Julia Morgan, Architect

Julia Morgan, Architect

by Sara Holmes Boutelle
     
 

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William Randolph Hearst's dazzling "castle" at San Simeon, California, is famous world round, yet only the aficionado can name Julia Morgan as the architect who built it. For more than thirty years she worked with Hearst in a rare collaboration, creating not only his art-filled hilltop palace but also a fairytale Bavarian "village" known as Wyntoon and many other

Overview

William Randolph Hearst's dazzling "castle" at San Simeon, California, is famous world round, yet only the aficionado can name Julia Morgan as the architect who built it. For more than thirty years she worked with Hearst in a rare collaboration, creating not only his art-filled hilltop palace but also a fairytale Bavarian "village" known as Wyntoon and many other commercial and domestic structures. Yet the Hearst commissions, notable as they are, are not Morgan's only claim to fame.

Given the sweep of Morgan's accomplishments, it is astonishing that this is the first substantial book ever devoted to her career. Painstakingly researched for more than a decade by Sarah Holmes Boutelle, founder of the Julia Morgan Association, this handsome volume lovingly document's Morgan's life and work. This is a remarkable book celebrating the achievements of a remarkable woman.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A balanced, thoughtful, well-written, sumptuously produced, critical biography of the most significant and successful woman architect in the history of the profession." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Anyone interested in Morgan owes a debt to Sara Boutelle... She has produced an informative and handsome book, filled with myriad new insights into the architects life and practice... The books high-quality layout and production should help set a new standard for architecture monographs." —Historic Preservation

"The most well-regarded source on Morgans work" —El Cerrito Journal (CA)

"Morgan (1872-1957) was William Randolph Hearst's favorite architect, and the theatrical Hearst Castle perched on a hilltop in San Simeon, Calif., might be considered a monument to her client's pretensions and her own pliabiity. Fortunately, this reclusive woman, who shunned publicity, left behind 700 other buildings in a medley of styles. In cottages, schools, churches, houses and civic projects, she swung eclectically between Arts and Crafts, California Mission, Bavarian, medieval and Mediterranean styles. Her work became unfashionable as modernism took hold, yet today it has attracted renewed interest. Her experimental use of color and decoration, her concern for indoor/outdoor living and for the relationship of structure to site all these make her buildings relevant to contemporary designers. In this biographical-critical study, Boutelle, an architectural historian, considers each building on its own terms. One-third of the 368 illustrations are in color; plans, sketches and photographs help us to appreciate many original touches." —Publishers Weekly

"San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's fanciful estate on the California coast, is famous worldwide, yet only a few know of its architect, Julia Morgan. Boutelle's book happily should correct that fault. Drawing from letters, photographs, sketches, blueprints, and reminiscences, Boutelle provides a fascinating look at Morgan's life and career. With degrees from Berkeley and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, plus good social connections, Morgan had no problems garnering commissions; her engineering expertise, eye for detail, and ability to work in a variety of styles rightfully made her one of California's most prolific architects. This handsome volume, with its breathtaking color photographs, is long overdue but well worth the wait. Highly recommended." —Library Journal

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Morgan (1872-1957) was William Randolph Hearst's favorite architect, and the theatrical Hearst Castle perched on a hilltop in San Simeon, Calif., might be considered a monument to her client's pretensions and her own pliabiity. Fortunately, this reclusive woman, who shunned publicity, left behind 700 other buildings in a medley of styles. In cottages, schools, churches, houses and civic projects, she swung eclectically between Arts and Crafts, California Mission, Bavarian, medieval and Mediterranean styles. Her work became unfashionable as modernism took hold, yet today it has attracted renewed interest. Her experimental use of color and decoration, her concern for indoor/outdoor living and for the relationship of structure to siteall these make her buildings relevant to contemporary designers. In this biographical-critical study, Boutelle, an architectural historian, considers each building on its own terms. One-third of the 368 illustrations are in color; plans, sketches and photographs help us to appreciate many original touches. (June)
Library Journal
San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst's fanciful estate on the California coast, is famous worldwide, yet only a few know of its architect, Julia Morgan. Boutelle's book happily should correct that fault. Drawing from letters, photographs, sketches, blueprints, and reminiscences, Boutelle provides a fascinating look at Morgan's life and career. With degrees from Berkeley and the Ecole des Beaux Arts, plus good social connections, Morgan had no problems garnering commissions; her engineering expertise, eye for detail, and ability to work in a variety of styles rightfully made her one of California's most prolific architects. This handsome volume, with its breathtaking color photographs, is long overdue but well worth the wait. Highly recommended. H. Ward Jandl, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780789200198
Publisher:
Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/28/1995
Edition description:
Revised Edition
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
391,595
Product dimensions:
10.00(w) x 11.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The eye-dazzling theatricality of Hearst’s famous castle, perched on a hilltop midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, attracts a million or so curious visitors each year. The saga of this glamorous estate has become a familiar part of American lore, along with countless anecdotes about the mercurial man who commissioned it. But among the crowds of marveling visitors, only a handful can identify Julia Morgan as the architect who designed and built this extravagantly beautiful showplace. That she continued to work on it for more than twenty years, king the four-hundred-mile round trip by train and taxi nearly every weekend while maintaining a thriving practice in San Francisco, exemplifies her dauntless commitment to the project, to her career, and to architecture.

