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8.25.2007 - 22 comments 

You know... this was not planned to be my next post, but even though we did not make it by Hearst Castle on this particular visit to California, one of the readers (Josie) did mention this castle on her comment about my "Getty Villa" post, so I thought... hey! Why not?

Any of you who have been to both of these places knows that there really is no way that much of anything could surpass the opulence of the Hearst Castle. Even if this picture doesn't show much (other than) the castle's outdoor pool, you will still get the idea of what this place has in store for its visitors. We have visited it several times over the years, and every-time there seems to be yet another part of it open to the public.

I can remember the first time we ever saw this place you could actually drive up to it and park there to see it. But those days have been gone for many years now. They are but a distant memory to those of us who were able to do it in those olden days. Of course in those days there was much less of the place that was open to visitors too.

Apparently as part of a tax deal with the State of California, different parts of the castle and its land were given to the state each year, so that the family's estate would get those tax benefits each year until the whole thing will eventually belong to the state.

The castle was actually named La Cuesta Encantada, "The Enchanted Hill" high above the ocean at San Simeon, was the creation of two extraordinary individuals, William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. Their collaboration, which began in 1919 and continued for nearly 30 years, transformed an informal hilltop campsite into the world-famous Hearst Castle -- a magnificent 115-room main house plus guesthouses, pools, and 8 acres of cultivated gardens.

The main house itself, "La Casa Grande," is a grand setting for Hearst's collection of European antiques and art pieces. It was also a most fitting site for hosting the many influential guests who stayed at Hearst's San Simeon ranch. Guests included President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin, and a diverse array of luminaries from show business and publishing industries.

I can remember the first time that we saw the indoor pool, which is actually a little dark and in fact scary, but yet somehow still beautiful. It even has tiles etched in gold in it, but it is not really as pretty or even beckoning as is the outdoor pool. Of course, none of the visitors are allowed to go in either one of them, so it is sort of a mute point.

I also remember the first time the kitchen was added as a part of one of the tours. Mrs. LZ could not wait to see it. But when we saw it, it was more like touring a kitchen in a large hotel, than it was like a beautiful homey kitchen that she had expected. Much of the castle is like that, to say it is "over-done" and "over-stated" would be the biggest understatement I could think of.

Many people often ask... "Why is the building unfinished?" The answer is, that a combination of elements contributed to the unfinished state of the building: Mr. Hearst's penchant for simultaneous projects and constant modifications of projects underway; financial crisis and subsequent project shutdown; his absence from the Hilltop during WWII; and eventually his failing health and advanced age.

Another often asked question is, "How long did this home take to build?" They say that the initial plans for the castle were discussed in 1919. Mr. Hearst left San Simeon in 1947, and construction ceased that year, concluding a 28-year building span.

I think that anyone who gets even close to the central California coast north of San Louis Obispo, should have this as a "mandatory" visit. The only difference is that for the last 15 plus years, you have to plan ahead through an on-line ticketing agent for the several different tours that are available.

Again... as with all the photos on my posts, you can click on the photo for a larger view.

“Try to be conspicuously accurate in everything, pictures as well as text. Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.” ~ William Randolph Hearst


8.18.2007 - 25 comments 

I am sure that many of you have heard about the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but this post is about the less known and in fact less vistied Museum at what is known as the Getty Villa. We were surprized at the fact that was no entrance fee to the Villa, but they do require you to have tickets (which are free and accessable online). I think that they do that in order to limit the amount of people who are on the grounds at any one time.

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu opened on January 28, 2006, after the completion of a major renovation project. As a museum and educational center dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria, the Getty Villa serves a varied audience through exhibitions, conservation, scholarship, research, and public programs. The Villa houses approximately 44,000 works of art from the Museum's extensive collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, of which over 1,200 are on view.

With the two locations, the Getty Villa in Malibu (that my post represents) and the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the J. Paul Getty Museum serves a wide variety of audiences through its expanded range of exhibitions and programming in the visual arts.

The Getty Research Institute exists to bring together all the resources and activities required to advance understanding of the visual arts taken in their widest possible significance.

The Getty Foundation lies in the special collections of original documents and objects from the Renaissance to the present, paralleled by a superb general art library, both of them growing according to the changing needs of researchers.

The international residential scholar program each year brings together some of the best minds from all disciplines, including creative artists, to address and debate themes of particular intellectual urgency.

Publications, both print and electronic, disseminate the work of the Institute and foster innovative research wherever it is found.

The databases the Getty produces is dedicated to the highest standards of completeness, accuracy, and technical sophistication and provides essential resources for researchers, librarians, and museum professionals all over the world.

