Wyntoon

McCloud, Siskiyou County, California

Completed in 1904, for the widowed Mrs Phoebe Hearst (1842-1919). Her only child was William Randolph Hearst who not only built the better known Hearst Castle at San Simeon, but also owned three further castles (including this one) and transformed his Manhattan apartment into a castle! If you'd ever wondered from whom he got his zeal for all things 'castle' look no further. Phoebe built this towering Bavarian-style 'schloss' deep in the woods on a bend of the McCloud River in Northern California's Cascade Mountain Range. It was lost to fire in 1929 and after William was forced to shelve his $50 million plan for a 61-bedroom castle that would take it place, instead it was here that he created his own quite extraordinary fairytale Bavarian village. In 1904, the Architectural Review said, "here you can reach all that is within" and the poem that "W.R" penned at Wyntoon while contemplating life (transcribed at the bottom of the page) is - perhaps surprisingly - beautiful. Wyntoon remains private property.... 

This house is best associated with...

Phoebe Elizabeth Apperson

Mrs Phoebe E. (Apperson) Hearst

1842-1919

Anne Drucilla Apperson

Mrs Anne (Apperson) Flint

1878-1970

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst, Newspaper & Media Magnate of California

1863-1951

In 1899, the Regent of the University of California, Charles S. Wheeler (1863-1923), had employed the renowned architect Willis Polk to build The Bend, his rambling shingle-style lodge on several thousand acres near Mount Shasta as a fishing and hunting retreat.

Wheeler was primarily a lawyer and among his clientele he counted Mrs Phoebe Hearst, widow of George Hearst who died some some ten years earlier leaving her sole heir to his $19 million fortune and vast, valuable landholdings. In 1900, Wheeler invited his wealthy client up to what was then known locally as the Wheeler Ranch to join his family at what would be their first summer there. She was immediately smitten by the singular and romantic wildness of its location, and then quite brazenly asked to buy it! Wheeler politely declined. However - probably now regretting his hasty invitation - Phoebe would not let up and when the money on the table became too hard to ignore, they reached a deal whereby she purchased a 99-year lease, not to The Bend itself, but to most of his land.

At the same time as reaching an agreement with Wheeler, Phoebe increased the overall acreage by adding the neighboring estate to the east. This land incorporated another sharp bend in the river and she bought it from none other than her own financial advisor, her cousin who managed her late husbands' business interests, Edward Hardy Clark (1864-1945). He'd named it "Wyntoon" for the Native American Wintun tribe who'd once lived here and it was this name that she chose to give to her new Northern Californian retreat.

Phoebe's Fairytale Castle in the Woods

Phoebe now set about building a castle along the lines of those found on the River Rhine in German Bavaria. For this, she employed the noted architect Bernard Maybeck and to assist him he brought in Julia Morgan, the first woman granted an architect's license in California and who went on to build Phoebe's son's colossus, Hearst Castle.

Her 7-story castle was built into the rock on the next bend along the river to the north of the Wheeler Ranch. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the surrounding conifers, it towered 75-feet above the river with an imprint of 120-by-56 feet. Wheeler was "privately furious" as an unwritten condition of their agreement had been that she would not build anything ostentatious: her summer home cost $100,000 and was certainly not modest!

The blue-gray volcanic stone with which it was built was quarried locally and the steep-pitched roofs were topped with misty green tiles from Holland to blend in with the surrounding foliage. The reception rooms followed a Gothic theme with high pitched ceilings, arches, timber beams, vast fireplaces, stone walls draped in Flemish tapestries, and a copy of a 13th century stained glass window from St. Lorenz Cathedral in Nuremberg. Each of the upper floors had a landing from which the guest bedrooms were reached, accessed by the carved, stone spiral staircase that wound it way up the tower.

The German-born designer Frederick Meyer of San Francisco was specially commissioned to make the furniture specific to the castle, marrying Arts-and-Craft with German Gothic. Slightly incongruously, but with a respectful nod to her surroundings, just as Navajo craftwork featured heavily at her ranch in Pleasanton - Hacienda del Pozo de Verona - Wyntoon's Gothic halls were similarly festooned with craftwork from the Wintun tribe.

