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Julia Morgan’s Berkeley City Club serves as an inspiration

By Susan Cerny
Saturday December 15, 2001

A recent exhibit at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum explored the concept of environmentally responsible architecture. The buildings presented in the exhibit were designed and built within the past few years and their design was distinctly contemporary.  

But in Berkeley there are many buildings designed in the early years of the 20th century which meet the criteria of environmentally responsible design and provide inspiration to contemporary architects.  

Julia Morgan’s 1929 Berkeley City Club is an excellent example and can serve as an inspiration for contemporary environmentally responsible architecture.  

Rather than building a solid, six-story structure, Morgan designed a Gothic-Romanesque styled reinforced-concrete building with a central tower of six stories flanked by two, two-story wings. The building is not treated symmetrically and the wings are not the same height nor do they have the same decorative detailing or fenestration.  

The interior is designed around two courtyards, which are lushly landscaped. These allow light and air into the center of the building, are large enough for substantial plantings, and provide views of foliage and flowers from various rooms and corridors. The windows are operable and framed in steel, some in a diamond pattern reminiscent of medieval leaded windows. The entrance hall contains a grand staircase with gothic details.  

The building was designed to accommodate a variety of functions and there are reception rooms of various sizes, a large ballroom/auditorium, large and small dining rooms, a library, tearoom, and several floors of residential rooms. On the second floor is an open garden terrace, covered by an awning, overlooking one of the courtyards. The club is well known for its beautiful tiled swimming pool. Morgan also designed the light fixtures, furnishings, dishes, and even the linens.  

The Berkeley City Club, originally the Berkeley Women’s City Club, was organized in the late 1920s as part of the Progressive Era, and is a significant expression of women having attained a place in the community. The City Club was dedicated to cultural, educational, and philanthropic activities.  



Susan Cerny is author of “Berkeley Landmarks” and writes this in conjunction with the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association