Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Morgan House (Harbor Area YWCA)
1918 – Julia Morgan
437 West 9th Street, San Pedro – map
Shhh. Listen. Do you hear that? Do you know what that noise is? That’s the sound of architect Julia Morgan spinning in her Oakland grave.
Eh, maybe I’m being a little harsh. But, clearly, to a woman who had the reputation for being an ultra-perfectionist (she once ripped out some new tile work with her bare hands because it failed to meet her standards), she would not have been doing a jig over the state in which a series of remodels has left her board and batten building in the San Pedro.
One of most important women in the history of American architecture, Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872, soon moving with her family to Oakland. In 1904, she earned the honor of being the first woman licensed as a California architect. This was shortly after the completion of two of her first major projects, assisting John Galen Howard in building (her alma mater) UC Berkeley’s Greek Theatre and Hearst Memorial Mining Building.
This 1918 Craftsman building was one of five local YWCA buildings designed by Morgan. You can still see her 1926 Hollywood Studio Club, landmark No. 175, and her gorgeous Pasadena YWCA stands empty and is slowly falling apart. Her 1925 Long Beach Italian Renaissance branch has been demolished. Finally, Morgan’s Riverside YWCA from 1929 still stands, but as the Riverside Art Museum. Morgan designed YWCAs in California, Utah, Arizona, and Hawaii. Julia Morgan’s affiliation with the YWCA began when Phoebe Apperson Hearst recommended her for the organization’s Asilomar summer conference center near Monterey. Asilomar’s first building, the Administration Building, opened in 1913. Morgan’s last major building for the Young Women’s Christian Association was the Residence on San Francisco’s Nob Hill.
As for this 1918 Craftsman building, completed right around the time she began working on what would become her most famous project, it’s one of several “hostess houses” Morgan designed during World War I. Located near military camps, these buildings served as meeting places for soldiers and their families. A women’s group, the Warwork Council, handled the initial planning and fund-raising. The 9th Street land cost $4,800.
In her book on the architect, Sara Holmes Boutelle says the San Pedro facility, one of just two remaining hostess houses created by Morgan (remaining as of 1988, that is), is a lot like Asilomar’s Administration Building, “featuring open trusses, fireplaces, and a balcony over the service and clubroom areas at either end of the long main room.” Also included were classrooms and a swimming pool (since filled in). It was chartered as an official YWCA after the war, on October 6, 1920.
Compare the two shots below. The upper is from L.A.’s Department of City Planning website. It dates from 1921. Was the hill’s removal to gain street-level access? Or maybe due to a street-widening? I don’t like the result. And who wouldn’t prefer those original windows and door? Some remodeling architect whose taste is in his mouth, I guess.
Today, Julia Morgan’s San Pedro landmark is still being used as a YWCA, offering child care, teen programs, women’s health and family services, and programs on racial justice. I stopped by on a Sunday when the place was closed. It’s a safe bet I would’ve been stopped from wandering around taking pictures of the women’s club's indoors (“Hi! I’m here for a peak at your open trusses!”), but I still would’ve liked to have seen what’s left of the ninety-year-old interior.
Boutelle, Sara Holmes Julia Morgan, Architect Abbeville Press Publishers 1988 New York
McKinney, Betty "Y.W.C.A. – The Julia Morgan House" The Shoreline San Pedro Bay Historical Society Jun 1989
Wadsworth, Ginger Julia Morgan: Architect of Dreams Lerner Publications Company 1990 Minneapolis
Wilson, Mark A. Julia Morgan: An Architect of Beauty Gibbs Smith 2007 Layton, Utah
Up next: Korean Bell and Belfry of Friendship