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

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.

Bill Loorz observed that all the structures on the hill designed by Morgan had been built of reinforced concrete--an unusual construction technique at the time--and were covered with exterior cement, plaster, stone, tile or left bare, depending on the location. "We still use some of the very same techniques today," he said.

Loorz remembers that such grading and road building as was needed was done with a steam shovel. Work continued through the 1920s until 1937, when the Hearst organization was beset with financial problems. Several ballrooms and grand staircases that were envisioned by Hearst and Morgan were never built.

The Loorz papers reveal that Hearst was insistent on obtaining a certain result even when the costs of labor involved in making changes seemed prohibitive.

"Early in the construction, I remember my father announcing at the family table that while ascending his new eight-mile road that day, Hearst had decided that one of the buildings was not well displayed," Loorz said. "He ordered the building torn down and rebuilt close by, despite the fact that it was almost completed.

"Mr. Hearst was compulsive about getting things done, regardless of cost, and some caution was expressed in notes to The Chief from Miss Morgan and my father to keep within the budget. He liked to push his own budget."

The Chief's notes to George Loorz reflected a constant preoccupation with providing suitable areas and proper care for the rare animals he kept on the property.

In an exchange of correspondence during March of 1937, George Loorz informed The Chief: "I am sorry to have to report that on Wednesday morning a carpenter was working alone when he suddenly turned to find the old black ostrich attacking him. In self defense, he swung a 2x4 he had in his hand, striking the bird on the neck and killing it. He said he meant to hit it in the body but it is easy to realize that one in fear would do just as he did."

Hearst replied: "As long as the ostrich did not hurt the man, there is nothing to worry about. However, we should endeavor to cure ugly birds and animals and I think the best way is to shoot them in the prat with a charge of rock salt.

"Animals are like humans--they are ugly when they think they can get away with it. A little severe discipline usually convinces them that they can NOT get away with it. The severity is not cruel. It would have saved the ostrich's life.

"When the men are working in places exposed to attack, I suggest you send a watchman along with a shotgun containing a small charge of rock salt. I think it will do the trick."

Bill Loorz remembers how everyone was attuned to Hearst's changeable moods. Occasionally, there would be a scribbled note left for Loorz, such as: "What rattles in the wind in this South Tower? Please stop it. Furthermore, the weather vane creaks."

"If I believed in ghosts, I would think it was haunted," Hearst wrote. "Whenever there is any kind of a wind, even a stiff breeze, the moans and groans in the tower are pitiful to hear. If we can get two things fixed, the fireplaces and the ghosts--the house will be much more habitable."

Tyrannical at times, William Randolph Hearst was not averse to an exchange of humor. George Loorz wrote Hearst: "Being favored with a strong appropriate southerly, I sent out a scout to locate the position of the enemy, the Ghost of La Cuesta Encantada.

"Within a short time the scout returned reporting that he had located the stronghold of the enemy. He volunteered to go out single-handedly and route the ghosts with a hammer and two plugs. This being done promptly, all again is quiet on the Gothic front."

Apparently amused, Hearst sent this response: "Dear Mr. Loorz, I am very glad the expeditionary forces have completely routed the enemy. Do you not think decorations of some kind are in order?"

Much of the correspondence between Julia Morgan and Loorz had to do with the detailing of the Early Spanish Renaissance style that also incorporated Greco-Roman and Florentine touches everywhere. In her notes to Loorz, she scribbled instructions and drew quick sketches of architectural details and interior spaces that were continually being modified to accommodate large-scale art objects that Hearst would acquire and hold in storage. The size and shape of some of the rooms in the main house and satellite structures were often determined by the rare French and Flemish tapestries that now hang on their walls.

Numerous notes sent by Morgan to 6-year-old Bill Loorz were always signed "from your friend, Julia Morgan". When the boy was confined briefly to the hospital, Morgan wrote: "This sweet person bids you good morning and wishes to erase for you anything you would like to forget. I hope they roll you out on the porch so you can see the sky and hills and when you see little stray clouds, just think they are thoughts and good wishes out trying to find you."

On weekends, Bill and the other children in the family would accompany their father to the mansion. "I used to take a little llama to the second floor of the castle. We had a run of the place when Mr. Hearst was gone. When he was there, he liked it quiet."

In those days the community surrounding the Hill had one small store, the school and a few houses, Loorz remembers. "They were building Highway 1 while I was growing up and Mr. Hearst's private plane would fly in with the actors and actresses. Because of his strictly-enforced veto on smoking around the property, the airborne visitors would all flip their long cigarettes from the plane as they were landing, and we kids used to pick them up and smoke them.

"Those were good days."

Today, Stolte Inc. is in the top 10 California-based general building contractors. And, states its president, "this ranking most definitely stems from the solid foundation built by the early Stolte-Loorz partnership."

Bill Loorz added that the firm, originating with Fred C. Stolte when that sole proprietor began specializing in the building of quality homes, expanded when George Loorz, a young engineer and estimator, was made the firm's partner. Subsequently, under the present leadership, the company has become a part of the international scene.

The firm's broad reservoir of experience accounts for its current $150-million yearly volume of new work including joint-venture projects that range from simple to the more complex projects, Loorz said.

A key to the Los Angeles- and Oakland-based firm's continued growth in recent years, he added, has been its evolving role as development-oriented contractor and design/building and construction manager, that may include responsibility for coordinating and equipping some of its projects. The Chosun Beach Hotel in Seoul, Korea, is one example of this versatility.

During his many years of professional association with his father, Bill Loorz remembers that there was always a flavor of respect for the individual employee's skills--a tradition carried over from the early days. And he remembers that his father used to say that nothing was too difficult after the challenges that had been overcome at the Hill in its heyday.

"Again, it wasn't like nowadays when you might have 30 subcontractors," Loorz commented. "The artisans my father had working for him included every trade, even a tapestry crew. A sense of teamwork, of belonging to a larger family, became a company trademark. In the early days, when a new employee came aboard, our families would visit back and forth and there would be poker games and a little exchange of bootleg wine and cigar smell. All these people were part of close-knit team."

Changing demands eventually led the firm predominantly into military work and heavy construction--dams, tunnels, utilities, into highway work and later into high-rise commercial construction, medical facilities, office buildings, hotels and apartments.

In 1976, National Medical Enterprises bought the Stolte firm which, in the last 20 years, had been controlled operationally by the Loorz family.

The NME connection has now brought Stolte more heavily into the nursing and retirement field. Currently under construction are the Redlands Community Hospital, the Valley Presbyterian Hospital addition in Van Nuys and 20 others spread out from Saudi Arabia to Florida.

In addition, Stolte has been building numerous hotels, including the recently completed 421-room Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, the 375-room Marriott Hotel at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, the 257-room Crown Plaza Holiday Inn in New Orleans and the 186-room Tahoe Seasons Resort Hotel in Lake Tahoe. Starting construction is the Ramada Renaissance in Long Beach.

Special attention was directed during the Olympics at another Stolte project--the Velodrome; others recently completed include the state office building in San Francisco and the Shasta Justice Center in Redding.

"Now, all we need is another castle," Bill Loorz commented.

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