Willie and Tessie in Sausalito

The following is excerpted from Jack Tracy’s book, “Moments in Time”:

Young William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. ca. 1904

William Randolph Hearst was born in San Francisco in 1863 and passed his childhood years there in the rarified atmosphere of the affluent. Why he became fascinated by Sausalito is not recorded; perhaps even he never knew. As a child he no doubt heard stories about the new town and possibly even met Charles Harrison or Maurice Dore, who knew his father. After a three-year stint at Harvard, when he was expelled for his incessant pranks, William worked for two years at the New York World, his father's newspaper. He returned to San Francisco in 1887 in complete control of the San Francisco Examiner, another of his father's newspapers. Before long he was dazzling the journalistic world with his transformation of the sickly Examiner into “The Monarch of the Dailies."

When the twenty-three-year-old William rented a house in Sausalito overlooking the yacht club, it caused little stir among the British colony. He was just another millionaire's son, not the first or the last to seek refuge in Sausalito. Tall and slender, Hearst was shy in manner but possessed a strong will. His mistress from Harvard days, Tessie Powers, was soon ensconced in his Sausalito bachelor house, much to the chagrin of his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Sausalito society remained aloof from Hearst and his San Francisco friends. He was not invited to join the yacht club, and Tessie was ignored on the streets. It was not so much that Hearst kept a mistress, but that he made no effort to conceal it and was outwardly indifferent to criticism.

But in any case, the energetic Hearst had little time for Sausalito's social protocol. He had become fascinated by photography and was determined to perfect the process of reproducing photographs in newspapers.

In 1887 Henry Cartans, a local distiller, built a magnificent home on a promontory near Hearst's rented house. Sea Point, as Cartans called it, appealed to Hearst, and he leased it with an option to buy. He had the entire second floor of Sea Point converted into a photographic studio, complete with darkroom. Tessie Powers was also installed in the new quarters. Through a family-owned firm, the Piedmont Land & Cattle Company, Hearst bought Sea Point and gradually all the other lots around it—in effect, isolating himself from his Sausalito neighbors.

Since early childhood, when he first saw the palaces and museums of Europe, Hearst had dreamed of possessing a luxurious "castle" filled with the finest art and sculpture in the world. It would become a lifelong obsession. In April, 1890, construction began just below Sea Point on what was to be Hearst's castle, the first of many attempts to give form to a vision. But for reasons not entirely clear, work was stopped with only a retaining wall on Water Street and the foundations of the gatehouse completed.

In 1891, he left for an extended tour of Europe and Egypt with Tessie Powers and his comrade in photography, George Pancoast. When he re­turned, Phoebe Hearst finally had heard enough about Tessie Powers and her hold over William. She "persuaded" Tessie to leave with the promise never to return. William was heartbroken, but obedient to his mother's wishes. His response to these do­mestic and public defeats was to move out of Sea Point.

In 1910 Hearst returned briefly to Sausalito. With a wife, two children, and a New York architect in tow, he announced plans for an elaborate $250,000 Spanish-style home on his Sausalito property. Again he was distracted, and nothing was built. And when Hearst had Sea Point demolished in 1922, Sausalito thought it had heard the last of him. But in the 1930s when the city's pro­posed zoning ordinance listed the Hearst property as resi­dential, he stepped forward with plans for a luxury hotel on Bridgeway that would rise to the crest where Sea Point once had stood and for a cluster of apartments along Atwood Avenue. The City Council accommodated Hearst by extending the commercial zone along Bridgeway to North Street, but no project was forthcoming. By 1943, with five "castles" including San Simeon, William Ran­dolph Hearst surrendered his dream of a Sausalito palace, and the Sunical Land & Packing Company, a Hearst en­terprise, sold his promontory overlooking the bay.