EB Odds & Ends

A Newsletter of Eagles Byte Historical Research

November 1996, No. 14


They were born thirty years and half a continent apart. They were intelligent, gifted and determined. One utilized her husband's wealth as a lever to help remake society, the other tore down some walls as she raised others. Working singly at first and sometimes in tandem later on, they altered the state of California's appearance, its educational system and, even a few male minds.

Phoebe Apperson was born on December 3, 1842, on a farm in Missouri. Like many of her Midwest contemporaries, she taught in a frontier school. Then she remade the acquaintance of a former neighbor, four years older than herself, who probably had less education than many of her pupils. But George Hearst didn't need book learning. George Hearst could smell minerals - precious minerals. Local Indians referred to him as Boy-That Earth-Talked-To. And when he returned from the Nevada silver fields a wealthy young man and again saw the young child he'd carried around on his shoulders, now a petite school teacher in her late teens, his instincts were as sound. They eloped and were married in Stedman, Missouri, on June 15th, 1862, and remained in the midwest for four months while George settled his recently-deceased mother's estate. Then the young couple boarded a ship for the west coast. As their vessel passed through the Golden Gate, she looked up at the seedy, raw El Dorado that was San Francisco, and told George she intended to live on those hills where she could always see the bay. Phoebe Apperson Hearst had fallen in love a second time.

To paraphrase a William Dean Howells title, George Hearst was not afraid to hazard new fortunes. And it paid off for this man the earth still talked to, paid off rapidly in even newer fortunes. George and Phoebe prospered, and when a son, William Randolph, was born the following year the silver spoon, Harvard and fame awaited.

But it's not the men, George and William Randolph, that directly concern us here. Money is a tool and the shy new mother with refined tastes became adept in its use.

It was in 1872, while Phoebe was considering a trip to Europe for herself and young William, that Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco, on January 20, to Charles and Eliza Parmalee Morgan. Attending grade school across the bay in Oakland, Julia developed an interest in civil engineering, pursuing her undergraduate degree in the field. Pierre Le Brun, a cousin of her mother's, was an architect (among his commissions was New York City's Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower). Perhaps his work stimulated her interest, as well as her determination to become an architect. It should come as no great surprise that women were not "supposed to be" interested in architecture or capable of becoming architects in the 1890s. Not in the U. S. Certainly not in Europe.

Tell that to the wall, or better yet, save your breath. Julia became the first female graduate of the University of California to earn a civil engineering degree. Encouraged by Phoebe Hearst and architect John Galen Howard (he had gained a commission from The Phoebe Apperson Hearst Architectural Competition to design a master plan for the University of California), she sailed for Europe in 1896, traveling to Paris to enroll in the L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts. When she arrived it was to find the "MEN ONLY" sign out. Siege warfare ensued. Two years later, their excuses exhausted, the bastion's defenders capitulated and Julia Morgan became the first woman to enroll in the venerable school, and then earn its architecture certificate.

She'd been practicing her trade even as her studies had gone forward and, after receiving her certificate, she returned to the family home, and began an apprenticeship with Howard. She designed a bell tower for Mills College. There were other commissions. Her career was off to a modest start. The idea of a female architect, especially one with prestigious French schooling, didn't seem too much of a hindrance. In 1903, partnered with Howard, she helped design a mountain retreat for the Hearst family, then went on to open her own office in 1904. Slanted against women at the turn of the century, the playing field was starting to tilt upright. Suddenly, on April 18, 1906, nothing else was upright in San Francisco.

George Hearst was fifteen years dead in 1906. Phoebe was visiting Paris, out of danger. William Randolph, now owner and publisher of a large chain of newspapers. suffered over a million dollar loss. After the rubble had settled and the smoke had cleared, the city on the hill regained its momentum and began to dig in. And rebuild. Hearst too immediately began to rebuild. His San Francisco Examiner, buildingless, never missed an issue, and W. R. plunged into relief work.

