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While Hearst Castle remains closed, employees continue work behind the scenes

hearst castle 2.jpg
Posted at 7:39 PM, Nov 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-17 23:59:38-05

The iconic Hearst Castle in San Simeon has been transforming over the past eight months following its closure in mid-March due to COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, given a pandemic, we've had to be closed longer than any other period since it's been a state historical monument," said Dan Falat, California State Parks San Luis Obispo Coast District Superintendent.

Since 1958, the castle has welcomed thousands of visitors annually.

Falat says last fiscal year, the grounds welcomed roughly 417,000 visitors. The year before that, he says there were about 616,000 guests.

"So we had about 200,000 visitors less last year than we did the previous year. On average, the castle sees about 750,000 visitors a year," he explained.

Falat says in 2018-19 the castle's annual revenue was about $16 million.

But now, with castle tours put on hold indefinitely, the roughly 140 staff members on the hilltop have shifted their efforts to some projects that were previously on the back burner.

This includes restoring the bell system of Casa Grande, the castle's main house.

"You can see they've been exposed to the elements since 1932 when they were put into the bell tower so they've experienced some rust and some weathering, so we're trying to bring them back to life," said Amy Hart, California State Parks San Luis Obispo Coast District State Historian.

Before the pandemic, the bells were partially played at noon for guests.

"We're excited to get them back to their full capacity to play all the tunes that Hearst guests would have heard back when they visited in the 1930s," Hart said.

Meanwhile, the grounds are still being maintained. Preserving and cleaning the collection inside the museum are also top priorities for staff, all of which have kept their positions.

"No one has been laid off because we also don't know when we're going to reopen," Falat said.

Once open, tours will shift to reservation only.

Inside the visitors' center, there are blue circles on the ground for social distancing and hand sanitizer. Glass partitions where you will check in were installed to protect staff and visitors alike.

While this year's 100th anniversary celebration marking when construction first started on the castle was put on hold, State Parks has its sights set on the day visitors can safely return to the castle again.

"Focus on what can we get done so we're better prepared when visitors finally arrive," Falat said.

State Parks has also provided virtual learning opportunities about the castle during the pandemic.