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Sunday, December 16, 2012


Julia Morgan was the First Lady of Architecture on the west coast, maybe in all America. She designed more than 700 buildings in California over her fifty-year career.
She was a diminutive young woman, only five feet tall, with porcelain-china facial features. But Julia was a determined dynamo who would stop at nothing to realize her dreams. A native of San Francisco, born in 1872, she always wanted to be an architect. But the school she chose didn’t offer a degree in architecture. UC Berkeley had only the next closest thing - civil engineering. So in 1894, Julia graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. She was the first women in the school’s history to be degreed in this discipline.

Two years later, Julia discovered that the prestigious “Ecole des Beaux Arts” in Paris, an academy of fine arts and architectural design, was taking applications. So off she went to France. It turned out to be a two year struggle just to be admitted as they were not yet accepting female students. Eventually they relented. Julia Morgan became the very first female student to graduate from that famous academy across the river from the Louvre.

Julia returned to San Francisco in 1904 as one of the best-educated young architects in the world. She worked for a firm that was designing the new University of California at Berkeley Master Plan. Her contributions included the Hearst Mining Building and the Hearst Greek Theatre.

Then in 1906, the great earthquake struck San Francisco. Among the half-ruined buildings was the famous Fairmont Hotel. Because Julia was one of the very few educated in reinforced-concrete construction (owing to her civil engineering background), she was put in charge of the redesign and repair of this famous landmark.

Because of her close association with the University of California for whom the Hearst family was benefactors, Julia came to know Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. This led to her first commission in southern California. It was the design of Hearst’s Los Angeles Examiner Building, his L.A. newspaper’s headquarters.

This in turn led to the most significant project of her life. In 1919, William Randolph Hearst chose Julia Morgan to be the principle architect of his “little bungalow on top of a hill” that overlooked San Simeon harbor. This bungalow grew into the grandest mansion in America, popularly known today as “Hearst Castle.” His vision of the estate grew larger with each passing year, and he was guided by the creative work of Julia Morgan. They worked together on it for 22 years. She made over 500 trips to the site supervising the construction of the towers, swimming pools, and even the zoo. Julia also designed Hearst’s 50,000 acre “Wyntoon” estate which included four villas, and early designs for his 1.6 million acre ranch in Mexico.

If that had been the sum of her career’s work, she would have been one of the most remarkable architects in America. But Julia Morgan wanted to give more back to her community. She set about designing purposeful buildings that would contribute to improving the lives of women and girls. With Phoebe Hearst’s support, Julia designed many YWCA facilities in California, Arizona, Utah, and Hawaii. She supervised the design and construction of many buildings on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, a school for women. This included the first reinforced concrete bell tower on the west coast. She also designed the Margaret Carnegie Library and the Ming Quong Home for Chinese Girls, which is now known as the Julia Morgan School for Girls.

She has been honored by the creation of the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts in Berkeley; and in 2008, was inducted posthumously into the California Hall of Fame, Women and the Arts.

If you ever visit the San Francisco Bay area, you will undoubtedly encounter one of the many architectural designs of this amazing woman. Our First Lady of Architecture - Julia Morgan.

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