America’s great houses represent a bygone era when the industrial revolution gave rise to nouveau riche, who not only built corporate empires, but also a string of European replica palaces.
The enterprising wannabes benefited from an influx of immigrant laborers as well as the fall of feudalism as the contents of impoverished royal households were shipped across the Atlantic to furnish these massive opulent part time residences. "Monarch of the Dailies" newspaper publisher and unabashed philanderer William Randolph Hearst constructed his castle on a ridge top overlooking the Pacific, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Given the profound political influence that he enjoyed, the picturesque 655 mile Pacific Coastal Highway started in San Simeon, linking the rural estate with the metropolises to the north and south. For more than 30 years civil engineer and architect trailblazer Julia Morgan designed the incomplete Hearst Castle comprised of numerous structures including the 60,645 square-foot Casa Grande. The ancestors of Hearst’s exotic menagerie still roam the 127 acre garden that is studded with antiquated statues, reliefs and mosaics. Herds of wild zebras are often seen from the highway.