Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with quick, interesting facts. This month, we are California dreaming with the Golden State’s first licensed female architect, the incredible Julia Morgan.
Born in 1870s California, pioneering architect Julia Morgan was raised by her father and a mother who was financially supported by her wealthy parents. Upon graduation, Morgan knew she was destined for architecture, and enrolled at University of California’s Berkeley’s College of Engineering, as there was no architecture school at the time.
During her time at Berkeley, women's involvement in extracurriculars and clubs was growing, and Morgan contributed to an expansion of the local YMCA to allow for women’s facilities. After being encouraged by a professor to attend Paris’ esteemed École des Beaux-Arts, she became one of the first women to receive a certificate in architecture from the school. Soon after graduating, she assisted French architect François-Benjamin Chaussemiche in designing an American ex-patriot’s lavish salon.
Returning to California, Morgan took a job with John Galen Howard, with whom she worked on buildings at her alma mater, Berkeley. In 1904, after it became clear to her that she was paid less because of her gender, she became the first licensed female architect in California, left Howard’s firm, and opened her own.
As her firm’s first large commission, she designed a few buildings and a 72-foot concrete bell tower on the women’s Mills College campus, which survived the 1906 earthquakes unscathed. While her first office was destroyed in the earthquakes, she opened a new one nearby in 1907, where she worked for the rest of her career. From there, business took off as word spread of her ability to design earthquake-proof structures.
Impressed with Morgan’s previous work on the Fairmont Hotel after the earthquake, the Hearst family, famous for their publishing empire, hired her to design notable structures for the family as their in-house architect for three decades. These projects include the Los Angeles Examiner Building, Hearst Castle (a large castle overlooking a family campsite), and over a dozen buildings in total.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the matriarch of the Hearst family who was involved in the YWCA, recommended Morgan for a role designing numerous California YWCA centers, including the Chinatown YWCA, where she exhibited her understanding of Asian architecture.
One of Morgan’s buildings on the Mills College campus became a dedicated all-girls STEM middle school in 1999, aptly renamed the Julia Morgan School for Girls in honor of Morgan's achievements as a female academic.
Notably quiet about her social life, Julia Morgan avoided the public eye, denying interviews and dressing plainly, and was never married. Her colleagues noted she ate and slept very little, with all of her energy spent on her work. In 2012, a playwright wrote a fictionalized account of her life, “Becoming Julia Morgan,” which was well received. Although she passed away in 1957, a quote she made on her lack of public engagement still stands true: “My buildings will be my legacy... they will speak for me long after I'm gone.”
“Julia Morgan,” Britannica; “Julia Morgan,” HearstCastle.org; “Julia Morgan,” PioneeringWomenofArchitecture.BWAF.org; “Julia Morgan,” Wikipedia