By Sal Maccarone
A few months ago I wrote an article for my column that had to do with William Randolf Hearst and his famous castle in San Simeon, California. While I only mentioned Julia Morgan in that article, I vowed to revisit the subject of this amazing woman and her unique contribution to California architecture.
Julia Morgan (1872 – 1957) was without a doubt the most important female architect of the twentieth century. A real pioneer who mastered two professions; engineering and architecture. Incredibly, she was able to do this at a time when woman were not even allowed to vote!
Among her many other accomplishments, she was the first woman to graduate from the Engineering department of UC Berkeley (in 1894) and then the first woman to be trained at the Ecole de Beaux Art school in Paris.
As part of her early training in the United States she had also made herself familiar with the Arts & Crafts style and some of the other innovative ways of thinking. This gave her a little edge over many of the other architects who attended the “Ecole.” Later, during her forty-nine year career after she designed and built more than seven hundred buildings.
With her many perspectives on architecture, Julia Morgan’s philosophy was simple: design a structure that works well in its surroundings. She ultimately came to adopt the philosophy that buildings should look as if they grew from the land.
Able to work in many styles from classical to the modern, she always came up with the best design possible while working with what was at her disposal.
She was comfortable and proficient in borrowing from a vast repertoire of architectural styles to make her designs unique. Another of her many skills was an ability to switch from project to project and style to style with ease.
While working on the Hearst Castle project — on site during the weekends for twenty-eight years — she would also put in a full work week back at the office overseeing many different projects. For instance, when the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco was severely damaged in the 1906 earthquake, Julia Morgan, who was then only 34, was chosen to repair and restore the building. She skillfully executed the repair before the first anniversary of the earthquake.
Julia Morgan was not one for the spotlight, believing that the architecture itself was a visual art. In fact, she believed that personal interviews, articles, competitions, and those sorts of things were for “talking architects,” and she did not consider herself to be one of those. She was once quoted as saying, “My buildings will be my legacy, they will speak for me long after I am gone.”
Inducted into the California Hall of Fame on May 28, 2008, by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julia Morgan’s work will truly live on!
This is a great short film about Julia narrated by Dianne Feinstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OC-81gRUG8
Here is a link to a site with indexed pictures of her work: