Julia Morgan forged a lifetime of “firsts” on her way to design Hearst Castle
If you’ve ever taken a ride up California’s Pacific Coast Highway, you’ve undoubtedly passed through San Simeon. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet. A prime appeal of the area being the perfect coastal climate and classic scenery of rolling hills scattered with California coast oaks. Oh, and the little roadside attraction called Hearst Castle.
I always find time to trek up the hill, gaze out in all directions and imagine what it must have been like to spend weeks, even months, on this unspoiled coastline. This activity is possible in no small part thanks to the work of architect
Julia Morgan – A Woman of Firsts
Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872 and grew up in nearby Oakland, CA. Her family yielded many examples of women providing for the financial and social means for their families. Her education and career provided a string of firsts. She was:
- One of the first women to graduate from University of California at Berkeley with a
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degree in civil engineering in 1894
- The first woman admitted to the architecture program at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris
- The first woman architect licensed in California
- One of the first architects to design
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and build with steel-reinforced concrete for earthquake-resistant buildings (one of the key reasons Hearst retained her for his projects)
Throughout her career, she designed many buildings for residences and institutions, such as YWCA, Mills College, St. John’s Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California) and Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, CA.
What I’d like to highlight most is that Julia embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement. She hired many local artisans and craftsmen for her projects and used various producers of California pottery to adorn her buildings.
Her style was characterized by the California vernacular with distinct Arts and Crafts attributes, including exposed support beams, horizontal lines that blended with the landscape and extensive use of shingles, California Redwood and earth tones.
Introduction to Hearst
Bernard Maybeck, a lecturer in architecture and engineering at Cal, was an influential character in the Arts and Crafts movement in the Bay Area. He encouraged Julia in her academic, and later, professional career. He encouraged her to enroll in L’Ecole Nationale Superieure de Beaux-Arts.
When she returned from Paris with her new architectural certificate, she renewed her acquaintance with another mentor, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Phoebe was a principal patron of UC Berkeley and she steered several commissions in Julia’s direction.
Phoebe is best known for introducing Julia to her most famous and longest-running client, her son, William Randolph. Julia worked on Hearst’s San Simeon ranch house for 37 years, never completing the 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.
If you get the chance to head up PCH, spend some time at the famous hilltop diversion, Hearst’s Castle, and contemplate what it was like back in the day to
bide a while in Julia Morgan’s custom-designed castle.