Julia Morgan (1872–1957) stood just five feet tall and weighed about one hundred pounds. Her frail appearance belied her inexhaustible strength and iron will. Wearing tailored suits and French silk blouses, she clambered over scaffolds and descended into trenches to make sure that the walls and drains met her high standards. The head of a busy, prosperous practice, she worked quietly and alone, with no sounding board in the form of a close colleague or mate. Devoted to her career, she seems never even to have considered marriage, although she had many friends among her fellow students, clients, and colleagues and is remembered with affectionate respect by the surviving members of her staff.

Over the course of her forty-seven-year career, Morgan designed upwards of seven hundred buildings, of which all but a small minority were built. She worked for institutions and individuals with equal ease, creating school, churches, stores, YWCAs, hospitals, houses, apartments, and a hay barn or two—not to mention the theaters, bowling alley, billiard rooms, and zoo she built for William Randolph Hearst. Morgan had a special knack for swimming pools, using color, light, and shape to create sumptuous designs that flaunted a hedonism startling for so modest an architect.

Two opposing forces determined Morgan’s approach to architecture. One was the stately classicism she learned at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the other was the environment (both natural and man-made) of her native California. Having earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkely—the closest thing to architectural training then available on the West Coast—she became the first woman admitted into the architectural program at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, long regarded as the world’s foremost architectural school. Yet unlike most of her fellow students, even those who were later her colleagues and competitors on the West Coast, Morgan adhered to the Beaux-Arts style only when it suited her. The extensive range of historical styles she mastered at the Ecole enriched her design vocabulary so she could refer to the past with authority but without feeling bound to precedent. This was the heart of academic eclecticism, but the decision about how faithful to remain to the past was a difficult one that tripped up many other architects of the period. What held Morgan steady throughout her career was the balance she established between historicism on the one hand and the demands of client and site on the other.

Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco, and her affection for the California landscape infused her work, influencing her choice of style, materials, and colors. Her mother’s letters to her in Paris refer frequently to Morgan’s love of the rocks, trees, fruits, and flowers of the California countryside. Having established her office in San Francisco, Morgan worked throughout the state, with occasional forays as far afield as Illinois, Utah, and Hawaii. She chose her styles carefully to relate to the site at hand: the light-filled, woodsy comfort of the Arts and Crafts style seemed well suited to the rolling hills of the Bay Area; the simplicity of the California missions offered inspiration for dwellings and courtyards in more arid landscapes; buildings in the Bavarian style provided an apt choice for the snowy mountains of Tahoe and Shasta.

It is difficult to trace any clear-cut development in Morgan’s work. A strict chronology offers little help since some of her commissions stretched out over ten or more years and were designed concurrently with other buildings of very different types. Classifying her buildings by the materials and methods of their construction is equally unilluminating since those elements were interpreted differently from project to project. Morgan used reinforced concrete early and often, producing the first house ever built of that material in Berkeley, in 1906. Redwood was the cheapest and most readily available material during her early years of practice, but it lost favor after serious fires such as the one in Berkeley in 1923 (she nevertheless continued to use wood as late as 1939). Stucco and half-timber was a combination popular during the 1920s, and brick was also favored, especially by clients eager to create an impressive appearance and willing to risk brick’s instability in an earthquake.

The Arts and Crafts movement exerted a deep influence on Morgan. Begun by John Ruskin and William Morris as a reaction against the blight of industrialization in England, it quickly spread to America and soon made its way to the West Coast. The emphasis was on recapturing a simpler way of life, lived in harmony with nature. A building’s materials were to come, if possible, from its own environment; simplicity and utility were the goals. Details were to be based on local traditions and natural sources, not pattern books. Architects associated with the movement worked with craftsmen, sculptors, and painters in a return to the collaborative ideals of the Middle Ages. They did not copy past styles but worked out “free” versions of them. No meaningless, ornamentation was permitted, and unpainted, unadorned materials were preferred, with construction elements left visible to reveal the highly skilled workmanship.

The Arts and Crafts movement was brought to northern California by Joseph Worcester, a Swedenborgian minister and amateur builder who was influenced by Ruskin. In 1876 Worcester built a house of redwood shingles in Piedmont, across the bay from San Francisco. His use of unpainted redwood board for the interior and other radical departures from prevailing styles aroused the curiosity and enthusiasm of architects and artists throughout the Bay Area. Charles Keeler and Bernard Maybeck of Berkeley and Louis Christian Mullgardt, Willis Polk, and A.C. Schweinfurth of San Francisco formed the nucleus of a group that met during the late 1880s to discuss Crafts-related theories of design. For a short time in 1890 Polk put out a monthly journal, Architectural News, which propagated their ideas.

