San Luis Obispo County’s iconic Hearst Castle in San Simeon reopened in May after a years-long closure due to COVID-19 and a major overhaul of the road leading to the estate. Tourist guides now focus on the legacy of the castle’s architect, Julia Morgan, whose career and work on Hearst Castle paved the way for female architects of this period.
Two local historians, Gordon Fuglie and Victoria Kastner, have published new books outlining the life and work of Julia Morgan, hoping to shed light on a legacy they say is just beginning.
The path of San Simeon
“I would classify it in the world of Julia Morgan,” said Gordon Fuglie, author of “Julia Morgan: The Road to San Simeon, Visionary Architect of the California Renaissance.”
“It’s not just about her, but also about the architectural period in which she lived: the currents and cultural currents that influence her, her colleagues and why this group of architects all trained at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris was doing the architecture they thought would define California, at this crucial time when California was entering the modern era,” Fuglie said.
This California setting, Fuglie said, is one of the defining characteristics of Morgan’s work. Although she was educated in Paris, she was originally from California.
“There was a world of difference between Paris and San Francisco at that time. So that meant that all of these architects, if they were looking to use a classic style, also had to adapt to the California environment, in the middle,” did he declare. .
“There was a lot of thinking going on in the 1890s through the 1920s about well, what is American architecture? Many thinkers were saying, we should take the heritage of Europe and make it ours in California, which was a long way from New York, Chicago, Boston, etc,” Fuglie said. “It would be Mediterranean style, and also a nod to mission style, and so you get an eclectic among architects.
Fuglie said this broader focus on the California Renaissance through the lens of Julia Morgan was an extension of the book’s original intent.
“When I started this project in 2017, the book was intended to be the catalog for an exhibition of architectural drawings by Julian Morgan, which, believe it or not, have never been exhibited in a museum in art,” Fuglie said. “And through the changes and vagaries of the museum world, plus COVID, the book has transformed and evolved.”
Fuglie’s book is a collection of his own work and contributions by other authors, including Kastner. He said it was intended to renew interest and appreciation for Morgan’s work on not only Hearst Castle, but also his role in shaping the California architectural Renaissance.
“I hope that as our two books begin to be critically examined and appreciated by those interested in Julian Morgan and Californian architecture, they will also reevaluate their assessment of this period. Like Victoria and I mentioned, he became denigrated and looked down upon,” Fuglie said.
Fuglie said he thinks it’s unique that he and Kastner, two historians from the relatively small county of San Luis Obispo, do such cross-functional and collaborative work. He views their work as the second generation of scholarly research into Morganian and California Renaissance architecture, and he hopes that more Central Coast historians and authors will continue in this vein.
“I can’t wait to see what Gen 3 will produce, because there’s so much more to consider, perform and share,” Fuglie said.
Fuglie also noted that his work and that of Kastner are part of a growing trend to re-examine women’s contributions to architecture, including those of Julia Morgan, which he believes are finally beginning to be owed to her.
“I am happy to say that at the turn of the century there is a growing momentum to recognize women in the visual arts and architecture, and to give them more parity in the art historical record. is therefore Victoria’s main contribution. [Kastner] and I think it did: a broader panorama of the history of art and architecture than was previously restricted,” he said.
Fuglie said one of the reasons Morgan’s work has been relatively under-admired so far is the period of modernism that dominated the art world in the years after his career ended. .
“It was this unfortunate interregnum between what came before and the triumph of modernism, but if you look closely and carefully at the ideals and ideas that inspired this architecture – not just that of Morgan, but also that of his colleagues – it’s a way of seeing how the historical past and the greatness we see there can still speak to us today.We ignore it at our peril.
An intimate biography of a pioneering architect
Victoria Kastner is the former official historian of Hearst Castle, who wrote what she calls the “definitive trilogy” of works on the famous estate.
Her new book, “Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect,” details Morgan’s private life using unpublished letters.
“She exchanged 2,462 letters with William Randolph Hearst, the most telling of which was the last, which has never been printed before. So [the book] really reveals his private thoughts and personal life,” Kastner said.
These documents, Kastner said, add depth to the historical record of one of the nation’s most influential architects.
“It really puts into perspective how amazingly ahead of her time she was. She wasn’t the first woman to study civil engineering at Cal Berkeley, but she was the first woman to use that degree professionally.” , said Kastner. “She was the first woman to go to Paris and be admitted and graduated with a certificate from the École des Beaux-Arts. And then she was the first woman on her return to California to be a licensed architect.”
“But more than that, she designed 700 buildings throughout her career, and San Simeon was only given one number: 503,” Kastner said.
Kastner’s current project is leading a team compiling these private letters and other writings about Morgan into a searchable database that others can draw upon.
“Our job was to transcribe it, and we’re proofreading it now, but we’re going to post it online so anyone from anywhere can study the Julia Morgan archives, which are over there at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the Special Collections of the Robert E. Kennedy Library This is where his main collection is, and to tell you how extensive it is, our transcripts are 800,000 words.
This collection of words, according to Kastner, spotlights a woman who not only advanced women’s ability to be recognized as great architects, but also commanded the respect of her staff and peers.
“She was highly respected by her staff, and she was a very generous employer in good years. She shared the profits her office made among the staff and shared the profits. She never really cared about the money; she loved their children and treated them almost like her own nephews and nieces,” Kastner said.
“But she [also] definitely wanted her job done meticulously, and she definitely wanted to be in control. Many architects of his day assigned an employee to another client and then it kind of became their job – never Julia Morgan. She was always on top,” Kastner said.
But Kastner agrees with Fuglie that despite the respect she received from those who knew her, Morgan’s work has long gone unrecognized, if not ignored.
“[In 1957], Life Magazine did a cover story – 14 pages, with the Neptune Pool on the cover – all about San Simeon through photographs and essays. Julia Morgan’s name was never mentioned,” Kastner said.
“It’s shocking to think of it, and it continued into the 60s. It was completely ignored – Joan Didion wrote a whole essay called ‘Return to Xanadu’ about none other than San Simeon and its architectural impact , but Julia Morgan’s name was never mentioned.”
Decades later, Julia Morgan finally seems to be receiving widespread respect from the architectural world. In 2014, the American Institute of Architects awarded him a posthumous Gold Medal, their highest honor. Senator Dianne Feinstein, in its recommendation for this awardcalled Morgan “unquestionably one of the greatest American architects of all time and a true California gem”.
“She was the first woman to receive this honor in over a hundred years,” Kastner said. “I think it really made a difference to put her on the stage of international appreciation, which was long overdue.”