SAN SIMEON, Calif. - Hearst Castle has stood as one of the most iconic symbols on the Central Coast for nearly a century, but visitors this year are witnesses to a massive renovation project.
The Neptune Pool has been empty since 2014 and surrounded by construction crews as major work to repair cracks in the facility's base continue.
KCOY's Michael Colaianni got an in-depth and exclusive behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to restore this beautiful symbol of California.
On a clear day, standing high above San Simeon at Hearst Castle is it hard not to picture yourself back in time.
The sights, the sounds, all bring you back nearly one hundred years ago, when William Randolph Hearst, the world's first media mogul, would control his empire of newspapers and radio stations from atop this hill in Central California.
"The celestial suites up top are probably my favorite part of the castle," says Dan Falat, a California State Parks Superintendent who has turned a passion for this place into a career. Heading up Hearst Castle is a big task, with up to 5000 visitors a day, and up to one million a year.
The property is surrounded by 80,000 acres of private Hearst family land. During the 1920's and 30's, it was known as a haven for celebrities.
Actors Charlie Chaplain and Joan Crawford, industry magnate Howard Hughes, and future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill all visited the home as guests.
"They were able to get out of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles and the Hollywood scene and just relax."
However, one of the most popular spots for these famous guests on the grounds is undergoing a major facelift.
At its time, the Neptune Pool was one of the largest private pools in America. It is one of three on the property, and one of the most famous pools in the world. It took 14 years of construction beginning in 1924, with three renovations and expansions in between. When full, the pool holds 345,000 gallons of water, but 80 years has taken its toll.
So much so that the pool was drained in 2014, and construction crews have been hard at work for over a year to repair and seal the pool.
"In some ways, it's a very straightforward project, but in other ways, it's a huge project," says Shelly Dildy, an associate architect with the state park system. "The pool is a concrete shell and concrete cracks. As it was enlarged, there were things we call cold joints, which is when you have new work against old work. Our crews are filling those seams with a polyurethane resin, before covering the entire pool in a waterproof membrane.
Not standard building code during the 20's and 30's. A standard now, the membrane is elastic and can move if any additional cracking happens.
Superintendent Falat says they are looking to have the pool re-opened by late summer or early this fall, but even the renovations are a rare sight, and worth a visit.
"You will never, hopefully, see the pool empty and without the tile ever again," says Dildy.