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Julia Morgan

Birthdate: (85)
Death: February 2, 1957 (85)
Place of Burial: Oakland, Alameda County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Charles Bill Morgan and Eliza Woodland Parmelee

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan (January 20, 1872 – February 2, 1957) was an American architect in California. She designed more than 700 buildings in California during a long and prolific career. She is best known for her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.

Morgan was the first woman to be admitted to the architecture program at l'École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. She designed many buildings for institutions serving women and girls including YWCA buildings and buildings for Mills College.

Morgan was the architect for St. John's Presbyterian Church (Berkeley, California) and many of the buildings at Asilomar Conference Center

Morgan embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement and used various producers of California pottery to adorn her buildings.

Family background

Morgan's father, Charles Bill Morgan, was born to a prominent East Coast family which included successful military men, politicians and influential businessmen. He studied to be a mining engineer then in 1867 sailed for San Francisco, California, to speculate in mines and oil. He returned the next year to marry Eliza Woodland Parmelee, favored daughter of Albert O. Parmelee, a cotton trader and self-made millionaire. The wedding was in Brooklyn, New York, where she had grown up. As a wedding present, Parmelee gave his daughter an envelope full of money so that she could raise a family in comfort. He indicated that more money would follow.

The newlyweds traveled to San Francisco and settled downtown in a family-oriented but luxurious residential hotel. In April 1870 a son was born, named Parmelee Morgan. On January 20, 1872, Julia Morgan was born. Two years after this, the Morgans moved across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, to live in a large house they had built in the Stick-Eastlake style at 754 14th Street at its intersection with Brush Street at the downtown edge of what is now known as West Oakland. (This Victorian-era building has since been demolished.) Three more children were born to the family in Oakland. At every new birth, grandfather Parmelee paid for the Morgans to travel to the East Coast by transcontinental train so that the grandchild could be christened in the traditional family church in New York.

Charles Morgan was not successful in any of his business ventures, so the family relied upon money from grandfather Parmelee. Eliza Morgan ran the household with a strong hand, providing young Julia with a role model of womanly competence and independence. Beginning in mid-1878, Eliza took the children to live near the Parmelees in New York for a year while Charles worked in San Francisco. In New York, Julia was introduced to her older cousin Lucy Thornton who was married to successful architect Pierre Le Brun. After returning to Oakland, Julia kept in contact with Le Brun; he encouraged her to pursue a higher education. Also in New York, Julia got sick with scarlet fever and was kept in bed for a few weeks. As a result of this illness, throughout her adult life she was prone to ear infections.

In July 1880, grandfather Parmelee died. Soon, grandmother Parmelee moved into the Oakland house, bringing with her the Parmelee wealth. This reinforced Julia's impression that women provided the foundation of social means.

Morgan resisted her mother's suggestion that she have a debutante party to celebrate her availability for marriage. She argued that she should first gain a career. Her parents were supportive of this wish.


Morgan graduated from Oakland High School in 1890 and enrolled in the University of California, in nearby Berkeley. At Cal, she was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

One of the engineering lecturers of her senior year was Bernard Maybeck, an eccentrically dressed architect who designed buildings that Morgan admired for their respect for the surrounding topography and environment. Along with classmates Arthur Brown, Jr., Edward H. Bennett and Lewis P. Hobart, Maybeck mentored Morgan in architecture at his Berkeley home. He encouraged Morgan to continue her studies at the prestigious École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he had distinguished himself. She graduated from Cal in 1894 with a degree in civil engineering, the only woman in her engineering class, and headed to Paris to the Beaux-Arts school in 1896. The school had never before allowed a woman to study architecture and first denied entrance to Morgan because they did not accept women. In 1897, the school opened its entry process to women applicants, largely because of pressure from a union of French women artists that Morgan characterized as "bohemians".

Morgan met with these women and was exposed to their feminist views; they discussed how to increase the influence of women in professional careers. The school denied entry to Morgan a second time because she failed some questions on the entrance exam. After two years of study, tutored by François-Benjamin Chaussemiche, a winner of the Prix de Rome, she finally passed the entrance exams in the Architecture Program, placing 13th out of 376 applicants, and was duly admitted. She could study until her 30th birthday; the school prohibited older scholars. In early 1902 as her birthday approached, Morgan submitted an outstanding design for a palatial theatre. This earned her a certificate in architecture, the first woman to receive one from the school in Paris. She stayed in Paris long enough to collaborate with Chaussemiche on a project for Harriet Fearing, an ex-New Yorker who contracted for a "grand salon" design for her residence in Fontainebleau.


Upon her return from Paris, Morgan took employment with San Francisco architect John Galen Howard, who was supervising the University of California Master Plan. Morgan worked on several buildings on the Berkeley campus, providing the decorative elements for the Hearst Mining Building and an early proposal for Sather Gate. She was the primary designer for the Hearst Greek Theatre. Howard told a colleague that Morgan was "an excellent draftsman whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman." She saved her money and made plans to work on her own, accepting important side projects.

In 1904, Morgan was the first woman to obtain an architecture license in California. She opened her own office in San Francisco while living at the old family home in Oakland. She was employed as the architect of many buildings at Mills College. Another of her earliest works was North Star House in Grass Valley, California, commissioned in 1906 by mining engineer Arthur De Wint Foote and his wife, the author and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote.

Many commissions followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake bringing her financial success.