Julia Morgan obtained the contract to rebuild the Fairmont Hotel and never looked back. She designed a large number of residences, mostly in the Craftsmen style, as well as many works commissioned by women's groups such as the YWCA, sororities, and women's colleges and community clubs. Along the way she made herself an expert in the use of reinforced concrete.

During this time, Phoebe Hearst kept as busy as her son. Becoming a member of the University of California Board of Regents, she worked to bring the university its first women professors, sponsored scientific expeditions and handpicked eminent anthropologist Alfred L. Krober to found a department in his specialty. YWCAs in San Francisco and Los Angeles were instructed to provide a shelter for those who could not afford to pay, and send her a monthly bill. She backed the suffragette movement and national education projects, helped plan the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.

One day in July of 1916 Phoebe Hearst readied herself to march in the city's Preparedness Day Parade. Anti-war feelings were high. A letter arrived in the mail threatening to blow her up if she marched. Phoebe had never ducked a challenge and she wasn't about to start at the age of 73. She marched. A bomb did go off, killing and maiming a number of people. But not Phoebe. She had passed the spot a few minutes earlier. Three years later pneumonia did what a bomb could not. Her adopted and beloved city flew its flags at half-staff.

Having inherited the family ranch at San Simeon after his mother's death (not to mention $11,000,000) Hearst decided to build a mansion and guest houses at the site he called Cuesta Encantata (Enchanted Hill). He knew just the person to design and manage the project. With 450 buildings including a number of Hearst residences, knowledge of reinforced concrete, a civil engineering degree and the polish of a Parisian classical education all under her tiny belt, Julia Morgan was the only choice. And she could no more duck a challenge than Phoebe could. She was up to the design of a 165-room, 127-acre estate to house W. R., thousands of precious antiques and art objects, and an endless parade of movie stars, royalty, politicians and journalists. She set to work.

She would work for several decades on San Simeon. She and W. R. conferred for countless hours through the years. He was something like a film editor with thousands of mental movie snippets from his life to cement together into a coherent design. And the props, warehouses full of them, were accessible. No monastery ceiling, Gothic castle fireplace or Byzantine tapestry was to go unused. And it was up to this small unmarried woman with her horn-rimmed glasses and Queen Mary hats to make it work. She did just that. No detail went into the construction or decoration of the mansion until Julia approved. She hired and supervised landscapers, construction teams and household staff. She oversaw the building of the terraces, pools, zoo, and three guest houses. Even the purchase of a vacuum cleaner passed through her office. The thousands of treasures that poured in from Europe did so only after she had made the arrangements for their shipment and Customs paperwork, then placed them upon their arrival. When the gorgeous goods poured in faster than places could be found for them or new wings built to house them, Julia Morgan arranged for the excess to be loaned to area museums.

Hearst himself moved into his memory/art museum in 1927, living there until the early years of World War II. It was in Beverly Hills, not San Simeon, that he died in 1951. When Julia retired in the 1950s, San Simeon was still uncompleted (her assistant George McClure would continue with the work). She would outlive her client-collaborator by six years. Their greatest work, now a State monument, still awes the thousands of tourists that visit California each year.

The visitors view a California designed in part by Julia Morgan and Phoebe Apperson Hearst.


If you would like to check out some images of Morgan and Hearst's collaboration you can take the WebTraveler Virtual Tour of San Simeon at:

Follow the link to San Simeon to begin your virtual tour. The site gives you the choice of full-screen images or small, faster-loading versions. After you finish your tour you can back track for other attractions in California's Big Sur area.


Last month I asked for the name of the author and title of a 1941 novel featuring a meteorologist tracking a huge weather disturbance as it crossed the U. S.

The author was George R. Stewart and the novel was titled Storm. We had no winners.

The question for this month is:

In what foreign country was William Randolph Hearst at one time the leading real estate owner ?

(The first person to e-mail me a correct answer by December 15th will receive a free Eagles Byte chronology for any year of their choice)


Searching for events happening in the world of architecture in the first three years of this century, we come across the following selections:


Mar 19
British archaeologist Sir Arthur John Evans begins excavating the royal palace of Knossos, in Crete.

