Introduction to Julia Morgan's early Bay Area houses

After taking and passing the state certification examination in architecture in 1904, Morgan was ready to start her own practice. By 1905 she had opened her first office. (When it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, she relocated in the Merchant's Exchange Building, the only building designed in the West by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham.) Although Morgan devoted much of her professional career to designing domestic architecture, many of her early commissions were for middle-class houses to be built on small suburban lots. With the suburban expansion in the East Bay, she had a ready source for commissions.

Typically these houses are understated, unobtrusive elements in the landscape. Several influences converge in these early houses--the Shingle Style, the Craftsman style, and the Simple Home movement.

The Shingle Style, originally a northeastern style, was introduced in California by the Reverend Joseph Worcester when he built a brown shingle home in Piedmont in 1879. The first recorded shingle building in Berkeley was one of the buildings of the Anna Head School for Girls, designed by Soule Edgar Fisher in 1892 (Cerny 173). In Shingle Style buildings the exterior is stripped of excess decoration and shingles provide a continuous covering. Chimneys are often clinker brick and windows are grouped in casements. Often rafters are exposed. These elements recur in Morgan's early East Bay houses with economical board and batten used as well as redwood shingles. She employed bands of casements as well as corner windows.

The Craftsman Style, an independent movement in western architecture, was desseminated through the Craftsman magazine (1901-1916), published by furniture designer Gustav Stickley. Although Greene and Greene, Pasadena architects, designed the most elegant houses in this style, the smaller Craftsman bungalo enjoyed much popularity in the early decades of the twentieth century. Natural materials (as opposed to industrial ones) were preferred--often dark shingles or rubblework masonry. The Craftsman house was designed to be part of the natural environment with porches, loggias, and pergolas integrating the house with its setting. Projecting eaves, exposed beams and rafters, and decorative planter boxes were important elements of the design. Interiors incorporated built-in cupboards, window seats, and inglenooks. Morgan's early houses are economical and modest examples of this style.

The Simple Home movement, originated by Charles Keeler, viewed the home as a building for the soul. Middle-class homes in this style are often cozy cottages of unpainted redwood, with clinker brick chimneys, window bays, and leaded windows. These features as well can be seen in Morgan's early houses.

For examples of Morgan's early houses, see the following:
Colby House
Derge House
Goddard Houses
Linforth Houses
speculative houses

Work Cited: Cerny, Susan Dinkelspiel. Berkeley Landmarks. An Illustrated Guide to Berkeley, California's Architectural Heritage. Berkeley: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, 1994.

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