Bernard Maybeck on Charter Day, 1930, (L.L.D.)
Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957)
Bernard Ralph Maybeck was born February 7, 1862 in New York City. At the age of nineteen, Maybeck moved to Paris to apprentice in a furniture-maker's shop, following in the footsteps of his father, but instead became intrigued by the architectural profession. He enrolled in the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and studied in the atelier of Monsieur Jules-Louis André. He embraced the theories of Viollet-le-duc with their combined emphasis on medievalism and technological advancement. After finishing his coursework, Maybeck returned to New York City and worked for Carrère & Hastings. Impatient with the firm, Maybeck moved west to seek his fortune. In Kansas City, he met Mark White, an engineer, who introduced him to his sister, Annie. Because there was little work in Kansas City, Maybeck continued on to San Francisco where he found employment with the Charles M. Plum Co. as a designer and salesman. He briefly returned to Kansas City to marry Annie White in 1890, and the couple moved to Oakland, later buying a home in the Berkeley hills.
After 1890, Maybeck held many short-term drafting jobs in various architectural offices, including with his Ecole classmate A. Page Brown and Willis Polk. He found steady employment when he was appointed an instructor of descriptive geometry at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1894. He also held informal architectural courses at his house where he taught students such as Julia Morgan, John Bakewell, and Arthur Brown Jr.
In 1891, Maybeck had a chance encounter with a local Berkeley poet named Charles Augustus Keeler on the SF-Oakland Ferry. Maybeck had learned that Keeler had purchased land in the Berkeley hills and offered his services for free to design for this lot a home. After repeated declines for his kind offer, Maybeck's persistence led to a commission to do a home for Keeler. He then began a private practice in Berkeley. Maybeck also was a lifelong member of the Hillside Club that Keeler founded.
From 1896 to 1899 Maybeck orchestrated the two stage Phoebe Hearst International Competition for the Plan of the University of California. Maybeck designed the Phoebe Hearst Reception Hall, which held the final rounds of the competition, and was later moved to the University grounds. In 1899 he founded the Department of Architecture at the University of California.
While at the University, Maybeck began to receive commissions for modest homes in the Berkeley hills. In 1902 he opened an architectural office in San Francisco with his brother-in-law, engineer Mark White. Annie White Maybeck also played an integral role in their practice as secretary, office manager and liaison between Maybeck and the office.
Maybeck often designed small dwellings for friends and neighbors. Maybeck's buildings were eclectic, sometimes combining elements of Mediterranean buildings, Swiss chalets, Arts and Crafts, and Gothic styles. These styles and combinations are evident in residences for Keeler, Leon Roos, Guy Chick, S.H. Erlanger, and Earle Anthony. The First Church of Christ Scientist displays Maybeck's combination of Craftsman style with Romanesque, Gothic, and oriental flavors. Built with industrial materials, the church as a whole is a unique statement. Maybeck also designed several club houses, including the Faculty Club at the University of California, the Hillside Club, and the Bohemian Grove Club House.
Maybeck designed several buildings for the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Lumbermen's "House of Hoo Hoo," and the livestock pavilion. The Palace of Fine Arts, one of his most famous works, was also a favorite building at the fair. The rotunda, peristyles, and lagoon caught the mood of the country, which was suddenly embroiled in a great war. The classical architecture and verdant landscape provided a beautiful place of peace and contemplation.
In the 1920s Maybeck designed the Phoebe Hearst Memorial Complex at the University of California, Berkeley. The complex was to include an auditorium, a museum, and a gymnasium. Julia Morgan worked with Maybeck to complete the designs of the complex, and supervised the construction of the Women's Gymnasium, the only portion of the complex built.
Maybeck often chose materials that were unusual for the time. He experimented with materials such as the cement, industrial steel sashing and cement-asbestos insulation panels in non-traditional settings, as seen in the First Church Christ Scientist, Berkeley. Maybeck designed a reinforced concrete residence built to withstand earthquakes for Andrew Lawson. After the 1923 Berkeley fire destroyed about twenty of the houses he had designed, Maybeck increasingly tried untested "fireproof" materials such as bubblestone (a type of aerated cement) and burlap covered in cement gunite (concrete applied with a sprayer). These materials were used for a Maybeck cottage and the Maybeck studio, also known as the "Sack House."
Maybeck designed all types of structures, and often gave his opinion to others in architectural planning. Maybeck designed town plans for the company town of Brookings, Oregon, and entered the competition to plan the capital of Australia, Canberra. Maybeck designed a campus plan for Principia College which was to be in St. Louis, Missouri (1923-1930). Before construction began, the college was moved to Elsah, Illinois necessitating a redesign of the campus plan (1930-1938). Maybeck became the design consultant on the project, with Julia Morgan as the supervising architect, and Edward Hussey as the supervisor on site.
Although his vision was unique, Maybeck's work was finally recognized by the American Institute of Architects who awarded him the prestigious Gold Medal in 1951. Maybeck continued to help others design and build residences in the Berkeley area until his death in 1957.
Sources:Bernard Maybeck Collection, (1956-1), Environmental Design Archives.
College of Environmental Design. University of California, Berkeley, California
Burt, Cecily. "Bernard Maybeck Crafted Romantic Buildings for the East Bay." The Oakland Tribune
(May 18, 1999).