. I haven’t told you about the dozens of couples from California and New York—and everywhere in between—who made our house party flawlessly fun. You didn’t hear the Barons or Bealls or Bloomingdales singing along with the 13-year-old fiddle champion at our “cowboy cookout” at the cow barn, or experience the sterling entertainment Christopher Mason provided both onstage and off during our weekend.

There’s not time to tell you about the garden party at the Ranch House, where for 80 years Hearst cowboys slept and partied before roundups, or what Candace Bushnell, swathed in a blanket-size Missoni towel (a trinket from our goodie bag) whispered to Gregory Peck’s son Tony as she lounged in a white wicker chaise by the pool. And why did heiress Wendy Stark join in that eruption of laughter?

So many untold stories. But let’s let Skinner sum up the general feeling about our weekend. Two months after the event, she said, “I’m still reliving that magical time!”

Our next house party is scheduled to begin—at the private Hearst family jet strip just below the castle—on Sept. 26, 2014. More magic is definitely in the offing.

Writer’s note: Hearst Castle is a financial engine that helps keep California’s free state parks open. About 87 percent of all revenue generated by castle tours and sales goes directly to the park fund—not to the maintenance of the castle. The House Party itself raises money to help preserve and restore the splendid structures and 25,000 artifacts that make Hearst Castle such a valuable income-producer for California’s state parks.