A mogul's castle is his home

William M. Dowd photo

SAN SIMEON, CA --When media mogul William Randolph Hearst decided to create his own art-filled paradise on a mountaintop north of San Francisco, he selected a spot called San Simeon.

He preferred to call it La Cuesta Encantada -- the Enchanted Hill.

The fabulous Hearst Castle complex houses what was the largest one-person-owned art collection in the 20th Century. Hearst had individual pieces of art, tapestry collections, statuary -- even entire buildings -- he purchased on his many world travels crated and shipped back to the United States. So extensive was the collection, some treasures have never been unpacked, and remain warehoused off-site.

In addition, he had many species of plants and animals brought in to populate the mountaintop lair as well as on the land encompassed by the vast Hearst Ranch down at sea level on the surrounding flatlands.

Excavation on the project began in 1922, and in 1927 Hearst moved into the partially-completed complex -- the period in which he reigned as a Hollywood mogul and entertained the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and his own mistress, actress Marian Davies. Work continued off and on through 1947.

On the main grounds is a series of "cottages" that actually are lavish guest houses, all of which at one time played host to the Hollywood elite for elaborate picnics, tennis tournaments, musical entertainments and private film screenings. The edifice and the lifestyle were the basis for actor/director Orson Welles' controversial and classic film "Citizen Kane" in which a fictitious character named Charles Foster Kane functioned as a thinly-veiled version of Welles' uncomplimentary view of Hearst.

The State of California now owns the complex, donated to it by The Hearst Corp. It is open to the public for guided tours.

One of the most fascinating aspects of seeing the castle and grounds is the realization that it is not just a trove of treasures from many of the world's great civilizations, but each room is in itself a work of art rather than simply a display case for the treasures.

We've all shared our memories of places we've visited, explaining, for example, lovely pieces of artwork we've seen hanging on walls of museums and mansions. At the Hearst Castle, however, the walls themselves are works of art. Some were moved whole from the Doge's Palace in Venice, some from ancient Egyptian excavations. Floors from Moorish castles are the floors of some of the Hearst rooms. Statues and columns lining the mosaic-tiled pools were not made for that purpose; they were repurposed from ancient Roman and Greek ruins.

The Hearst Corp., which still owns the ranch, has plans to create a resort complex there as well as continuing its cattle and agricultural pursuits.
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Beau Rivage bouncing back

The Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, MS, was hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina. Today, the complex wrapped up its $550 million comeback by opening the Beau Rivage Theatre.

The theater features a 1,550-seat showroom with a $3 million sound and lighting system.

Beau Rivage reopened in late August, overhauled after the hurricane with new interior design, 1,740 guest rooms and suites, a redesigned casino, 11 restaurants, four bars, 12 retail venues, a spa and salon, a convention center and a golf course.

"We are proud to be part of the resurgence of Gulf Coast tourism and to bring some of the biggest names in their respective fields to Beau Rivage," president George Corchis said in a statement.

The resort's newest show production is "Imaginaya," Russian for "imagine," which will run from Feb. 2 through June 3. It was created by Russian choreographer Alla Duhova and includes performances by Todes, the Russian circus and dance company.

The Beau Rivage Theatre has scheduled for 2007 the Four Tops & The Temptations (Dec. 29), Little Richard (Dec. 31), Bryan Adams (Jan. 5), Willie Nelson (Feb. 8), Howie Mandel (Feb. 16), Blue Man Group (Feb. 17), Julio Iglesias (Feb. 22 and 23), Gladys Knight (March 2), Wayne Newton (March 9), Kenny Rogers (March 16), Paul Anka (March 23), Lord Of The Dance (April 13, 14, 15), The Beach Boys (May 26 and 27) and Ron White (June 1).

Its main restaurant is OLiVES, created by chef Todd English, a two-time James Beard Award winner and Bon Appetit magazine "Restaurateur of the Year." It debuted earlier this month.


Catskills due for a casino

MONTICELLO, NY -- Tens of thousands of people love to build their vacations around the attractions of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and other, lesser casino gambling communities.

Before long, they'll be able to add New York's ancient Catskill Mountains to their destination list.

A proposed Mohawk casino today received environmental approval from federal officials, a step that should speed up the long delayed $600 million project.

The U.S. Department of the Interior approved an environmental review of the St. Regis Mohawk Indian tribe's project, according to an announcement by Leslie Logan, tribal spokeswoman.

The site is a 30-acre parcel next to Monticello Gaming & Raceway in Sullivan County about 75 miles north of New York City and the same distance south of Albany.

The horse track is owned by Empire Resorts, which would build the new casino. The casino would offer blackjack, roulette, craps and traditional slot machines.

Monticello is in the heart of the old Borscht Belt that once was home to dozens of resorts catering predominantly to Jewish families from the New York metro area. They featured nightclubs that were the incubators for many entertainers such as Jerry Lewis, Alan King and Buddy Hackett who went on to international stardom.