In addition to the kitchen wing that was attached to the main house (where the staff also slept), Phoebe built two guesthouses: Honeymoon Cottage and The Gables. Guests were free to enjoy 75-miles of hiking and horseback trails plus tennis, swimming, and archery.

Her Protégé v Her Son

Phoebe died at her Hacienda in 1919, a victim of the worldwide Spanish Influenza pandemic. Having given away some $20 million to charity since her husband died, her only child, William Randolph Hearst, inherited the bulk of her $10 million fortune which included valuable mining interests, property and vast landholdings. However, she left Wyntoon (plus a Cadillac and $250,000) to her niece and "protégé", Mrs Anne Flint, who after getting married at Phoebe's Hacienda had spent her honeymoon here in 1903.

William was notoriously spoiled and used his money, and any dirty trick, to get whatever he wanted - and he wanted Wyntoon. Initially, he withheld valuable artwork from his cousin in an attempt to force her to sell, but she would not budge. But, like his mother with Wheeler, William would not let up and in 1925 he eventually succeeded in using his lawyers to cede from her the property that she loved in exchange for a paltry $198,000.

During their short time at Wyntoon, Anne and her husband re-employed Julia Morgan to build four more outbuildings: In 1924, a SuperIntendant's residence and a separate servant's quarters were completed; and, the following year a new stable block was built that doubled as a caretaker's home next to a Swiss Chalet for the senior domestic staff. 

The $50 million, 8-story, 61-Bedroom Castle that Never Was

The Flints no doubt took some bittersweet solace when news reached them in the winter of 1929 that the castle and its valuable contents had burned to the ground following a fire in the kitchens. But, before the ashes were finished smoldering, Hearst - who already owned three other sprawling castles - instructed Julia Morgan to build him an even larger castle in its place: another Bavarian 'schloss' but this time 8-stories high with 61-bedrooms and two great towers as well as a liberal sprinkling of smaller turrets. It would house his collection of German art and serve as a summer retreat from Hearst Castle.

To give the new castle a suitable air of antiquity, his chief buyer in war-torn Spain snapped up a 12th century Cistercian Monastery for its stonework that Hearst then ordered to be dissembled and illegally shipped to San Francisco at a cost of $1 million. Morgan's plans would have seen the monastery's church incorporated into the castle, repurposed as a 150-foot indoor swimming pool. The project was slated to cost $50 million but it all came to nothing just as the ground was being broken in 1931: the Great Depression had just began to bare its teeth to Hearst - who on top of still building Hearst Castle was also still renovating Beacon Towers and St Donat's Castle - and he conceded that even his once seemingly endless funds could not afford this extravagance.

Wyntoon's Bavarian Village

Shelving the castle project at Wyntoon, Hearst instead built a Bavarian village - as one might - made up of individual houses designed in the half-timbered style of medieval Germany, commonly seen in Bavaria's Black Forest. Morgan was despatched to Europe for research and in 1932 Hearst approved her plan to build the houses in a semi-circle around a 'village green' that featured a suitably Hearstian (ie., overly elaborate) fountain. Built within the river's bend, the houses follow its curve and back directly onto the water.

The three new guesthouses with their steep-pitched gable roofs were decorated with Art Nouveau frescoes depicting various fairytale scenes painted by the celebrated children's illustrator, Willy Pogany (1882-1955). Inside, Swiss craftsman Jules Suppo and his team carved storybook sculptures and paneling, frames and tracing finished in German Gothic style. The houses were given equally fanciful names: Cinderella House, Angel House (also referred to as Fairy House) and Brown Bear House where Hearst himself took up. Built over three stories, each was a mansion in itself capable of sleeping 20-guests.

The Rest of the Estate

The village was finished in 1934 and while politely admiring his neighbour's latest whim, Charles Wheeler's son also envisioned the inevitable succession of party-goers who would ruin both his seclusion and hunting. He promptly offered Hearst The Bend and its remaining land which saw Wyntoon grow to 50,000-acres. The old house was torn down except for the timber-framed wing that bore the cornerstone: "The Bend, 1899". Using the original stones, it was redesigned by Morgan in the Gothic-Revival style, becoming another guesthouse with a billiard room and a vast hall for dining or watching movies. 

