Julia Morgan, The Woman Who Designed Hearst Castle

Arts and Crafts style Merrill Hall at Asilomar designed by architect Julia Morgan
Press photo of Merrill Hall courtesy Asilomar Conference Grounds website.

Best known for the lavish Hearst Castle, Julia Morgan also designed public venues for the YWCA as well as hundreds of homes in California. Morgan helped rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fires of 1906, except for the bell tower at Mills College, which she had already designed to survive the damage. And it still stands.


Born: January 20, 1872 in San Francisco, California

Died: February 2, 1957, at age 85. Buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California


  • 1890: Graduated from Oakland High School, California
  • 1894: Earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley
  • While at Berkeley, mentored by architect Bernard Maybeck
  • Twice rejected by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris
  • Entered and won several important architecture competitions in Europe
  • 1896: Accepted by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and became the first woman to graduate from that school with a degree in architecture

Career Highlights and Challenges

  • 1902 to 1903: Worked for John Galen Howard, University Architect in Berkeley
  • 1904: Established her own practice in San Francisco
  • 1906: Office destroyed in a fire caused by the 1906 earthquake; Morgan established a new office
  • 1919: Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst hired Morgan to design his San Simeon estate, Hearst Castle
  • 1920s: Problems with her inner ear required surgery that distorted Morgan's face and affected her balance
  • 1923: Fires in Berkeley destroyed many homes designed by Morgan
  • 1951: Morgan closed her office and died six years later
  • 2014: Posthumously awarded the highest honor of the American Institute of Architects and elevated to the College of Fellows (FAIA). Morgan was the first woman to be given the AIA Gold Medal.

Selected Buildings by Julia Morgan

  • 1904: Campanile (bell tower), Mills College, Oakland, California
  • 1913: Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA
  • 1917: Livermore House, San Francisco, CA
  • 1922: The Hacienda, William Randolph Hearst's home at Valley of the Oaks, CA
  • 1922-1939: San Simeon (Hearst Castle), San Simeon, CA
  • 1924-1943: Wyntoon, Mount Shasta, CA
  • 1927: Laniakea YWCA, Honolulu, HI
  • 1929: The Berkeley City Club, Berkeley, CA

About Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan was one of America's most important and prolific architects. Morgan was the first woman to study architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman to work as a professional architect in California. During her 45-year career, she designed more than 700 homes, churches, office buildings, hospitals, stores, and educational buildings.

Like her mentor, Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan was an eclectic architect who worked in a variety of styles. She was known for her painstaking craftsmanship and for designing interiors that incorporated the owners' collections of art and antiques. Many of Julia Morgan's buildings featured Arts and Crafts elements such as:

  • Exposed support beams
  • Horizontal lines that blend into the landscape
  • Extensive use of wooden shingles
  • Earth colorings
  • California redwood and other natural materials

After the California earthquake and fires of 1906, Julia Morgan obtained commissions to rebuild Fairmont Hotel, St. John's Presbyterian Church, and many other important buildings in and around San Francisco.

Of the hundreds of homes that Julia Morgan designed, she is perhaps most famous for Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. For nearly 28 years, craftsmen labored to create William Randolph Hearst's magnificent estate. The estate has 165 rooms, 127 acres of gardens, beautiful terraces, indoor and outdoor pools, and an exclusive private zoo. Hearst Castle is one of the largest and most elaborate homes in the United States.

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Craven, Jackie. "Julia Morgan, The Woman Who Designed Hearst Castle." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/julia-morgan-designer-hearst-castle-177857. Craven, Jackie. (2020, August 26). Julia Morgan, The Woman Who Designed Hearst Castle. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/julia-morgan-designer-hearst-castle-177857 Craven, Jackie. "Julia Morgan, The Woman Who Designed Hearst Castle." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/julia-morgan-designer-hearst-castle-177857 (accessed April 2, 2023).