In 1898 Keeler organized the Ruskin Club, which met in Schweinfurth’s newly completed Unitarian Church in Berkeley. This small shingled structure with broad pitched roof has porches on two sides supported by unpeeled redwood trunks. A landmark example of Crafts architecture, it was the perfect setting for Keeler’s club. That same year women activists founded the Hillside Club to protect the natural environment of the north Berkeley hills; members met at the Schweinfurth church and in various homes. Only women were allowed to belong until 1902, when the membership was opened to men, the most enthusiastic being Keeler and Maybeck, who designed a permanent clubhouse in 1906. Keeler’s book The Simple Home (1904) apparently became a sort of bible for the group. The Hillside Club’s most frequently quoted maxim was that a house was “landscape gardening with a few rooms for use in case of rain.” Unpainted wood was the material of choice for houses, inside and out (Maybeck’s wife, Annie, called the few white-painted neighboring houses the “beached ships” of Berkeley).

The moral fervor relating to nature extended to near fanaticism about health. Raising vegetables at home, maintaining a vegetarian diet, drinking coffee substitutes, taking ice-cold showers, sleeping in the open air (hence the need for “sleeping porches”), and pursing fitness through jogging, swimming, hiking, and dress reform—all became part of the crusade. Julia Morgan knew that Maybecks and other members of the Hillside Club and shared many of their aesthetic ideas, if not the related moral commitments (she was reported by her wood-carver Jules Suppo to prefer lamb chops for dinner and to drink coffee morning and night).

Morgan was the only prominent member of the group of architects interested in the Crafts movement who were born in California; the others all arrived as adults: Mullgardt from Saint Louis, Maybeck from New York, Ernest Coxed from England, Polk from Kansas City, and the Greene brothers from Ohio. Her own deep response to nature and to the local environment reinforced her interest in the Crafts principles of building simply and in harmony with the site. While she was in Paris, from 1896 to 1902, she had a subscription to The Architect magazine and also had access to British architectural periodicals, which must have familiarized her with what Morris’s followers were doing. At the same time, her interest in medieval guilds, the Italian hill towns, and Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc’s medievalism was as important a part of her education as the rational theory of the Beaux-Arts course. Thus, she was not unprepared for building in the Crafts tradition, although her engineering background and classical training made her aware how difficult it was to achieve a “simple” building.

Much of Morgan’s early domestic architecture reflected Crafts principles, as did such important structures as Saint John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley (1908—1910) and the Asilomar YWCA Conference Center (c. 1913–1937). Morgan’s buildings made a considerable contribution to the style, and it remained important to her philosophically long after a shortage of inexpensive wood and a change in fashion meant that she was generally building with concrete in Tudor, Mediterranean, or Bavarian styles.

Morgan did not hesitate to apply Crafts principles to the interiors of Mediterranean buildings, large and small. She carried out those principles most dramatically in her work on the Hearst estate at San Simeon. There she presided over a kind of brotherhood of highly qualified artisans, including workers skilled in stone casting, ornamental plastering, wood carving (including John Klang, a specialist in creating wormholes and in matching new and old woods), and elaborate ironworking, as well as painters, weavers, tapestry workers, and tile designers. At San Simeon and in workshops in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, and Carmel, these specialists toiled for union wages (then two dollars an hour) to repair, copy, and add to the works of antiquity that Hearst kept buying so voraciously. They also improvised and designed, working from books and magazines borrow from Morgan’s library and from photographs or sketches of buildings she had admired in Europe. Ed Trinkeller, an Alsatian ironworker, did caricatures and likenesses in iron. Camille Solon painted scenes and figures on the stone arches of the Gothic Study. Austro-Hungrarian Frank Gyorgy did antiquing in wood and metal. All followed Morgan’s direction of “careful carelessness.” The ceilings, doors, windows, and furniture they created stand as significant Crafts works produced during a period when the movement was increasingly disregarded. Morgan brought many of these workers to Berkeley, to San Francisco, and to Wyntoon, and they all looked up to her, proud to be part of such a highly skilled group.

Meet the Author

From her first reluctant visit to San Simeon in 1972, Sara Holmes Boutelle has been captivated by the diverse architecture and groundbreaking career of Julia Morgan. A graduate of Mount Holyoke, the Sorbonne, and Hamburg University, Ms. Boutelle taught art and architectural history for many years at the Brearley School in New York. A member of the Historic Preservation Commission in Santa Cruz, California, she has devoted almost fourteen years to researching, writing, and lecturing on Julia Morgan.

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