Architect Julia Morgan designed some of Berkeley’s most treasured buildings

By Susan Cerny Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday April 20, 2002

Julia Morgan was a remarkable woman and an exceptional architect. Not only was she the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, she was also the architect of San Simeon, the fabulous "castle" built by William Randolph Hearst, near San Louis Obispo, which is now a state park.  

Born in Oakland in 1872, Morgan graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1894. Before moving to Paris in 1896, she worked for Bernard Maybeck. After two years of study she was accepted and entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1898. In 1902, after gaining an Ecole certificate, she returned to California and worked in the office of John Galen Howard, the University of California, Berkeley architect.  

Shortly after receiving her state architects' certification in 1904, she opened an office in San Francisco with Ira Hoover and immediately began a forty-year career as an architect and would design more that 600 buildings and several building complexes such as San Simeon, Asilimar and Mills College. She died in 1957. 

Julia Morgan's early career coincided with the years of Berkeley's most rapid growth. With her early university connections she immediately had many clients who engaged her to design homes in Berkeley. In one small neighborhood alone, she designed approximately 20 houses and one church (Old St. John's,1908, now the Julia Morgan Cultural Center) between the years of 1905 and 1914 and most of them are still standing.  

On Sunday, May 5 the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association will hold its annual house tour in a neighborhood just west of the former Schools of the Deaf and Blind, now Clark Kerr Campus, where several of these early Julia Morgan homes were built.  

The area, known as the Kearney Tract, was almost entirely built between 1904 and 1915 just after the electric streetcar line was opened along College Avenue. Among the 14 homes that will be open on May 5 two were designed by Julia Morgan, while others were designed by Clinton Day, Edward Seely, Stone & Smith, Joseph A. Leonard, William Wharff and F. E. Armstrong. Most are excellent examples of Berkeley's version of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Usually sheathed in unpainted brown shingles, their Arts and Crafts interiors are noteworthy for their use of wood and attention to detail. 

For further information please call 841-2242.  


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