Most of those hotels have been boarded up for years, or torn down, with one failed plan after another put forth to try to revive the economy of the region. Adding video gambling at the Monticello Raceway harness track was one step and proponents of casino gambling say the Indian casino will be a major shot in the arm.

However, don't try booking your rooms yet. Several more large hurdles need to be cleared.

For example, construction cannot begin until the governor -- in this case, Elliot Spitzer, who will be sowrn in next month to suceeded George Pataki -- signs off on the review and the Interior Department puts the land into trust for the Mohawks. In addition, the state must amend the gambling compact that allows the Mohawks to operate a casino in northern New York to include the Catskills facility.


Big Apple going trans-fat free

NEW YORK -- Health-conscious travelers will find the latest thing in the city to their taste.

New York today became the first city in the United States to ban trans-fats in restaurant food, a ban that takes place in the midst of debate over numerous studies proclaiming an obesity epidemic, particularly among younger and lower income people.

Trans-fats have been linked to heart disease, and blamed for raising levels of undesireable LDL in cholesterol while lowering the levels of desireable HDL.

Common foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a common form of trans-fats, include such things as processed foods, baked goods, pizza dough and cracjers.

"It's basically a slow form of poison," David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, told the Associated Press. "I applaud New York City and frankly, I think there should be a nationwide ban."

The ban isn't without its detractors. Many food industry representatives claim the city exceeded its authority in ordering restaurants to abandon an ingredient that is permitted by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

"This is a legal product," said E. Charles Hunt, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association. "They're headed down a slippery slope here."

As far as a phase-in is concerned, the city's Board of Health says restaurants will be barred by July 2007 from using most frying oils containing trans-fats, and one more year to eliminate trans-fats from all foods.
• Revealing trans-fats
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STATEN ISLAND, NY -- NASCAR fans who had hoped the stock cars would be coming to the Big Apple can cross that one off their to-visit list.

International Speedway Corp., which had hoped to construct a track here on Staten Island, one of New York's five boroughs, has called off the project.

"While we are disappointed that we could not complete the speedway development on Staten Island, our enthusiasm for the metropolitan New York market is in no way dampened," ISC president Lesa France Kennedy said in a public statement Monday. "We continue to view the region as a prime location for a major motorsports facility."

Kennedy runs ISC, the publicly-traded sister company of NASCAR. The two entities had hoped to create a $150 million complex that would seat at least 80,000 fans on a former oil tank farm. The company had purchased 676 acres to do so.

Strong local opposition, based on fear of traffic tie-ups and environmental concerns, stalled the project and led to the decision to forego it and sell off the land, which real estate experts describe as the largest undeveloped acreage in the five boroughs.
The schedule
The standings
The drivers
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Meanwhile, in downtown Ashgabat …

Update: In late December 2006, the subject of this story -- Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov -- died. Click here for details.

British comic actor Sasha Baron Cohen has, if nothing else, made most of the English-speaking world aware of the nation of Kazakhstan through his put-on film "Borat." But life sometimes trumps art, as in the case of Turkmenistan, like Kazakhstan a former Soviet satellite nation.

Should you plan to visit either of the Central Asian nations, check out Kazakhstan here and Turkmenistan here.

Or, pay attention to David Remnick's take on Turkmenistan as published in The New Yorker magazine. Here's how it begins. You can get the rest of the story on the magazine’s online archive.

“Of the 15 states of the former Soviet empire, Turkmenistan, just north of Iran, is the one that has turned out to be a cruel blend of Kim Jong Il’s North Korea and L. Frank Baum’s Oz. Not long after the Soviet collapse in 1991, a former Communist Party hack named Saparmurat Niyazov became President-for-life, dubbed himself Turkmenbashi — Leader of All the Turkmen — and commenced building the strangest, most tragicomic cult of personality on the Eurasian landmass.

“Doctors there now take an oath not to Hippocrates but to Turkmenbashi; the month of January is now called Turkmenbashi; and in the capital Ashgabat, there is, atop the Arch of Neutrality, a 250-foot gold statue of Turkmenbashi that, like George Hamilton, automatically rotates to face the sun.

“It is extremely difficult to get a visa. Journalists can visit only rarely. But imagine a society in which the ubiquitous, inescapable leader’s image (on the currency, on billboards, on television screens night and day) is that of a saturnine frump who resembles Ernest Borgnine somewhere between 'Marty' and 'McHale’s Navy'."

“Niyazov is a leader of whims. He has banned opera, ballet, beards, long hair, makeup (for television anchors), and gold-capped teeth. He demands that drivers pass a ‘morality test.’ At his command, the word for ‘April’ became Gurbansoltan eje, the name of his late mother. Evidently, he prizes fruit: there is now a national holiday commemorating local melons. And, as if the shade of Orwell were not sufficiently present in Turkmenistan, Niyazov has established, despite an abysmal human-rights record, a Ministry of Fairness.”

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