Julia Morgan was the most important female architect during the early 20th century, and a legend in California architecture history. She was the first woman to graduate with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of California, and the first women to be professionally trained at the Ecole de Beauz Arts in Paris. Morgan was a pioneer for women in the fields of engineering and architecture, overcoming diversity that many women faced during that period of time. Her love for architecture led her to design hundreds of buildings, many in hopes of advancing women in education and careers. The Julia Morgan Ballroom located in San Francisco at the Merchants Exchange Building was named in her honor.
Morgan was born on January 20, 1872 in San Francisco, California. As a child, she was naturally curious about art and the way that mechanical things worked. Morgan was raised in Oakland, and graduated in 1890, from Oakland High School. She first discovered her love for architecture from her cousin, Pierre LeBrun, an architect from New York. While other girls of her social class were getting married, Morgan convinced her mother to allow her to attend the University of California at Berkeley. In 1894, she graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering.
During her senior year in undergraduate school, Morgan had met friend and mentor, Bernard Maybeck. He convinced her to send an application to Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in Paris. Her application was denied twice, the first because the school did not yet accept women students, and the second due to a failing grade on the entrance exam. After two years, Morgan passed the exam in the architecture program and was admitted. Morgan became the first woman to graduate from the school of Paris with a degree in architecture.
After returning from Paris, Morgan gained employment from John Galen Howard, a San Francisco architect who had been supervising the University of California Master Plan at the time. She began her architectural career by working on several buildings located on the Berkeley University campus. She added many well-known decorative elements for both the Hearst Greek Theatre and the Hearst Mining Building. Morgan opened her own office in San Francisco in 1904. The North Star House located in Grass Valley, California was one of her earliest works, commissioned by Arthur Foote along with his wife, Mary, in 1906. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake provided Morgan with more commissioners, and even more financial success.
One of Morgan’s most famous clients was antique collector and newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. He had been introduced to Morgan by his mother, the chief patron of the University of California at Berkeley, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. In 1919, Hearst hired Morgan as the architect for Hearst Castle, or La Cuesta Encantada. Over the decades, Hearst’s vision of the residence grew grander and later, included a private guest house known as The Hacienda. Morgan became Hearst’s primary architect, and planned and constructed dozens of buildings for him, including the Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s Wyntoon.
Morgan gained affiliation with the YWCA after she was recommended for the Asilomar conference, by Phoebe Apperson Hearst. The conference center, no longer YWCA, still stands today in Pacific Grove, California. Morgan went on to build additional YWCAs in Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Utah. Five of the YWCA buildings in Southern California that were designed by Morgan, are still there today, including the 1926 Hollywood Studio Club YWCA and the 1918 Harbor Area YWCA. She also designed YWCA buildings in Northern California, including those in Oakland and Chinatown.
Much like her work for the YWCA, Morgan worked with Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, California, in hopes for new opportunities for women. Morgan created El Campanil, believed to be the first bell tower on a college campus in the United States. Her reputation as an architect grew when the tower was unscathed by the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. Morgan created other projects for Mills, including the Margaret Carnegie Library in 1906, the Ming Quong Home for Chinese girls in 1924, the Student Union in 1916, Kapiolani Cottage, and Mills original pool and gymnasium.
For more information on Julia Morgan, see the following references:
- California Museum – Julia Morgan
- Landmark Heritage Foundation – Julia Morgan
- Hearst Castle – Julia Morgan
- Architect in the Spotlight – Julia Morgan
- Julia Morgan Papers, 1835-1958
- The North Star House
- Chinese Historical Society of America – Julia Morgan
- Architect Julia Morgan and the YWCA
- Generic Index of Buildings by Julia Morgan
- National Women’s History Museum - Julia Morgan