Julia Morgan (1872-1957)
In 1904, Julia Morgan became the first woman licensed architect in California. She was a successful and prolific architect during the first half of the twentieth century. She was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her career helped open the field of architecture to women in the United States. Today she is perhaps best known for the design and construction of publisher W.R. Hearst’s legendary California coastal estate.
Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872. She was one of the first women to graduate from University of California at Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering. During her tenure at Berkeley, Morgan developed a keen interest in architecture. At Berkeley one of her instructors, Bernard Maybeck, encouraged her to pursue her architectural studies in Paris at the Ecole Nationale et Speciale des Beaux-Arts.
Arriving in Paris in 1896, she was initially refused admission because the Ecole had never before admitted a woman. After a two-year wait, Julia Morgan gained entrance to the prestigious program and became the first woman to receive a certificate in architecture. While in Paris, Morgan also found a mentor in her professor, Bernard Chaussemiche, for whom she worked as a drafter.
Soon after her graduation from the Ecole, Julia Morgan returned to her native San Francisco and began working for architect John Galen Howard. At the time Howard was the supervising architect of the University of California’s Master Plan, the commission of which he won by default from Pheobe Apperson Hearst. Morgan worked on the Master Plan drawing the elevations and designing the decorative details for the Mining Building built in memory of George Hearst. During this time Morgan also designed the Hearst Greek Theater on the Berkeley campus.
- Morgan’s opened her own architectural firm in 1904, quickly establishing herself as a fine architect. She built a remarkably diverse practice, designing over 700 buildings that are prized by owners and architectural historians. She ran her office in the atelier syle she learned at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, creating a learning environment for all who worked there. Boutelle wrote: “Her generosity of spirit, as evidenced by the profit-sharing in the office and her support of her staff… make her come alive as a person dedicated to her associates and to the practice of architecture.”
Morgan’s buildings are distinguished by her client centered approach to design, her use of locally available materials, and her integration of the varied architectural traditions of the West with the vocabulary of a Beaux-Arts background. Although Morgan’s buildings do not reflect one definitive style, they all exhibit a fine attention to detail and a craftsman like quality of construction.
At least one-third of her commissions came from women’s colleges and organizations that took a feminist pride in her success. Morgan was also an influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement in the Bay Area, one of the few born in California. Biographer Sara Holmes Boutelle wrote: “Her preoccupation with light, with the relationship of a structure to its site, with flexibility of plan … and with the use of color and decoration make her work relevant to contemporary designers.”
One of Morgan’s first residential commissions was to remodel and complete Phoebe Hearst’s Hacienda del Pozo de Verona in Pleasanton, California. Morgan’s style was characterized by her use of the California vernacular with distinct arts and crafts attributes, including exposed support beams, horizontal lines that blended with the landscape and extensive use of shingles, California Redwood and earth tones. One of her first independent projects was the bell tower on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, which withstood the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. On of her most well known projects was the Hearst Castle, for William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon, California. Other notable projects included the rebuilding of the Fairmont Hotel after the 1906 quake, the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California and a series of YWCA buildings in California, Hawaii and Utah.
Julia Morgan retired in the 1951, after forty-five years in practice, she closed her office and had her records destroyed. She insisted that the buildings should speak for her, adding that “architecture is a visual, not a verbal art.” She passed away in San Francisco at the age of 85.