Julia Morgan, 'Overlooked' by New York Times' Self-Admission, Finally Gets Proper Obituary

Published : Monday, April 8, 2019 | 5:01 AM

Julia Morgan

The New York Times has finally just last month published a proper obituary for architect Julia Morgan, designer of Pasadena’s YWCA building set to be among the topics for discussion by the City Council tonight.

Morgan died 62 years ago on Feb. 2, 1957.

Atop its obituary for Morgan published March 6, 2019, the New York Times said “Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men.”

In an effort to right the wrong of mass ommissions caused by that predisposition, the Times has now begun to go back and add “the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported in The Times.”

Morgan, California’s first woman architect, was one of those important omissions just atoned.

In the Morgan obituary, the Times recognized her as the first woman to receive an architect’s license in California. She got the license in 1904, and was subjected to much skepticism about her abilities.

“But she came to allay those doubts by building a sterling reputation with projects now known around the world, including the Asilomar conference grounds on the Monterey Peninsula and, most notably, the Hearst Castle at San Simeon,” the New York Times said. “By the time she retired in 1951, at 79, she had designed hundreds of buildings and sites.”

The article also discussed at length Morgan’s work at restoring the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco after the Great Earthquake of 1906 which destroyed more than 80 percent of the city’s buildings.

“The grand Fairmont Hotel, only days from opening, was gutted by flames, leaving only a shell. The hotel’s owners, determined to rebuild, turned to a young architect, Julia Morgan. Only three years earlier she had built a bell tower on the campus of Mills College, and it had withstood the earthquake unscathed – proof that Morgan was as experienced in reinforced concrete as she was in European design.”

At that time, people were astonished that a woman would be leading the renovation, and the newspaper recalled a story written by Jane Armstrong, a reporter for The San Francisco Call, after Morgan had restored the hotel’s ballroom to its original splendor.

A foreman had said the renovation was in the charge of “a real architect, and her name happens to be Julia Morgan, but it might as well be John Morgan.”

Born in San Francisco on January 20, 1897, Morgan enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied civil engineering. At UC Berkeley, she met Bernard Maybeck, who would go on to design one of the defining works of the Bay Area School of architecture, the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley, and the neo-Classical Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

Maybeck encouraged Morgan to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then the world’s most prestigious architecture school.

At 26, Morgan became the first woman to pass the school’s entrance exams, and The San Francisco Examiner hailed her achievement with the headline, “California Girl Wins High Honor.”

In 1902, she returned to Oakland and soon established an independent practice. She adopted the dark suit and tie of the rank-and-file male architect, but with a skirt rather than trousers, the NY Times said.

Morgan designed the YWCA building at the Pasadena Civic Center Historic District. The building was built in two consecutive phases, from 1921-1923. Since 2008, it has sat vacant.

Morgan died on February 2, 1957, at the age of 85.

The NY Times obituary isn’t the only posthumous honor Morgan has received. In 2014, the American Institute of Architects awarded her the AIA Gold Medal, considered the profession’s highest honor, 57 years after her death. It marked the first time the organization awarded the medal to a woman, according to Architectural Record.

She was the eighth architect to receive the Gold Medal posthumously.

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