The Ziegfield Follies and the California Missions

William Randolf Hearst
William Randolf Hearst

There wasn’t a more powerful man in America at the beginning of the 20th century than William Randolph Hearst. Hearst had built the San Francisco Examiner into the country’s first media empire.

Just before the turn of the century he had heavily influenced U.S. foreign policy. He supported the Cuban Revolution of 1895 and encouraged war with Spain. When an explosion sank the U.S.S. Main in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898 the Hearst papers ran the headline: WAR? SURE! Hearst and his reporters covered the war aggressively, on the scene.

For a time Hearst had political ambitions. He served in the congress from 1903-1097 and then ran for Mayor and later Governor of New York.

Hearst’s journey back west began in 1916 when he became infatuated with a Ziegfield Follies dancer named Marion Davies. Legend has it that when he was first courting her he reserved two seats (one for himself and one for his hat) at every performance of the follies for two months.

Marion Davies
Marion Davies

Hearst was married, and his wife Millicent and he did not want to divorce (they had five boys). So as the affair developed into a long-term relationship he remained married but effectively relocated to California.

In 1919 Hearst began planning what would become a 28-year endeavor to build a grand European style castle in the Santa Lucia Mountains, along the California Coast. Construction of San Simeon extended from 1922-47 by which time it had 130 rooms and contained a vast collection of antiques and art. Hearst expanded his land holdings in the area, ultimately owning all the land surrounding Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Hearst became interested in the plight of the old missions, and he donated land (20 acres surrounding the mission) and money for the restoration of San Antonio.

RUINS OF SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA c. 1909
RUINS OF SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA c. 1909

Hearst continued to give seed money for restoration of the missions throughout his life. His biggest contribution to San Antonio de Padua, though, was how he disposed of his San Lucia holdings. In September 1940 he sold all his Valley of the Oaks land to the government, which created the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation there, thus protection the area from the development that has ruined the setting of so many of the old Spanish Missions. The mission was guaranteed access.

Modern Day San Antonio de Padua
Modern Day San Antonio de Padua

In 1948, after World War II, the Franciscans decided rebuilt the original quadrangle of San Antonio. The initial contribution came from a $500,000 donation made for mission restoration by the Hearst Foundation, 10% of which was earmarked for San Antonio de Padua.

Today Mission San Antonio de Padua is only mission with a setting that is almost identical to the landscape of the mission era, more than two centuries ago.

William Randolph Hearst died at the age of 88, in 1951. Marion Davies remained with him to the end.