With Pasadena's YWCA Again in the Spotlight, Here's a Look at Architect Julia Morgan's Other YWCA Buildings

Published : Sunday, April 7, 2019 | 6:24 AM

[Updated]   Julia Morgan, California’s first woman architect, worked with William Randolph Hearst on creating Hearst Castle and designed Pasadena’s YWCA building, now forlorn and the subject of City Council debate Monday.

But few realize Morgan invested much into other YWCA buildings flung across the western United States as far west as Hawaii —Mediterranean and Spanish-style sister buildings to Pasadena’s once prouder structure on North Marengo Avenue between Union and Holly Streets.

Photograph of architect Julia Morgan with William Randolph Hearst during the construction of Hearst Castle in 1926.

Considering the purpose of the YWCA, which is to house young women in a communal-like environment, the Morgan buildings are ornate yet designed with casual luxury in mind.

Born into an East Coast family, Morgan would go on to become the first woman to gain admittance to the Ecole de Beaux Arts department of Architecture in 1898.

Over a career that spanned 52 years, Morgan completed more than 700 buildings, with many later designated historical landmarks.

Perhaps her most important relationship was with Publisher William Randolph Hearst who championed her work. He selected her to design Hearst Castle on the Central Coast of California.

Hearst’s mother Phoebe Apperson Hearst subsequently brought Morgan into the fold of the Young Women’s Christian Association, known as the YWCA.

It was designed to be a place where women would feel safe while on the road alone. The contract would change the course of Morgan’s work. Morgan went on to design intricate and awe-inspiring buildings in spectacular locations in California.

She became the architect for YWCA buildings along the West Coast and beyond.

Chinese Historical Society, San Francisco

In designing the Chinatown YWCA which would come to be known as the Chinese Historical Society, Morgan integrated Chinese motifs with the framework of western architecture.  The building is located on Clay Street and was built in 1932.

Although the YWCA headquarters have since relocated, the building continues with its original function – to serve the community in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where it currently houses the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. To learn more about her involvement with the Chinatown YWCA at 965 Clay Street.



The Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove

Morgan designed the Asilomar Conference Grounds, originally created to be a YWCA retreat and also summer camp for young women and girls. The retreat was built in 1913 and named a national historic landmark in 1987. Morgan-designed 16 buildings on the property, most of which are still standing. The architecture has a more informal, summer camp look, complete with rustic stone fireplace and a modern “Arts and Crafts” style.



Berkeley City Club

Born in San Francisco but college-bound to UC Berkeley, Northern California has a special place in Morgan’s heart. Maybe a point of pride for the Berkeley City Club, it is no surprise about the subtle elegance throughout the Berkeley City Club, built in 1930. It was among the jewels in her architecture portfolio, with well-respected women coming to mingle. The pool has the trademark rounded-fan design, showing an Art Deco flair.



The Hollywood Studio Club

The Hollywood Studio Club served as a home away from home for the young, up and coming women in the movie business, from 1916 to 1975.  It’s estimated the location housed around 10,000 women in its 59-year operation. The building remains the property of the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles. Its architecture is in the Italian Renaissance style.



Riverside Art Museum

Built in 1929 and designated historic in 1982, Morgan designed the Riverside YMCA in the  Mediterranean Revival style. On the first floor was a swimming pool, an open air atrium and a gymnasium. On the second floor were bedrooms, offices, meeting rooms and a small stage. There was even badminton on the roof.



Oakland YWCA

The YWCA of Oakland is of Italian Renaissance design with a purposeful style. It’s all in the details on this bold structured building with fan-shaped windows, terra cotta and yellow middle section. It was a pioneering effort as the 1914 building was commissioned by the first social service agency in the City of Oakland. The arts and tech school, Envision Academy, inhabits the building.




The YWCA Oahu is a palatial and elegant building and luxurious rest stop protected by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 1927, the YWCA Oahu Headquarters was built, with wrought-iron balconies. The intent is to give the feeling of country in the middle of the city of Honolulu. The building is also known by the Hawaiian word “Laniakea,” which means “immense heaven.”



The YWCA Residence Hall in Fresno

The Spanish and Italian Renaissance style is evident in the YWCA Residence Hall, located at M and San Joaquin Streets in downtown Fresno. Built in 1922, the two-story building has an attic and designed in the shape of an H. The building houses a main lobby and library, there’s a south side reception room and in the north there are offices. Like several of the other YWCA buildings, there is a sparse presentation to the exterior but revealing elegance behind the doors.


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