I’m about to finish a new book about Julia Morgan. The book’s title names her and has a subheading that explains who she is, “An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect”. I have 2 personal reasons for having read it. It’s by Victoria Kastner. She is the official historian of Hearst’s Castle, and has been associated with it for many years. It’s yet another book by her about this California architectural icon.
Is it worth reading? Yes. Is it a book that will appeal to a wide audience? No. Will it make a good series for TV? Yes. Julia Morgan designed more than 700 buildings, mostly in California. Her grandest and most talked about design is Hearst’s Castle. She had a long and prosperous relationship with the newspaper magnet who built it, and she worked on his famous estate for many years. He asked her, the first licensed, practicing female architect in California, to build and maintain it.
There were 2 personal reasons why I read this newly published book. First, my brother Jim currently lives in a home designed by Julia Morgan. Second, I discovered a St. Louis connection. William Randolph Hearst’s mother hailed from Missouri, and I had an Uncle in St. Louis who seriously influenced my travel career. Tom was a traveler who listened patiently to me when I wanted to talk about seeing more of the world. Julia Morgan was in charge of West Coast design for many of the facilities built by the Young Women’s Christian Association. She designed 16 buildings for this organization, and she really liked the one in St. Louis where he worked.
She lost many of her personal drawings and files in the 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. She had been a practicing architect in the area for only a couple of years when it struck. She was affected because even though she lived in Oakland her office was in this damaged city. She was selected immediately after the quake to rebuild the Fairmont Hotel atop its Nob Hill. It had been completed just 6 weeks before the earthquake occurred that leveled the city. This new hotel had shifted seven feet from its massive concrete foundation. With rats sometimes scampering across her feet Julia Morgan redesigned this landmark hotel to complete post-quake repairs.