Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oriental Hospitalities

San Simeon, 

Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst sent to San Francisco for the good linens and china in September 1929, when preparing for the upcoming visit of British politician Winston Churchill to his grand estate named La Cuesta Encantada.  Although Churchill appreciated the efforts that were made in his behalf, it did not stop him from keenly observing his host, writing to his wife Clementine: “Hearst was most interesting to meet, & I got (sic) like him - a grave simple child - with no doubt a nasty temper - playing with the most costly toys. A vast income always overspent: Ceaseless building & collecting not very discriminatingly works of art: two magnificent establishments, two charming wives; complete indifference to public opinion, a strong liberal & democratic outlook, a 15 million daily circulation, oriental hospitalities, extreme personal courtesy (to us at any rate)...”1

La Cuesta Encantada is nestled on thousands of acres of ranchland near San Simeon, California. Beginning construction in the mid-1920s, Hearst continued to add to his massive estate over the  next twenty years, while entertaining a steady stream of famous people who stayed there as his guests. Three menus from the spring of 1940 reflect his unpretentious style of hospitality.

The meal times are shown at the bottom of the printed forms, helping guests adjust to the daily routine of the house. Many of the guests were Hollywood celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant. Although they were free to do what they wanted during the day, everyone was expected to attend dinner in the Refectory, a large medieval hall festooned with banners and tapestries.

Hearst thought of La Cuesta Encantada as a ranch and kept things informal. Bottles of ketchup and mustard were typically placed on the long dining table, along with paper napkins, reminiscent of the picnics he had once enjoyed on the surrounding countryside before he built his "castle."

1. Holograph letter, 29 September 1929, Baroness Spencer-Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (87).

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