By Patricia H. Kushlis
See July 26, 2014 Update in Section "Stories from the Past"
Years ago when I was growing up in McCloud, a small lumber town in California’s far north, my dad would take special visitors from “down below” aka San Francisco or the Bay Area to visit William Randolph Hearst’s other estate. This estate of 67,000 acres of dense forest – dominated by stately, tall, long-lived Ponderosa pines – also contained three miniature villages or actually groups of houses somewhere in the middle of the forest and situated on a 90 degree bend on the McCloud River several miles east of the small town itself. (Photo left of McCloud River by William J. Kushlis July 1975)
The world knows about Hearst’s San Simeon – his ostentatious mountaintop home overlooking the Pacific Ocean which became a state park soon after Hearst’s death. San Simeon dominates the crest of a hill of the Pacific Coast Range some 50 miles north of San Luis Obispo not far to the east of Highway 1. When the hill is not fog-shrouded, San Simeon’s roof tops and towers glimmer in the sunlight and the high palms sway in the wind as viewed from the coastal plain below. After Hearst died August 14, 1951, San Simeon was a gift to the State of California: the State turned it into a major revenue earner where hundreds of thousands of visitors tour its lavish grounds and magnificent buildings year round.
San Simeon is all that Wyntoon is not
San Simeon is opulent; it is erotic: almost bordello-like in a Monte Carlo sense. It is all that Wyntoon is not – including open to the public.
Wyntoon – named after a local Indian tribe that had previously inhabited the area – was the property of William Randolph Hearst’s mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst. How she found the land or the site and what inspired her to buy it is beyond me. I’m no Hearst scholar. But she did. Historical records tell us that the first house and other buildings on the property burned to the ground the winter of 1929-30.
Julia Morgan, the architect who designed San Simeon, also designed the new Wyntoon. Her work featured a tiny unfinished Bavarian village of three gingerbread houses each with its own fairytale motive painted on the outside walls. Other buildings included a great house in log cabin style and a lovely unpretentious white clapboard wooden house with a wide porch that literally extends over the river near its bend.
Across the river is a tall stone castle-like fortress that could have served as a guardhouse – or watch tower – but – if I remember correctly – housed a cinema instead. The estate was to have been much grander and to have included the remains of a 13th century Spanish Trappist abbey but the depression hit, the abbey’s stones gathered dust in a warehouse in San Francisco and the ambitious building project at Wyntoon never took place.
(Photo right above: Storybook House and marble statue by JE Hogin July 1975; Photo left: Waterhouse, bridge across the McCloud River near the bend and stone tower, by WJ Kushlis July 1975)
During World War II, William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies lived at Wyntoon because he had been warned that Japanese submarines might attempt to shell San Simeon. War hysteria was rampant then. And after the War, the pair returned to San Simeon where Davies felt far more at home.
Stories from the Past
But this is not what I remember hearing about as a kid because McCloud old timers would reminisce about the parties complete with flamboyant stars in 1930s Hollywood dress and the convoys of cars that stopped for provisions at the town’s company store before proceeding out east to the estate itself.
During the war when Hearst and Davies lived at Wyntoon, he hosted special summer parties for McCloud children - sending a limousine to the company store to pick them up and bring them to the grounds. McCloud was a socially stratified lumber company town and children of the workers were not included, that is until Ellen Ives one of the children left off the list, wrote a letter to Hearst asking for an invitation. Ellen got her wish: The letter from Mr. Hearst inviting Ellen to the next party is shown in the accompanying photograph courtesy of her husband Ted Hovanec.
After Hearst’s death, it was rumored that Wyntoon would become a summer retreat for a local university, but this did not happen. For years the property sat quietly, almost alone – except for the caretakers and the logging trucks that carried the Ponderosa logs to lumber mills - presumably helping to pay the estate’s upkeep. Wyntoon’s property taxes also helped keep McCloud’s schools alive.
The Hearsts have kept Wyntoon for themselves. It belongs to the Hearst Corporation and it was one of the late William Randolph Hearst Junior’s favorite retreats – a place “to think things over.” His niece Patty Hearst – of Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) notoriety – took swimming lessons in the McCloud community pool as a child. When years later and the FBI went searching for her, Wyntoon was a place where they looked.
Today, white water rafters float by this exclusive family retreat and a few photograph houses from the river but the river itself is so shallow that boats from the McCloud Lake or Reservoir below cannot make it upstream. And the family clearly likes it like that. (Photo right: Mt. Shasta from across McCloud Lake, WJ Kushlis July 1975.)