Hearst Castle is breathtaking as it towers above San Simeon (both town and bay) below. It is an astonishing collection of architecture (with architectural elements brought from churches and castles in other countries), exotic gardens, statuary, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Asilomar blends into the landscape, constructed of native redwoods and other indigenous woods, sprawling over several acres, with intermittent views of Monterey Bay through the trees. What makes them both irresistible to me, is the atmosphere of welcome in the architecture and design of Julia Morgan. Somehow, in these two disparate places, this gifted woman brought together elements that created a synergy that makes you feel at home the moment you walk in.
The first time I went to Hearst Castle I was prepared to be sickened by its opulence and decadence. Instead, I found myself moved almost to tears by the way everything worked together to create a sense of ease and well-being. It was a shock to discover that the Assembly Room, an enormous living space of approximately 90’ x 40,’ felt as if it invited me to sit down and hang out. Huge as it was, there were areas for conversation, cards, jigsaw puzzles, throughout the room. Everyone would be together in the oversized living room, and the design gave a sense of intimacy that seemed logically impossible, yet undeniable.
Asilomar’s Social Hall is anchored by a stone fireplace, with rocks brought in from the property outside, and designed to draw the eye up with the flames, to the vertical rocks lining the space above, and on up to the ceiling. The walls are lined with glass windows, bringing the natural beauty of the Monterey Peninsula indoors. And the room is filled with comfortable tables and chairs, window seats, rockers in front of the fire, a grand piano, and a pair of pool tables near a cabinet with games. Because it is a state park, it is open to the public, and I’m not the only person who spends many a Saturday morning with my coffee and notebook in front of the fire.
For a number of years, I was fortunate enough to live in a Julia Morgan-designed building at 300 Page Street in San Francisco – the City Center of San Francisco Zen Center. One of my favorite memories of my time there was Sunday morning, when I’d take my bagel, orange juice, and coffee outside into the courtyard and sit in one of Julia Morgan’s most welcoming spaces, an oasis in the midst of the bustling city.
Originally built as Emmanuel House, a residence for young Jewish immigrant women, 300 Page Street retains much of the warmth of her original design. Built on bedrock only a few years after the 1906 earthquake, the building has withstood even the Loma Prieta quake with only a few cracks in the courtyard and some broken dishes.
Julia Morgan inspires me in many ways. She was the first woman to be accepted in the L’Ecole de Beaux-Artes, one of the world’s best schools for architecture. She designed and built literally hundreds of buildings throughout the state of California, many of which are still standing today. She collaborated with William Randolph Hearst on what was for both of them the project of a lifetime, and did it while she continued her work on many other projects.
If you take the kitchen tour at Hearst Castle you come out the back door and into the rear courtyard of the main building. There is what appears to be a wooden shack tacked on to the back of the building, and it is not included on any of the tours. It is Julia Morgan’s office. You can see her drawing table and stool, the upholstered armchair where Hearst must have sat often to discuss plans for the buildings, and perhaps most poignantly, the hat rack with her hat on it.
Carol (Doc) Dougherty
An avid reader, writer, and student, with a penchant for horse racing, Shakespeare, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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