Hearst Castle, auction, ebay

An evening tour at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif., is popular among visitors, who can see the sun set behind the Neptune Pool. (Rosemary McClure / Los Angeles Times / September 9, 2008)

For half a century, the beds at Hearst Castle have been empty.

But now one can be yours for a night. And eight of your friends can join you to dine, swim in the Neptune Pool and toss off lines from "Citizen Kane" like, "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper!"

In a drive to restore William Randolph Hearst's vast art collection, a nonprofit group is auctioning an overnight stay for two at the mansion on the scenic Central Coast that once played host to star after star.

"Joe P. Average was not going to be invited to the castle," said Carol Schreiber, director of Friends of Hearst Castle. "Now the attitude is more: 'This is the people's castle.' "

For 10 days starting Sept. 17, people can bid on EBay for the unique pajama party that Schreiber hopes will bring $100,000.

The money will jump-start an endowment for preserving the 25,000 pieces of art collected by the legendary publisher, some of which will go on display in November at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In 1957, six years after Hearst died, his family deeded his home to the state as a museum.

The winning bidder can fly into Hearst's private airstrip, ring his carillon bells to call guests to dinner and watch a movie in his theater.

Then, after their friends retire to a nearby luxury resort, one fortunate couple can head to what is believed to be the former room of Julia Morgan, the castle's architect.

The sheets will be as fresh as W.C. Fields, who said of the castle: "Wonderful place to bring up children. You can send them out to play. They won't come back till they're grown."

steve.chawkins@latimes.com