Spring Cleaning at Hearst Castle: How to Keep 165 Rooms Clean

With 56 bedrooms and 96,000 square feet to contend with, Hearst Castle's chief curator, Hoyt Fields, is the busiest estate manager in the world. But how does he keep up with the upkeep on the mansion that William Randolph Hearst was building in central California from 1919 until his death in 1947?

One of the most famous homes in America, and now a state park and National Historic Landmark, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon receives almost one million visitors a year. It also has licensing agreements with high-end home furnishing vendors and artisans who take inspiration from it. The royalties are used to help conserve the coastal estate which, with its165 rooms, seems like could be a logistical nightmare. We grabbed Hoyt for a few spring cleaning tips.
I think my house costs an arm and a leg to run -- how much does it cost to maintain Hearst Castle?

Fields: $10.5 million per year, most of which comes from museum gate receipts. If a private person lived there, they may not have to spend that much since a good portion of it is staff salaries: 10 grounds staff, 81 guides, 15 curatorial and 15 historic maintenance. We also have 20 employees in the Visitor's Center ticket office.

What's the one product you use the most?

Not to plug products, but we use carryovers from Mr. Hearst's time: Johnson's Paste Wax and Wright's Silver Cream. We do not use Windex. We used a Shaklee product called Basic H mixed with water for windows and to dampen dust cloths. Floors are dust-mopped; Persian carpets are vacuumed.

You just vacuum those antique rugs?

We hire a conservator to wash the rugs on site [annually] so visitors can watch. They do it in our huge courtyards, use two-by-fours to make a well, fill it with cold water, pour in white vinegar and use big floor brooms to scrub the rug. I believe they use a product called Orvus which is also used on animals to clean off manure stains and wash them down for fairs. But we are talking antiquities here; we leave it to the experts who know what colors might bleed. We also wash the tapestries this way and let them air-dry.

How do you clean and maintain a home that is also a museum? Can you share any maintenance tips?

It's general housekeeping but on a huge scale, and there are policies and procedures to follow. Most of the items are not touched and since there is no smoking, no gas appliances in the home, it's a lot easier to maintain. People are surprised at how ordinary it is to maintain the interiors in an extraordinary locale. But you do have to be diligent.

Can you give an example?

We have to watch out for pests. The 41 bedrooms are all made up with bedpads and sheets as an inhibitor to bugs and to keep them from vermin infestation. Even though no one ever sleeps in those beds, we change all the linens every six months. In the main house, the bathrooms are not used but cleaned daily to make sure they are all functioning.

How's that historic mosaic floor that Christ walked on holding up?

The mosaic floor in the vestibule of the main living room from Ostia? It's second century AD. Like all art we maintain it on a daily basis but visitors may no longer walk across it, they view it from the assembly room. We dust mop the floor on a daily basis and use dry paste wax once a year on all furniture and floors.

What's the oldest artifact at Hearst Castle?

The 18th dynasty Egyptian statue of Sekhmet, one of the oldest known Egyptian deities. It's 3,600 years old, from the time of King Tut. It's on the esplanade and viewed by half a million visitors per year. San Simeon's architect, Julia Morgan, designed a fountain around it.

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