Hearst projects

Morgan's most famous patron was the newspaper magnate and antiquities collector William Randolph Hearst, who had been introduced to Morgan by his mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the chief patron of the University of California at Berkeley. It is believed that this introduction led to Morgan's first downstate commission by Hearst for the design of the Los Angeles Examiner Building (circa 1914), a Mission revival style project that included contributions by Los Angeles architects William J. Dodd and J. Martyn Haenkel. It is located at the southwest corner of Broadway and 11th Streets on a city block in Downtown Los Angeles, awaiting adaptive reuse.

In 1919, Hearst selected Morgan as the architect for La Cuesta Encantada, better known as Hearst Castle, which was built atop the family campsite overlooking San Simeon Harbor. Morgan employed tiles, designing many of them herself, from California Faience.

The project proved to be her largest and most complex, as Hearst's vision for his estate grew ever grander over the decades of planning and construction. The project included The Hacienda, a residence–private guest house complex built in hybrid Mission Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Moorish Revival styles. It was located a day's horseback ride inland from Hearst Castle next to the Mission San Antonio de Padua near Jolon, California. Her work on 'the Castle' and San Simeon Ranch continued until 1947, ended only by Hearst's declining health.

Morgan became William Randolph Hearst's principal architect, producing the designs for dozens of buildings, such as Phoebe Apperson Hearst's Wyntoon, which he inherited. The estate includes a castle and "Bavarian village" of four villas all on 50,000 acres (202 km2) of forest reserve that includes the McCloud River near Mount Shasta in Northern California. She also did studio and site work for the uncompleted Babicora, Hearst's 1,625,000-acre (6,580 km2) Chihuahua, Mexico cattle rancho and retreat.

YWCA projects

Julia Morgan's affiliation with the YWCA began when Phoebe Apperson Hearst recommended her for the organization's Asilomar summer conference center. The Asilomar Conference Center, no longer YWCA but State-run, is still in Pacific Grove near Monterey, California. Morgan also designed YWCAs in California, Utah, Arizona, and Hawaii.

Five of the Southern California YWCA buildings were designed by Morgan. The 1918 Harbor Area YWCA (San Pedro, CA) in a Craftsman building is still standing, as is the 1926 Hollywood Studio Club YWCA. Morgan's Riverside YWCA from 1929 still stands, but as the Riverside Art Museum. Her 1925 Long Beach Italian Renaissance branch has been demolished. The "gorgeous" Pasadena YWCA is being acquired by the City for restoration and public use after several decades of decay.

She also designed YWCAs in Northern California, including those in San Francisco's Chinatown and Oakland. The YWCA building in San Francisco presently is used as the museum and homebase of the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA).

Mills College

Morgan made many architectural contributions to the women's college Mills College in the East Bay foothills of Oakland, California. Like her work for the YWCA, they were done in the hopes of advancing opportunities for women.

Mills president Susan Mills became interested in Morgan in 1904 because she wished to further the career of a female architect and because Morgan, just beginning her career, charged less than her male counterparts. Morgan designed six buildings for the Mills campus, including El Campanil, believed to be the first bell tower on a United States college campus. El Campanil should not be confused with The Campanile, a nickname for Sather Tower, the clock/bell tower of nearby UC Berkeley. Morgan helped draft parts of the UC Berkeley campus under John Galen Howard, but the Sather Tower was not her design.

Morgan's reputation grew when the tower was unscathed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The bells in the tower "were cast for the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago-1893), and given to Mills by a trustee".

Morgan also designed the Margaret Carnegie Library (1906), named after Andrew Carnegie's daughter. The Ming Quong Home for Chinese girls, built in 1924 and purchased for Mills in 1936. It was eventually renamed Alderwood Hall before becoming the Julia Morgan School for Girls in 2004 (independent of the College). Morgan designed the Mills College Student Union in 1916. Morgan's Kapiolani Cottage has served as an infirmary, faculty housing, and administration offices. Mills's also designed the original gymnasium and pool, since replaced by the Tea Shop and Suzanne Adams Plaza, and the first reinforced concrete structure on the west coast.

Other projects

Morgan's other projects include the redesign of the landmark Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco after it was damaged by the earthquake of 1906. She was chosen because of her then-rare knowledge of earthquake-resistant, reinforced concrete construction.

She considered St. John's Presbyterian Church her finest Craftsman-style building. It is now the Berkeley Playhouse at in Berkeley, California.

Other projects include the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, the sanctuary of Ocean Avenue Presbyterian Church at 32 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco (where Mission Bay Community Church also meets) and the large Berkeley City Club adjacent to University of California. She designed the World War I YWCA Hostess House in Palo Alto, which was later the site of the MacArthur Park Restaurant.

Some of her residential projects, most of them located in the San Francisco Bay Area, are ultimate bungalows. The style is often associated with the work of Greene and Greene and some of Morgan's other contemporaries and teachers. The buildings represent the Arts and Crafts Movement and the American Craftsman style of architecture. Several houses are on San Francisco's Russian Hill. Morgan's own residence, the Julia Morgan House, however, is located in Sacramento.


Julia Morgan is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in the hills of Oakland, California.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced on May 28, 2008 that Julia Morgan would be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place on December 15 and her great-niece accepted the honor in her place.

The Julia Morgan Ballroom at the Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco was named in her honor.

Further reading

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Julia Morgan's Timeline

January 20, 1872
February 2, 1957
Age 85
Oakland, Alameda County, California, United States