Julia Morgan: Hearst Castle (1919-1947)

Julia Morgan was one of the most important and prolific American women architects of the 20th century. She was born on January 20th, 1872 in California and died in 1957. McNeill (2018) notes that she is a graduate with an engineering degree from the University of California (1894), a private architecture student of Bernard Maybeck, and the first woman to graduate from École des Beaux-Arts (1902). In her residential architecture, Morgan associated her styles to the works of Greene and Greene and her other contemporary teachers. 

Morgan began her architectural career under Galen Howard in San Francisco before acquiring her license in 1904. She immediately earned herself six buildings commissions at Mills College, where she designed the El Campanil. Her design at El Campanil advertised and solidified her civil engineering understanding and capabilities in architecture when it contained the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. After World War I, she started working for the William Randolph Hearst Publishing magnate, who later commissioned various buildings for her, including the Hearst Castle Building. She is associated with other major buildings including the Chapel of Chimes, Fairmont Hotel, and Herald Examiner Building between 1913 and 1950.

She utilized various styles in her career, most notably, she was associated with the creation of fine interior spaces, craftsmanship, and the capability to design and deliver lavish buildings within a tight budget. In Hearst Castle’s design, she aimed at capturing the magnificence of European architecture, and many aspects of the building were inspired by overseas artworks and buildings. She utilized ornate decorations and bell towers, which symbolized the Spanish cathedral designs (Richter, 2018).

The site of the construction of the building was at the hilltop, 5 miles above the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and 1600 ft. in altitude. This building incorporated reinforced concrete, with the main house designed in fireproof, stone and seismic materials throughout the construction (Kastner, 2015). Consequently, fine grade concrete, white sand, and salt-washed out were used in the construction. It was made up of 4, 24 ft. in diameter stairways, with earthquake-proof designs. It is an elaboration of the Spanish Renaissance architectural style, but with an integration of the Gothic architectural design influence. 

Hearst Castle contained 115 rooms, with 38 bedrooms, a beauty salon, and more than 40 bathrooms. Morgan utilized the Doges’ Suite from the Doges’ palace as an inspiration for the opulence of the mansion, and the sitting rooms were adorned in velvet fabric walls and a painted ceiling that showed the 18th-century Italian palazzo. In addition, the marble balcony of the building included an elegant loggia. The interiors of the building integrated works of art comprising of plaster crafts, wood carving, cast stone, and tiles. It is also characterized by the existence of pools, gardens, and terraces, which are articulated by pergolas, colonnades, and effectively positioned arts such as the Verona’s wellhead and the Greco-Roman temple façade.

The opulence displayed in the building characterizes the intentions of the architect to utilize her academic knowledge of the Beaux-Arts, which is a subset of the Greek and Neoclassical Revival architecture (Garric, 2017). The design is characterized by elaborate ornamentation, order, grandiosity, formal design, and symmetry. Additional, the characteristics of its buildings include the availability of balconies, plasters, and cornices. The interiors of this academic principle typically contain lavish and polished sculptures such as the Mary sculpture at the entrance of the Hearst Castle. Therefore, the design utilized by Julia Morgan in the building incorporated her Beaux-Arts architectural education together with many other styles like the Spanish Renaissance and Gothic styles.


Garric, J. P. (2017). The French Beaux‐Arts. Companion to the History of Architecture, 1-15.

Kastner, V. (2015). William Randolph Hearst: maverick collector. Journal of the History of Collections, 27(3), 413-424.

McNeill, K. (2018). Gender, Race, and Class in the Work of Julia Morgan. In Forum Journal (Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 26-36). National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Richter, B. (2018). Julia Morgan, Architect (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California).