Julia Morgan, Architect

The Board of Directors of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted on December 12, 2013 to posthumously award the 2014 AIA Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, the architect behind such buildings as St. John’s Presbyterian Church (Berkeley), Asilomar YWCA (Pacific Grove), Hearst Castle (San Simeon), and Riverside’s own former YWCA and current home of the Riverside Art Museum.

The AIA Gold Medal, voted on annually, is considered to be the profession's highest honor that an individual can receive. The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Morgan's legacy will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago, and have her name chiseled into the granite Wall of Honor in the lobby of the AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Morgan is the first woman to win the Gold Medal, having designed over 700 buildings. “Most of them are still standing,” says Julia Donoho, the AIA board member who nominated Morgan for the Gold Medal. Donoho spoke at RAM’s annual Julia Morgan Reception, held this year at RAM Board Member’s Cathy Kienle’s home, telling the invitees that she nominated Morgan because she felt that it was past time to award the AIA Gold Medal to a female architect.

Morgan was born in San Francisco on January 20, 1872 and attended the University of California, Berkeley beginning in 1890. In 1894, she became the first woman to graduate from the university with a degree in civil engineering.

While studying at Berkeley, professor and celebrated architect Bernard Maybeck (1862-1957) recognized Morgan's great intellect and potential. Maybeck hired Morgan to work in his studio and became her lifetime mentor, advisor, and close friend. It was Maybeck who suggested that she attend the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the most prominent architecture school of its day, and eventually Morgan became the first woman admitted to the school. In 1902, in her thirtieth year, Morgan returned to Oakland with her certification of completion and immediately began to work for architect John Galen Howard. In 1904, she became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California, and opened her own firm.

In the midst of our beautiful city of Riverside, we have a Morgan-designed landmark treasure. Built in 1929 in a unique mixture of Mediterranean and Classical revival styles, the Riverside YWCA on the corner of Lime and Mission Inn incorporated practicality, convenience, and elegant simplicity in an innovative tri-block design, constructed with reinforced, poured-in-place concrete. This design is unique among the 17 YWCA's Morgan designed. The movement and interest created by the tri-block design works not only on the exterior of the building, but also on the two interior floors. Originally, the first floor housed an indoor swimming pool, dressing rooms, and showers with an entrance lobby that faced out onto an open atrium garden. A large gymnasium and stage occupied the remaining ground-floor space. The second floor contained bedrooms, offices, and a versatile meeting room with a small stage. Concealed stairs led to a roof garden that featured an outdoor fireplace, an expansive view of downtown Riverside, and ample space for badminton games. Morgan's building successfully functioned as Riverside's YWCA for nearly 40 years.

The building’s distinctive architecture as a work of art in its own right brought it to the attention of the Riverside Art Center in the 1960s. Purchased from the YWCA on July 5, 1967, Morgan’s building became the proud home of the Riverside Art Museum.

“As an architect and President of the Board of Trustees, I am honored that RAM can call this beautiful Julia Morgan building home,” says Bob Kain.

By happy coincidence, the day after the AIA announcement, the HMC Designing Futures Foundation board of directors awarded RAM a $10,000 grant to support the renovation of RAM’s Julia Morgan History Wall and the creation of didactics throughout the museum highlighting the building’s architectural elements, citing RAM’s role as an important cultural and artistic resource in the community.

"This grant will allow the Riverside Art Museum to refresh the existing Julia Morgan History Wall to truly showcase her contributions to the architectural profession and the Riverside community through her innovative design vision and building construction explorations,” says Dan Benner, RAM Trustee and principal architect at HMC. “Her perseverance in wanting to make a difference within the communities she served during her life is her legacy and will be honored with a retrospective approach that celebrates her achievements."

In addition, long-standing community support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Provident Savings Bank Foundation, the Johnson Foundation, and private donors have supported RAM’s stewardship of this important historic structure.

In letters of recommendation for the award, Frank Gehry called Morgan "an architect's architect," and Denise Scott Brown referred to her buildings' "modest monumentality and tender gravitas, beautifully executed."

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her recommendation letter stated that Morgan, “is unquestionably among the greatest American architects of all time and true California gem. Morgan’s legacy has only grown over the years. She was an architect of remarkable breadth, depth, and consistency of exceptional work, and she is widely known by the quality of her work by those who practice, teach, and appreciate architecture.”

Morgan joined the AIA in 1921 as only the seventh female member. She is the 70th AIA Gold Medalist and joins the ranks of such visionaries as Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Le Corbusier (1961), Louis I. Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), and Thom Mayne (2013).