On The Avenue

A Country Weekend, Hearst-Style

by Debbie Bancroft Photographed by David Crotty/PMC
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
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A hundred of us made our way up the hill to the legendary alcazar for the annual Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation Weekend, channeling some of the glamorous guests that preceded us, among them Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Joan Crawford, Winston Churchill and Harpo Marx (whose nephew, Robert, was with us). “The Ranch,” as William Randolph Hearst called it, is comprised of the “Castle,” four guest homes that you would yearn to guest in, and the surrounding gardens and pools. Within these legendary edifices lie what remains of a lifetime of Hearst’s collecting, which this group raises funds to restore and preserve. The Castle was given to the State of California in 1958, and while it is the largest income-producer in California’s park system, much of the proceeds go back to the state, which necessitates a little extra income—in true Hearst philanthropic fashion–to keep those tapestries, etc., in ship shape.


The first night, we were asked to don regal headdress, decorations, and black tie, bien sûr. Jamie Figg, reliably funny, wore a Lion King headdress, but when Amanda Hearst asked if he was the Burger King, he took it off. The ladies, including Anne Hearst McInerney, Suzanne Tucker and Hillary Marx, wore tiaras, always appropriate. Patricia Hearst chose a show stopping Chinese headdress, George Farias wore his birthday turban (from a party my editor wishes we could tell you about). And among the tin medals on lapels, were some real ones—Jay McInerney’s French Order of Arts and Letters (that serendipitously, perfectly matched his Piranesi studs), Tony Peck’s dad Gregory’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Justine Bloomingdale’s mother’s Knights of Malta’s. I wore a humble, bejeweled headband, American gal that I am.


We swanned into the regal Refectory, under the famed carved ceiling and between the precious Flemish tapestries, sipped Brewer-Clifton wines, dined on scallops and poisson, but saved room for the Pointy Snout caviar and deserts that awaited us on the terrace. When we could rise, we danced the rest of the night away to Brian Nova and Friends band.


Saturday brought a bountiful array of options: tennis, castle tours, ocean kayaking, seal and zebra (yes, they escaped from Mr. Hearst’s menagerie, thrived, and live happily alongside the cattle) watching, horseback riding, yoga (where the evolved men outnumbered the women, and dolphins flitted outside their beach-front window), and my passive choice, painting under the Pergola. Lunch was at The Senators House, W.R.’s father who first settled here, on his 83,000-acre cattle ranch. Victoria Kastner, author of Hearst Castle, spoke at lunch and told us that Senator George Hearst always said “It’s a good thing for the East Coast, that the founding fathers went there first. If they’d seen California, they’d never live there,” and that George Hearst looked out at the miles of coast he had purchased, and said “I know it could be a major commercial harbor, but I’m saving it the way it is, for my boy.” When a cowgirl brought out the cattle-herding puppies, there was an actual stampede to hold them. An otherwise elegant blonde woman, who I circumvented on the way, actually told me she’d “take me down.” She smiled, but meant it.


Saturday afternoon brought the debut of The Neptune Pool, which emerged from a 2-year renovation, and was heartily enjoyed by many hearty dippers.


That eve, we lost the tiaras and donned our cowboy boots for the dinner in the Hearst Ranch Dairy Barn. There was some serious bidding and loss of friendships at the robust silent auction. Pierre Lagrange’s Huntsman bespoke skis were a hot item as were Pierre and his partner, now fiancée, Ebs Burnough. We settled in for some barbeque and a brilliant serenade by Rufus Wainwright, who dedicated a song to his husband, Jorn Weisbrödt, and is off to Toronto next month to perform his new opera. Candace Bushnell swished on the dance floor in her Miss Kitty, Gunsmoke meets Versace, red satin dress. Marjoe Gortner, ex-televangelist, Hallelujaed the crowd into heavy bidding in the live auction, where honoree, Jean Paul DeJoria had the generous, winning bid to restore the Castle’s Face of Archduke Ferdinand I, painting.


The buses that awaited us, for our return to the hotel, were reminders that real life, away from The Castle, alas, awaited. Slightly sad but sated guests included of course, Benefit Chair and Trustee, Anne Hearst McInerney Trustees, Patricia Hearst Shaw, Joe Tobin, Justine and Robert Bloomingdale, Kathy and Greg Hampton, Rodney Cook, Hilary and Robert Marx, Paula and Anthony PeckWendy Stark, George Farias, Jay McInerney and guests Eloise DeJoria, Chip Conlon, Milly de Cabrol, Richard Kellem, Christine and Jeffrey Weller, Rebecca and George Revel, Francine LeFrak and Rick Freidberg. Many young, attractive spawns of trustees, corralled by board member Remar Sutton, livened up the event: ringleaders James and Natalie Bloomingdale, Amanda Hearst with Joachim Renner, Cary Hampton, John Hampton and Kerri Brown, Lizzy and Michael Tobin, and Taylor Tobin.


And to assuage our pain in parting, a goody bag, weighing more than our first born awaited, filled with decadent snacks and, more helpful, beauty products from Peter Thomas Roth.


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