The Getty also has Cataloging tools, digital collections, and personal assistance ensure the best access to information for our resident and extended communities. Exhibitions, conferences, workshops, and lectures give compelling expression to innovative scholarship and thought.

Each of these functions guides and sustains all the others, an institutional transparency physically embodied in the remarkable circular architecture of their building.

The work of the Research Institute takes its place within the collaborative context of the Getty Center as a whole, which includes the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the international projects and research of the Conservation Institute, and the philanthropic outreach of the Getty Foundation according to the Getty's director Thomas Crow.

The one thing that seemed to blow my mind there was the bust of Caesar that was made at the time Jesus was alive, oh if these artifacts could just speak! I am sure they would have volumes to say.

The grounds were beautiful and very unique. Given the enjoyment of our visit to the Villa, I would suggest that if you are ever close to Malibu and Pacific Palisades, that you plan ahead in order that you can stop by and check this beautiful Villa and its Museum out. As with all of my posts... if you want to see a larger view of the shot, you just have to click on it.

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes


8.12.2007 - 33 comments 

As we were driving down Highway 101 from the San Francisco Bay area through central California, (on our way to Southern California), I kept seeing these bells with signs along the road that said “El Camino Real.” I finally decided to take this picture of one which happened in a typical looking location not far outside of Paso Robles, CA. This area was covered in sun soaked yellow grasses (which are part of the reason for it being called the Golden State) the other reason of course was the California Gold rush of the 1840’s and 1850’s.

Even though I grew up in Southern California and knew from even my grade school days and heard the stories of building the California Missions and of course the famous “King’s Highway” (which in Spanish is called El Camino Real). But in spite of that, I had never remembered these bells, so I decided to find out about them. Here’s what I was able to find out their history.

The notion of preserving El Camino Real was first proposed by Miss Anna Pitcher, Director of the Pasadena Art Exhibition Association to the Women's Club of Los Angeles in 1892. Unsuccessful, she tried again with a pitch to the California Federation of Woman's Clubs (CFWC) in May 1902 and to the Native Daughters of the Golden West (NDGW) in June 1902. Both organizations endorsed the idea. The CFWC (principally Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes and Mrs. Caroline Olney) and the NDGW eventually implemented the proposal. In 1904, a group was formed called the El Camino Real Association. This group had the mission to reestablish the road and select a marker design. Mrs. Forbes' (upon a suggestion by Mrs. C.F. Gates) created a marker that was a cast iron bell hung from an eleven-foot bent guidepost.

The first bell was placed in 1906 in front of the Old Plaza Church in downtown Los Angeles. Eventually, there were approx. 158 bells installed along the Camino Real by 1915. Alas, the bells were not maintained, and by 1926, the bells had fallen into disrepair and some had been stolen. From 1926 to 1931, the California State Automobile Association and the Automobile Club of Southern California assumed responsibility for maintenance and replacement of bells on state-owned property (just as they had responsibility for signage). In fact, the bells often served as highway signage, working as markers for California motorists. By 1949, there were approx. 286 bells along the road.

In 1960, Justin Kramer of Los Angeles won the bid to manufacture replacement bells. His design became the standard. Theft and vandalism continued to take its toll, and the number dwindled to about 75. In 1974 the Legislature appointed Caltrans as guardian of the bells, responsible for repairing or replacing them.

Replacements are made of concrete, rather than cast iron, to discourage theft. Along with Los Angeles County, the bells are located in the counties of Ventura, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Mateo and Santa Clara. In 1996, Caltrans developed the "Adopt-A-Bell" program (specifically, it was developed by Keith Robinson, who was the Statewide Coordinator of the Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program because he had an interest in El Camino Real and the loss of the mission bell markers; it appeared to him to be a good way to get the bell markers back on the highways for the public to recognize the historic route of El Camino Real).

After the program was conceived, the California Federation of Womens Clubs was offered the opportunity to adopt as many bells as they could until early 1998. The adoption guidelines were written so that after early 1998 anyone could adopt a bell and maintain it under the Adopt-A-Highway Program.

The history of El Camino Real and its bells, is quite interesting. At the same time that the American colonies were rebelling against England, a handful of Spaniards and Mexicans established outposts up the California coast. The first was established in 1769 at San Diego, when they established a fortress and a Franciscan mission. A footpath, called The El Camino Real, or Kings Highway, was created to connect the outputs.