Apr 16
Chicago architectural engineer Dankmar Adler dies at the age of 55.

Jun 23
The dome of Paris' Sacre-Couer is inaugurated.

Dec 17
Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge's Union Station in Albany, New York, opens.

Boston - Symphony Hall is completed.

New York City - The Euclid Hall apartment building on upper Broadway is completed.

France - Nice's Beaux Arts Hotel Negresco, designed by E. Niermans, opens.

London - Parliament passes the Private Act, purchasing Alexandra Palace and Alexandra Park and creates a board of Trustees to administer them.


May 30
The Hall of Fame for Great Americans is dedicated, at New York University.

Albany, New York - The John Van Schaick Lansing Pruyn branch library on North Pearl Street is dedicated.

Chicago - Louis Sullivan's Carson, Pirie & Scott Department Store is completed.

Colorado - Ouray's city hall is built.

Montana - Stanford White's Butte house for Charles Clark is completed. It will one day become the Arts Chateau.

New York City - Architect Henry Anderson designs the Semiramis apartment on Central Park North. ** The city's New Law permits enforcement of housing standards. ** The Astor family builds Harlem's Graham Court apartment building, designed by Clinton & Russell.

New York State - Additions are begun to Batavia's Johnston Harvester Company building.

Texas - Fort Worth's Knights of Pythias Castle is built.

Washington, D. C. - Daniel H. Burnham and Charles McKIm are named to formulate a building
plan for the city.

Belgium - Vistor Horta designs Brussels' A'Innovation Department Store.

London - Architect James Brooks dies. His All Hallows Hampstead Church is consecrated. ** G. H. Fellowes Prynne's All Saints Sydenham church is completed.


Jan 30
English architectural critic-historian Nikolaus Pevsner is born in Leipzig.

Feb 11
Architect Arne Jacobsen is born in Copenhagen.

Feb 27
Brazilian architect Lucio Costa is born in Toulons, France.

Mar 9
Architect Edward Durrell Stone is born in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Mar 21
A subway tunnel under New York City's Park Avenue near 38th Street collapses, destroying three mansions.

May 21
Architect-designer Marcel Breuer is born in Pecs, Hungary.

Jul 1
Architect Jose Luis Sert is born in Spain.

Jul 14
The bell tower in Venice's St. Mark's Square topples. No one is injured but some art works are destroyed.

Architecture - Gustav Stickley introduces complete house plans into his magazine The Craftsmen. ** Frank Lloyd Wright's W. W. Willits House, in Highland Park, Illinois, is completed.

Indianapolis, Indiana - Frank M. Andrews' Claypool Hotel is built.

Missouri - Landscape architect Henry Wright begins work on plans for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, to be held in St. Louis.

New York City - Daniel Burnham's Flatiron Building is completed. ** Builder Joseph Oussani moves into his newly completed Semiramis apartment house. ** Cass Gilbert's U. S. Customs House opens. ** Janes & Leo's Dorilton apartment house at Broadway and 71st Street, built for Hamilton M. Weed, is completed at a cost of $750,000. Critic Montgomery Schuyler disparages the building in the Architectural Record. The building is fully rented. Andrew Carnegie's East 91st Street neo-Georgian mansion is completed.

New York State - McKim, Mead and White's house for Clarence H. Mackay of Roslyn, Long Island - Harbor Hill - is built. ** The 17th-century Mead Farm House in Rye is refurbished.

Rochester, New York - Architect Claude Bragdon marries Charlotte Coffyn Wilkinson of Syracuse.

Texas - Fort Worth's Livestock Exchange Building and the Swift & Company's headquarters are constructed.

Paris - Auguste Perret's block of flats at 119 Avenue Wagram is completed.


* * *

Hope you enjoyed this issue of Odds & Ends. Please e-mail me with any suggestions comments or questions, or just to say hello.

David Minor