Today, meet the architect of Hearst Castle. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
The first thing that caught
my eye when I went to Berkeley as a student in 1956
was the architecture. Houses nestled into the rich
plant life. Stone and wooden-shake buildings seemed
to grow from the same ground as the succulents and
That style was shaped in the late 1800s by a
splinter group of Ruskin's Arts and Crafts
movement. Berkeley architects joined to talk about
fresh air, unpainted wood, and landscape gardening.
Julia Morgan grew up in Oakland during those years.
She was bitten by that same architectural bug.
Berkeley didn't teach architecture yet, so in 1894
she became the first woman graduate in civil
engineering -- the closest thing to architecture.
Then, in 1896, Morgan heard that the Beaux-Arts
School in Paris was accepting women. She went. It
turned out to be a two-year struggle to get in.
But, in 1904, she was the first woman to graduate
from that leading architectural academy.
She was 30 years old when she sailed back to San
Francisco. By now she was one of the best-trained
young architects in the world, with a long string
of academic awards.
Morgan set up shop in Oakland and began designing
many of the buildings that so caught my fancy when
I came to the East Bay. Then, in 1906, the great
earthquake all but leveled San Francisco. The huge
Fairmount Hotel was among the half-ruined,
still-standing buildings. Morgan got the job of
Morgan was a strong, delicate woman, only five feet
tall, with porcelain-china features. She'd quietly
done extraordinary work with no fanfare. Now the
newspapers found her. A reporter met her climbing
through the wreckage and took her for an interior
designer. She had to explain that the trim was
being done by a New York firm. Her job was
rebuilding the broken structure.
She went on to design buildings for the Berkeley
and Mills College campuses -- major churches and
homes in the East Bay. Then, just after WW-I,
William Randolph Hearst offered her her best-known
commission. Hearst told her he wanted a
"comfortable bungalow" for his hilltop retreat at
So began what Orson Wells called Xanadu in his
Citizen Kane portrayal of Hearst. The
bungalow grew and grew into the grandest mansion in
America -- towers, gardens, swimming pools -- even
a zoo. Over the next 22 years, Morgan made 500
trips to San Simeon, supervising the work and
negotiating every fireplace with Hearst.
All the while she kept building YWCA's, shops, and
houses. For 49 years she shaped a whole region's
view of itself. Julia Morgan's name is obscure
today. But if you ever lived in California, you
were touched, somewhere, by her architectural
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Boutelle, S.H., Julia Morgan, Architect.
New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 1988.
James, C., Julia Morgan. New York:
Chelsea House Pubs., 1990.
Longstreth, R.W., Julia Morgan:
Architect. Berkeley: Berkeley Architectural
Heritage Assn., 1977.
Chun, G., Architectural Drawings by Julia
Morgan: Beaux-Arts Assignments and Other
Buildings. Oakland, CA: The Oakland Museum,
For more on Julia Morgan, visit
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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