Each outpost, called a Mission, was situated in areas where large populations of Indians lived and where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. As time progressed and more Missions were built, the footpath became a roadway wide enough to accommodate horses and wagons. It was not, however, until the last Mission in Sonoma was completed in 1823, that this little pathway became a real route. From that point, a series of small self-reliant religious missions were established. Each was a day's travel apart and linked by El Camino Real, Overall, El Camino Real ("The King's Highway") linked 21 missions, pueblos and four presidios from San Diego all the way up to Sonoma.

Remember that Sonoma is right up there in the Napa Valley from a couple of posts back?Many of these missions have themselves become tourist attractions in and of themselves now. Mrs. LZ and I have visited many of these over the years and they are all sort of unique in their own right with their own stories of their early beginnings and the hazards of local life in those times. Probably the most famous of these would be the one that my maternal grandparents visited right before they decided to move to Southern California from Ohio in the 1940’s. That one being the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, famous for its swallows that migrate back there every spring to thrill the tourists.

"Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart."
~ Confucius


8.03.2007 - 35 comments 

Before leaving Northern California and going down to Southern California, I wanted to show one more shot from up in this part of California, that being the Donner Pass area. And, given the tragedy that just happened in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I wanted to get off this bridge.

The Sierra Nevada’s are such a beautiful mountain range, that it is almost hard to believe that something as ugly as the events that happened to the Donner party in the winter of 1846 could have ever happened here. But I suppose that in the history of this country there are many tragic stories of these early settlers of this country that are far too hard for all of us sissified city folks to ever be able to imagine.

Like many thousands before them, the Donners had every reason to look forward to their journey when they started out from Springfield, Illinois, in April of 1846. Countless wagon trains made the 2000-mile trek from Illinois to Oregon and California in the 1840s. Most people suffered various hardships along the way but managed to get over the Sierras and on to California in good health. Several other families joined up with the Donners at Independence, Missouri, in May.

George Donner, age 60, and his friend James F. Reed, age 46, were chosen as the leaders. (Donner was officially elected "captain.") Most everything went smoothly until they decided to take Hastings' Cut-off, a supposed shortcut. Ironically, this "shortcut" would cause disastrous delays and hardships as the party had to hack a trail through the rough Wasatch Mountains in Utah and then cross an 80-mile desert west of the Great Salt Lake. The journey normally took about six months, from April to September. The Donners would not reach the Sierras until the end of October.

How the Donner party came to take Hastings' Cut-off was the first of a series of peculiar events along their ill-fated journey. According to some accounts, on July 17, somewhere west of Ft. Laramie in Wyoming, they met a man named Wales B. Bonney carrying an open letter from Lansford Hastings. The letter encouraged travelers to take a recently discovered route to the south of the Great Salt Lake. The route promised to be shorter, saving 350-400 miles. Supposedly it was mostly smooth, hard and level, with no danger from Indians, and plenty of grass for the animals and wood for fires. Yes, there was a dry stretch where fresh water would be scarce, but no worse than the usual route. It sounded promising. (They were also warned by experienced travelers not to risk the uncertain shortcut.)

The Donner party went on toward Fort Bridger, where they expected to find Hastings waiting. But by the time they arrived the season was late and Hastings had already departed with a large wagon train, leaving directions for any later groups who wished to follow his trail. The Donner party stocked up on supplies, and four days later their group of nine families plus sixteen single men headed out on the last day of July. A short distance outside Fort Bridger they came to a fork in the road. To the right led the old road to Fort Hall; to the left were the wheel marks of Hastings' party on the new route. They went left.

Soon the country became mountainous, much worse even than the crossing of the Continental Divide, and the road was barely passable. In some places the wheels had to be locked as the wagons slid down narrow ravines and steep side-hills. Still they managed to continue. For days they followed Hastings' wheel-tracks, at a rate of 10-12 miles a day; then the trail stopped when they reached the Red Fork of the Weber River. Stuck on a bush was a note from Hastings. It warned anyone following him that the route through Weber canyon was very bad. They were advised to set up camp and send a messenger ahead to catch up with Hastings; then he would return and guide them across the mountains by way of a better and shorter route. Reed and two others were appointed to go forward on horseback to overtake Hastings.

Five days later Reed returned, looking worse for the wear and riding a different horse. He explained the ordeal it took to catch up with Hastings. The other two men had stayed with Hastings because their horses were spent and Hastings could only spare one fresh mount. Hastings himself was not coming back for them in spite of his promise in the note. On his way back, Reed had explored a route through the canyon suggested by Hastings. The wagons could get through, he thought, but only with great difficulty. The company had few options, none of them good. They voted unanimously to try Reed's route.

