Thursday, January 6, 2011

San Simeon: Refectory

The Refectory, or main dining room, at San Simeon is suitably grand for a captain of industry or even the King of a small country! Located behind the Assembly Room, the use of architectural salvage is the highlight of the enormous space.The room was modeled on a monastery dining hall. Notice the scale of the space: the 2 tour members seen above could walk right into that fireplace.The flags decorating the room are Sienese banners, I love the color they add.The estate was added on to many times over the years (1919 until 1947), indeed building started before the drawings were even complete and with constant changes. This results in a lot of odd spaces, such as this window which looks into one of the stair towers in one corner of the hall.A close up of one of the sconces which light the space between the banners. Some beautiful wood architectural salvage from a European cathedral.Hearst's art collection was legendary (mainly for its size) and ancient statues and artifacts dot every spare inch of space; more is more! Again more antique tapestries insulate the stone room. While dining in such grand surroundings, the food could be quite plain: this was afterall "the ranch". Paper napkins were always used and the condiments were laid out on the table: ketchup and mustard!

10 comments:

magnus said...

On a visit to San Simeon several years ago, I purchased a cook-book in the gift shop of recipes and menus used there in the house's heyday. The menus delineate meal times like a second rate resort hotel ("breakfast 8-10:30, Lunch 1:30, dinner 8:00)and many of the recipes are the epitome of everything that was wrong with food in America between the Wars- including a reliance on canned goods and little or no seasoning. Nevertheless, San Simeon, for its sheer exuberence, remains one of my all time favorite houses. Thank you for these wonderful photos.

La Petite Gallery said...

always wanted to see that place. Thanks so much for sharing. Gosh
that woodwork was beautiful.
All that and paper napkins, weird.

yvonne

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Magnus, do you know if the food 'situation' was the food in all of his houses, or just here? I know he considered this the 'ranch' and likened it to camping.
La Petite, It is weird! I don't even use paper napkins in my tiny apartment let alone castle on a hill!

magnus said...

AD:
I have always been fascinated by what life was like at San Simeon in its heyday. Most of the guests who have left their impressions of it were Hollywood folk who, quite frankly, were clearly overawed by Hearst himself (then one of the richest, most powerful men in the world)and by the grandiosity of the surroundings. I have always suspected, however, that the reality was a bit different, and I was fascinated to come across a charming little book several years ago by Ludwig Bemelmans entitled "To the One That I Love the Best" which recounts his years as Elsie De Wolfe's houseguest in Beverly Hills in the 1940's. In one chapter, he recounts a week-end spent at San Simeon and compares its awkward discomfort to the plush elegance of the De Wolfe/Mendl residence: Bemelmans was given the magnificent "Celestial Suite" in one of San Simeon's towers, but there were no clsets and clothes had to be hung on wire hangers left on the sconces; a hand lettered cardboard sign ordered guests not to open the windows; the faucets in the bathroom gushed only boiling hot water, so bathing was impossible; the food was mediocre and badly served and his fellow guests, the servants and senior Hearst executives in residence danced nervous attendance on Hearst when the great man made his appearances at mealtimes. My guess is that Hearst, like many hugely rich and powerful people, had a high level of self absorption which rarely makes for a gracious, cozy host. I'm sure that he was uninterested in food which refelcted itself in the table de hote at all of his houses. And his companion, Marion Davies, had a serious drinking problem which typically precludes much of an interest in food. My money would be on the fact that food at all the Hearst houses was pretty bad.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Thanks for an interesting tour. The story of the paper napkins, and magnus' description of a weekend at San Simeon remind me of what guests of J. Paul Getty endured. Getty was concerned that guests would take advantage of his phone lines, so he installed telephone booths in the house. At nighttime, if a guest wanted to use a bathroom (down the hall), they'd have to be escorted because guard dogs roamed the house at night. Sort of makes you want to bring your own chamber pot!

Robert Webber said...

Absolutely fascinating post and some fsacinating comments too.
Works much better as a room for me than the assembly room. Loved the window down from the stairs. All those unexpected views are quite important.
Thanks for this post
Robert

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Magnus, I've read quite a few books on Hearst and San Simeon myself (as well as Marion's autobiography of which I didn't believe a word) and have always been shocked at what a micro-manager he was! I didn't know about the dogs though -thats really scary! Luckily most of the guest rooms have adjoining baths. I guess that means no midnight snacks down in the kitchen though!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Robert, I agree with you. While the assembly room does have 2 large windows looking out to the gardens, they're not quite enough for the scale of the space. The refectory is so much airier with the clerestory windows.

sandrajonas.com said...

Paper napkins & bottles on the table!!! Kind of ruins the magic. Good think there were no McDonalds at that time...can you imagine?

Janet said...

Hands down my favorite room! Love the Blue Willow plates.