Julia Morgan Papers, MS 010
Born in San Francisco, Julia Morgan (1872–1957) grew up in Oakland in a spacious Victorian house. Gifted in mathematics and encouraged in her studies by her mother, Morgan was influenced to become an architect by her mother's cousin, Pierre Le Brun, who designed an early skyscraper, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower in Manhattan. In 1890, she enrolled in the undergraduate civil engineering program at the University of California at Berkeley, in part because there were no architectural schools on the West coast at that time. After graduation, Berkeley instructor and architect Bernard Maybeck recommended further study at his alma mater, L'École dex Beaux-Arts, where the curriculum was renowned for the scope and majesty of its assignments: apartment suites in palaces, art galleries, opera houses, and other opulent environments fit for lavish, if imaginary, clients. Once in Paris, Morgan failed the entrance exam twice. Morgan then learned that the faculty had failed her deliberately to discourage her admission. Eventually the faculty relented and Morgan went on to win medals for her work in mathematics, architecture, and design. She traveled throughout Europe in her free time, filling sketchbook after sketchbook with accomplished watercolors, pastels, and line drawings. In 1902, Morgan was certified by the Beaux-Arts in architecture.
Returning to California upon graduation, Morgan became the first woman licensed as an architect in California, working first for John Galen Howard on several significant University of California buildings as part of the campus master plan bankrolled by philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
In 1904, Morgan opened her own office in San Francisco. One of her first commissions, a campanile for the Oakland campus of Mills College, withstood the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, bringing her local acclaim and new commissions, including rebuilding the earthquake-damaged Fairmont Hotel. From this point Morgan’s career was assured, and her practice thrived.
Morgan designed her first YWCA building in Oakland in 1912. The next year, Morgan began work on the first of 13 buildings in the Arts & Crafts style for Asilomar, the seaside YWCA retreat near Monterey. Host to thousands of visitors since its founding in 1913, Asilomar is now a state historical park and conference center. Morgan eventually designed 28 unique YWCA buildings in fifteen cities in California, Utah and Hawaii.
Publisher William Randolph Hearst first retained Morgan in 1910 for a residence in Sausalito, but it was never built. In 1915, she completed a notable Mission Revival building for the Los Angeles Examiner, Hearst's flagship newspaper. Hearst was so delighted by the structure that he commissioned Morgan to design his legendary estate at San Simeon, situated on a crest of the Santa Lucia Mountains of central California. Known today as Hearst Castle, the estate is now a state historical monument that has attracted more than 35 million visitors since it opened to the public in 1958.
Morgan's classical Beaux-Arts training, joined with her engineering degree and expertise with reinforced concrete, made her the ideal architect for this commission, which absorbed both architect and client from 1919 to 1947. Morgan designed the main building (Casa Grande), and guesthouses ("A" "B" and "C" Houses), workers' housing, grounds and terraces, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, zoo and aviary, poultry ranch, greenhouses, warehouses, animal shelters, a five-mile pergola, and a seaside village for the estate's supervisors.
In 1930, Hearst commissioned Morgan to build a Bavarian village on the McCloud River at Wyntoon, his northern California estate, to replace his mother's Maybeck-designed castle that had recently been destroyed by fire. Other Hearst commissions documented in the collections include the unbuilt hacienda at Babicora, his million-acre ranch in Mexico; the unbuilt "Hopi" residence and unrealized plans for a hotel at the Grand Canyon; and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Memorial Women's Gymnasium at UC Berkeley. Morgan also supervised the alterations of Marion Davies' vast beach house in Santa Monica.
Through art dealers Arthur and Mildred Stapely Byne, Hearst purchased a thirteenth-century Spanish monastery in 1931. Santa Maria de Ovila was dismantled and shipped to San Francisco, where Morgan and Hearst contemplated its use at Wyntoon. When the plans were dropped for lack of funds, Morgan convinced Hearst to give the stones to the city of San Francisco for a medieval museum to rival Manhattan's Cloisters. Morgan contributed additional plans and by 1941, the city had selected a site in Golden Gate Park. After a series of arson fires at the warehouses obliterated the markings on the stones, the city lost enthusiasm for the project. This last great collaboration between Morgan and Hearst was never realized.
Historian Elinor Richey wrote, "Morgan's work was outstanding not only for its thoroughness, diversity, and volume ... but also for its stylistic innovation and influence. Her early redwood shingle houses contributed to the emergence of the Bay Area shingle style. She was also a decade ahead of most of her contemporaries in using structure as a means of architectural expression. Unlike the work of most San Francisco architects of her time, Morgan's was reflective of that being done outside the Bay area." (Richey, Eminent Women of the West, p. 501)
Despite shortages of building materials and skilled labor, Morgan remained active professionally through World War II. In 1951, she closed her San Francisco office and retired. After several years of poor health, Julia Morgan died in San Francisco in 1957 at the age of 85.