Unceasing labor with axes, picks and shovels exhausted both body and spirit, but the determined emigrants pushed on. By August 27 fear began to set in. In twenty-one days since reaching the Weber River they had moved just 36 miles. Provisions were running low and time was against them. On August 29 they reached the spot were Reed had found Hastings three weeks earlier. Hastings' own party got through without disaster. Most of the eighty or so people of the Donner party probably would have managed, too, even with their problems, but their fate was sealed by the advance of a fierce winter storm, unusually severe even for the Sierra Nevadas.

It took the party five days to cross the desert. Wagons, foundered axle deep in a quagmire of wet salt and sand, had to be abandoned. Oxen went mad from thirst and ran off or died. On the far side of the desert, an inventory of food was taken and found to be less than adequate for the 600 mile trek still ahead. That night, ominously, snow powdered the mountain peaks. They reached the Humbolt River on September 26. The diversion had cost them an extra one hundred and twenty-five miles. Nerves were shattered and fights began to break out. James Reed killed the Graves family's teamster, John Snyder, (apparently in self-defense) and was banished from the party. He left his family and rode on to California alone.

The party reached the base of the steep summit on October 31, just as snow was beginning to fall. And although some in the group were able to reach the summit, they were forced to turn back as there was no way the whole party could get through. Heavy snow continued falling overnight and by morning the pass was completely blocked by snowdrifts over twenty feet high. They had come 2,500 miles in seven months to lose their race with the weather by one day, only 150 miles from their destination of Sutter's Fort (what is now Sacramento) in California.

Realizing that they were stranded, the main body erected cabins along Truckee Lake and a smaller body that consisted of the Donner family and their hired men made a camp of tents several miles back on the trail. Over the next four months, the remaining men, women, and children huddled together in cabins, make shift lean-tos, and tents. The cattle had all been killed and eaten by mid-December; one man had died of malnutrition. The people began to eat bark, twigs, and boiled hides.

Several attempts were made by small groups at crossing the mountains. One group of fifteen men, women, and children did succeed in crossing the summit, but only seven of them survived to reach Sutter's fort. Their arrival caused an outcry of alarm, and rescue attempts soon followed. By early February, the first rescue party reached the lake encampments. The nightmare was by no means over at that point, as it was as life threatening for the rescuers as for the rescued. Not everyone could be taken out and since no pack animals could be brought in, sustaining supplies were few. Many people had already died and some of the survivors left in the camps had begun to eat the dead. (It is believed that about half of the survivors of the Donner party resorted to cannibalism, having held off for as long as they could after their food was gone.)

Subsequent rescue efforts brought out the remaining survivors. There were more deaths at the camps and some victims died on the torturous trip out of the mountains, the worst of which was done on foot, as the snow was too deep for horses or mules. The last of the survivors reached Sutter's fort almost exactly one year after their departure from Missouri. In the end, five had died before reaching the mountains, thirty-four died died either at the mountain camps or trying to cross the mountains, and one died just after reaching the valley. Many who survived had lost toes to frostbite or were otherwise injured. The last survivor was brought out in April. He and others were accused of bad conduct, cannibalism, and even murder. The surviving members had different viewpoints, biases and recollections so the picture of what happened is not clear.

George Donner and his wife died at the camp, along with his brother Jacob and Jacob's wife, and most of the Donner children. James Reed, having safely reached Sutter's fort, led one of the rescue parties. Reed's family survived. Other families included those of Patrick Breen (all of whom survived), William Eddy, Franklin Graves, et al., many of whom died. In total, of the 87 men, women and children in the Donner party, 46 survived, 41 died.

The story of the Donner tragedy quickly spread across the country. Newspapers printed letters and diaries, along with wild tales of men and women who had gone mad eating human flesh. Emigration to California fell off sharply and Hastings' cutoff was all but abandoned. Then, in January 1848, gold was discovered in John Sutter's creek. By late 1849 more than 100,000 people had rushed to California to dig and sift near the streams and canyons where the Donner party had suffered so much. In 1850 California entered the union as the 31st state. Year by year, traffic over "Donner Pass" increased. Truckee Lake became a tourist attraction and the terrible ordeals of the Donner party passed into history and legend.

This seemed like a really long post to me, but not nearly as long as what the Donner Party had to endure! We were able to drive up and over the pass and then right back down and over it again in our air conditioned car at 65 miles per hour. We really are very lucky to have all the creature comforts that so many of this generation just take for granted. I wonder how many of us would have made it over Donner Pass in those days?

"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints." ~ Robert Louis Stevenson