Other houses around the estate included Morgan's Tea House which had an outdoor terrace overhanging the river for dancing, inspired by The Bend's gazebo; the River House which was the original lodge house at Wyntoon built by Edward H. Clark; the Fortress-styled Bridge House opposite the River House where movies were first shown; The Gables next door was remodelled to incorporate a full-sized movie theater; and, next to the Bear House was Hearst's secretary's shingle-style office, dubbed "the nerve-center," with three round-the-clock operators manning the telegraphs and telephone switchboard.

Hearst also built a large swimming pool near to the tennis courts and a croquet lawn; and, whereas Hearst Castle could accommodate a maximum of 50-guests at any one time, when Hearst was done at Wyntoon, it could comfortably host 100-guests for a weekend. 

The End of the Party

Hearst quite openly shared his life with his wife and his mistress - though never together. His wife preferred life in New York, mainly dividing her time between their castle-within-a-block at 137 Riverside Drive in Manhattan and her castle on Long Island, Beacon Towers. Wyntoon, like St Donats, was the domain of his mistress, Marion. Together, they hosted anyone who was anyone in California as well as visiting dignitaries. 

Having reached his peak professionally in 1929, just eight years later the Great Depression had taken its toll on the Hearst Corporation. The reins were taken from him by court mandate and his property was assigned to a committee of trustees. Wyntoon was maintained by a skeleton staff, but from then on whenever he stayed he had to pay rent out of his allowance. The estate that could host 100 now never hosted more than 14.

In 1941, Hearst became somewhat irrationally obsessed with the idea that after targeting Pearl Harbor, the Japanese army would focus an assault on Hearst Castle. For the duration of the war, he lived with his mistress and dachshunds at Wyntoon's Brown Bear House. 

Wyntoon Today

Hearst died in 1951, having spent little time at Wyntoon since the end of the war. There were rumors that it might become a summer camp for a local university but that never transpired. Owned by the Hearst Corporation (continued by his sons), it made $3 million a year by itself thanks to its vast supplies of lumber which easily took care of property taxes and provided for its upkeep. All but impossible to find by road or trail, Wyntoon remains in the hands of the Hearst Corporation and Hearst's descendants continue to enjoy its peace and serenity. Indeed, when Patty Hearst was on the run, Wyntoon was one of the first places the FBI came looking for her. However, for mortals, the only way to catch a glimpse of this extraordinary estate is to brave a kayak down the McCloud's rapids.  

"The Song of the River"

Every year since William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, the Hearst Newspaper Group commemorates the anniversary of their founder's death with a poem he penned while contemplating life on the shores of the McCloud River at Wyntoon:
The snow melts on the mountain and the water runs down to the spring,
and the spring in a turbulent fountain, with a song of youth to sing,
Runs down to the riotous river, and the river flows to the sea,
and the water again goes back in rain to the hills where it used to be,
and I wonder if life's deep mystery isn't much like the rain and the snow
Returning through all eternity to the places it used to know.

For life was born on the lofty heights and flows in a laughing stream,
To the river below whose onward flow ends in a peaceful dream.
And so at last, when our life has passed and the river has run its course,
It again goes back o'er the selfsame track to the mountain which was its source.

So why prize life or why fear death, or dread what is to be?
The river ran its allotted span till it reached the silent sea,
Then the water harked back to the mountain-top to begin its course once more,
So we shall run the course begun till we reach the silent shore.
Then revisit earth in a pure rebirth from the heart of the virgin snow.
So don't ask why we live or die, or whither, or when we go,
Or wonder about the mysteries that only God may know.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 16/03/2020 and last updated on 01/04/2020.
Image Courtesy of the California State Library; Calisphere, University of California; Wyntoon (2014), by Patricia H. Kushlis; Cal Poly's Kennedy Library Online Archive, Julia Morgan Papers; Wyntoon, A Hidden Architectural Marvel, by Matthew Renda for Tahoe Quarterly; Mount Shasta (Arcadia Publishing 2007) by Darla Greb Mazariegos; The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst (2001), by David Nasaw

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