The Hacienda is not a busy place… there doesn’t even appear to be a lobby. When I visited in 2001 and 2005, check-in was at the restaurant, or bar if you got there after 8:30 p.m. With the closing of the restaurant, I’d make the bar my first stop and get there during daylight hours to make sure the base’s gate is open.
“There’s nothing to do here but be alone and be who you are,” Roger McClendon told me during my 2001 visit. At the time, he operated The Hacienda under contract to the Army.
Originally from Florida, McClendon and his wife, Hazel, ran the place for several years after the Army put The Hacienda’s operation out to bid to a private operator in 1997. McClendon is apparently no longer the operator, but his story tells much about the Hacienda.
“We were just going to come out, hire a manager and go home,” he said. “We came here for four weeks — five years ago.” They fell in love with the valley and stayed for good.
Although it looks like the Mission, architect Morgan built Hearst’s Milpitas Ranch House solid, like the Castle to the south. Its thick walls are solid, reinforced concrete, the same material as the Castle.
“Somebody asked how we held up in the earthquake,” he said. “This place didn’t even shake. Its all concrete. Even the beams in the bar and restaurant — that look like wood — are concrete.
McClendon has great admiration for Morgan.
“Career women were very rare in those days, he said. “To have accomplished what she did… she must have been quite a lady.”
The four Tower rooms are huge, twice the size of most hotel rooms. They include a full bath and comfortable bed. Morgan’s passion for Old California shows in touches such as decorative murals, as well as hand-carved doors and shutters, all still in good condition from the Hearst era.
McClendon says old timers in the valley have told him that celebrities such as Gable and Leslie Howard would stay in these Tower rooms. Although the furnishings have changed, today’s guests can still feel the romance of that Old Hollywood era.
Portion of my room at the Hacienda.
Two larger Garden Rooms are adjacent. The Cowboy rooms — once used by Hearst’s ranch hands — connect to the wing with the Master Suites. These two- bedroom units, with bath, kitchen, dining room and living room, were once the ranch foreman’s quarters.
The Cowboy Rooms are for singles — the bath and shower are shared down the hall — but at have had low nightly rates making them a truly low-buck getaway. The Master Suites sleep six and include a grand fireplace, something needed on Central Coast nights, which can be nippy even in the summer.
U.S. 101 is the the beaten path in this area and the Hacienda is about a half-hour off this busy San Francisco-Los Angeles freeway. Despite its location, The Hacienda does have amenities.
I was told by e-mail in 2006 that the restaurant has closed. But during my 2001 and 2005 visits, lunch and dinner were served in the spacious, beam-ceilinged dining room. A mural — painted in the 1950s by a soldier — covers one wall, celebrating the military history of California.
During my 2001 and 2005 visits, breakfast was packaged sweet rolls in your room and the usual coffee service. Although the base snack bar is open for breakfast, I opted to take the scenic drive into King City in order to load up the refrigerator in the room. There’s also a small microwave, so I treated myself to a nice warm bagel every morning.
With the reported closure of the restaurant in 2006, I’m not sure what’s going on with food these days. During my 2005 visit, the base snack bar and bowling alley appeared to be closed, as Ft. Hunter Liggett is much less active — some might even say closed. As far as I know, its future is still up in the air.