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Architect’s Spotlight:Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan and WR Hearst

This photograph can quite possibly be the first reason I decided to research 1900’s architect Julia Morgan. In her circular lens spectacles, white collar dress shirt, over-sized wool coat, and tall bucket hat, she exudes a petite, warm, and intelligent confidence that I admire. She is pictured here with William Randolph Hearst, owner of the Hearst family mansion, designed by Morgan.

Julia Morgan Ecole Beaux Arts assignment

Aside from her cuteness, I have some serious admiration for Julia Morgan. As a female architect, I am truly inspired by her legacy, which began with an arduous educational journey… Julia graduated from UC Berkley in 1894 as the first woman to receive an undergraduate degree in engineering. Then she became the first woman to attend the famed Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, after the school failed her twice due to her gender! Julia was also the first woman in the state of California to earn an architectural registration license in 1904, when she began her own practice. I am absolutely amazed at her perseverance through the early years of her career.

Julia Morgan Hearst Castle

Though her journey to becoming a registered architect was difficult and long, she is also highly praised for her glamorous and highly detailed design work. Her most famous known work is the Hearst Castle & property, located in San Simeon, CA. Morgan was commissioned by William Randolph Hearst, son of Phoebe Hearst (YWCA philanthropist and chief patron at Morgans alma mater, UC Berkley). The 127 acre estate houses gardens, terraces, pools, and breathtaking architectural design; and was in construction for over 3 decades of Morgan’s career. The design encompases the Mediterranean Revival style as well as Spanish cathedral, in a combination of many historical architectural references, which blends well with Hearst’s extensive European & Mediterranean art collection. The estate is still in pristine condition, and visitors can tour the grounds & castle today.

Hearst Pool

Hearst Indoor Pool

Another famous work was the no-longer standing Marion Davies Beach House. Located in Santa Monica, California, the home was designed & built for actress Marion Davies. Though the main structure was demolished in the late 1950’s, and remaining elements damaged by an earthquake in the mid-1990’s, the building was rebuilt as a community center. The design of the current center includes concrete pylons that pay homage to the colonnade of Morgan’s original building. Below are images of the original structure, and the existing community center.

Marion Davies original Anneberg Community Center

The California Polytechnic State University is the home to a library of Julia Morgan’s work, including photographs, drawings, sketching, plans, & correspondence that were all donated to the University by her heirs. The website gives a short biography with descriptions of a few of her most famous works. One of her first commissions was a bell tower at Mills College in Oakland, California in 1904. The site explains how she was questioned by a journalist on the site of this project, who was in disbelief that a female architect existed. The conversation between the journalist and the site foreman is as follows…

“Is the building really in charge of a woman architect?” I asked the foreman… The man read me a powerful sermon of just three short sentences, punctuated with the earnestness of a reform orator. “An architect’s an architect,” he said, “and you can count them all on the fingers of one hand. Now, this building is in charge of a real architect and her name happens to be Julia Morgan, but it might as well be John Morgan.”

El Campanil Mills College Oakland

Much of Morgan’s legacy surrounds her work – as a woman architect – for women’s organizations like the YWCA and women’s colleges. She took great strides for women in the field of architecture, not only for being an architect, but for being a great architect.