Julia Morgan was born in 1872 in Oakland, California, where she continued to live throughout her life. Immediately after Morgan's graduation from Oakland High School, she enrolled in the College of Civil Engineering at University of California, Berkeley, receiving her degree in 1894. While at Berkeley she was introduced to Bernard Maybeck, who was an instructor of drawing at the university, since at that time there was no school of architecture. Maybeck encouraged students interested in architecture to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the foremost architectural program at the time. After graduation Morgan worked briefly for Maybeck, and then traveled to Paris in 1896 intending to enroll in the Ecole.
In 1897, Morgan took the entrance examination for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, ranking 13th out of 392 competitors. Despite her score, she was denied admission because the school did not wish to encourage women in the field of architecture. The next year Morgan became the first woman to be admitted to the architecture school. She chose the atelier of Benjamin Chaussemiche, winner of the 1890 Prix de Rome and official architect for the City of Paris. Morgan excelled in her studies, becoming the first woman to receive a diploma in architecture in 1901. After graduation, she continued to work for Chaussemiche, designing the Harriet Fearing Residence in Fontainebleau.
In 1902 Morgan returned to the Bay Area and was employed by John Galen Howard, the University of California, Berkeley architect. While at his office, she worked on projects such as the Hearst Mining Building and the Greek Theater. In 1905 she opened her own office in the Merchants Exchange Building in San Francisco, however, the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires interrupted her practice. Morgan temporarily moved her practice to Oakland and formed a partnership with Ira Wilson Hoover, another draftsman in Howard's office. The new firm, "Morgan and Hoover" had several notable commissions during this period, including the Carnegie Library at Mills College, St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, and the structural renovation of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
In 1910 Hoover moved to New York, and the firm changed its name to "Julia Morgan, Architect." Although Morgan maintained her own practice, she often worked on joint projects with other architects and engineers. Morgan worked with Maybeck on the Hearst Gymnasium at University of California, Berkeley, and later, on Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. She also collaborated with engineer Walter Steilberg, even after he left her office.
Julia Morgan is well known for her residences, but she also designed numerous institutional buildings such as churches, schools, hospitals, university buildings, swimming pools and a series of YWCA buildings. She worked principally in California and the West. For distant projects, she often sent Edward Hussey, an architect in her office; to monitor projects and keep her updated on their progress.
Phoebe Apperson Hearst and her son William Randolph Hearst were responsible for a number of Morgan's commissions. Phoebe Hearst encouraged Morgan in her career, commissioned her to work, and was a great supporter until her death in 1919. One of Morgan's largest commissions was William Randolph Hearst's La Cuesta Encantada, popularly known as Hearst Castle, in San Simeon. In 1919, she began work on the lavish and enormous compound, a project which continued for nearly twenty years. Other designs for Hearst included a commercial building in San Francisco, the Wyntoon estate in Siskiyou County, the San Francisco Medieval Museum, a residence for Marion Davies in Santa Monica, and the Babicora Hacienda in Mexico.
Morgan's projects were incredibly varied in style and materials. This diversity is usually attributed to her willingness to listen to clients' desires as well as her flexibility as an architect. Utilizing her Beaux-Arts training, Morgan began with logical and coherent plans and then added the exterior facades and ornament. Renaissance Revival, Tudor, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean and Islamic styles were all part of her architectural vocabulary and were pieced together and overlapped with Craftsman elements as needed. Although the exact number of projects by Julia Morgan is unknown, over her career she is believed to have designed more than seven hundred buildings, most of which were constructed. She closed her office in 1951 at the age of seventy-nine. Morgan died February 2, 1957 at the age of eighty-five.
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