Academy of Distinguished Alumni

Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan BSCE

Inducted to the Academy of Distinguished Alumni on

Julia Morgan received her B.S. (1894) degree from the College of Civil Engineering of the University of California, Berkeley. She was one of the first female graduates of the College and the only woman in her graduating class. In 1904, she became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California. She was born in 1872 in San Francisco and died in 1957 at the age of 85.

One of the engineering lecturers during her senior year at Berkeley was Bernard Maybeck, who designed buildings that Morgan admired for their respect for the surrounding topography and environment. Maybeck mentored Morgan in architecture at his Berkeley home. He encouraged her to continue her studies at the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1896, Morgan headed to Paris to the Beaux-Arts school, even though they had never before allowed a woman to study architecture. After much perseverance and study, she was admitted into the school and she received a certificate in architecture, the first woman to receive one from the school.

Ms. Morgan opened her own architectural firm in San Francisco, in 1904. She quickly established herself as a fine residential architect, securing a number of commissions in the Piedmont, Claremont, and Berkeley neighborhoods. Ms. Morgan’s style was characterized by her use of the “California vernacular,” including exposed support beams, horizontal lines that blended with the landscape, and extensive use of shingles, California redwood, and earth tones. One of her first independent projects was the bell tower on the campus of Mills College in Oakland, which withstood the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Other notable projects included the rebuilding of the Fairmont Hotel after the 1906 quake, the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California and a series of YWCA buildings in California, Hawaii, and Utah. She also worked extensively on U.C. Berkeley’s Hearst Mining Building and Greek Theatre. 

In 1919, William Randolph Hearst hired Ms. Morgan to design a main building and guest houses for his ranch in San Simeon, California.  Over the course of the next 28 years, she supervised nearly every aspect of construction at Hearst Castle, including the purchase of everything from Spanish antiquities to Icelandic Moss. She personally designed most of the structures, grounds, pools, animal shelters and workers’ camp down to the minutest detail. Throughout her career, Ms. Morgan designed more than 700 buildings and structures. She is recognized for being California’s first prominent female architect and one of the West Coast’s greatest building designers of all time.