The First Hearst Castle
More than a century ago, from her sprawling palace nestled amid the gnarled oaks and grassy curves of the Pleasanton foothills, Phoebe Apperson Hearst would look out over her 500 acre property at a landscape barely blemished by human habitation. Phoebe Hearst arrived in California in 1862 as the bride of George Hearst, a powerful miner and rancher, who had made a fortune in the West during the gold rush era. His death in 1891 at age 70 left his 48 year old widow fabulously wealthy and free to pursue her charitable and intellectual interests, including archaeology, education, and women’s rights.
After George’s death Phoebe became involved in the University of California Berkeley where she eventually served as a UC Regent. At about the same time their only child, William Randolph, now in his late 20’s started to convert the ranch house on his mothers Pleasanton property into a hunting lodge. He also made plans for a grand home in the 18th century Mission, Pueblo, and Moorish style of the Spanish fortified villas around Santa Fe, Mexico, further up the hill.
Phoebe feared that her son was going to use it to entertain his rough friends, so she took over the project. It took four years to build to the plans of the original architect, A.C. Schweinfurth. With later additions completed by a new architect, Julia Morgan, it would take more than a decade to complete Mrs. Hearst’s mansion, but Hacienda del Pozo de Verona ended up being one of the most magnificent homes in America. Phoebe was a long-time supporter of women’s advancement. Julia Morgan was the first female architecture student at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, and the first licensed female architect in California. She later became famous as the architect of William Randolph’s colossal home at San Simeon, California, known today as Hearst Castle.
Hacienda del Pozo de Verona was named after a 15th-century carved-stone wellhead (pozzo means well in Italian) that William Randolph had shipped from Verona, Italy. The house was a showcase from the moment a visitor stepped into its large entry courtyard and was greeted by the sight of the ornate wellhead serving as a large fountain. Inside, Hearst exhibited her massive collection of artwork and furniture, as well as artifacts from around the world that she had picked up on her travels. Western Pacific Railroad also built a train station so that the Victorian elite and other guests could visit with Mrs. Hearst at the Hacienda. This railway stop was called Verona Station.
The main building of Hacienda del Pozo de Verona was three stories and had more than 50 rooms. One of the fireplaces was large enough to spit-roast a whole ox. The estate’s playhouse, designed for Hearst’s five grandchildren, rose two stories high and contained 13 rooms, billiard tables, and several reading rooms. Over the years the list of guests included royalty from Europe, famous artists and composers, presidents, and movie stars. Phoebe was kind and generous to her Pleasanton neighbors, and hired many locals to work at the ranch.
After Phoebe’s death in 1919 William Randolph maintained the property for a few years, then sold it in 1924 to a group of businessmen who turned it into a country club and added two golf courses, one on the hillside in 1926, and then one on the valley in 1948. At that time, the acreage became known as Castlewood Country Club and lots within the property were sold primarily as second homes for wealthy residents of San Francisco and Oakland. Today, homes on “The Hill” are considered some of the prime real estate in the Pleasanton area.
Hacienda del Pozo de Verona served as the Castlewood Clubhouse from 1925 until it was destroyed by fire in 1969. A new clubhouse, built in the style of Mrs. Hearst Hacienda, now stands on the original location. Only two structures remain on the property from the Hearst era; a two story storage building located across the upper parking lot from the clubhouse and a pump house located immediately off Foothill Road. The namesake Italian carved-stone wellhead can be found in the garden at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.