There was a record, historical turnout for the Piedmont Recreation Department’s Walking on Wednesdays walk last Wednesday at the Exedra. The gathering was so large that an exact number was difficult, but one count had it at 58 walkers and one K-9 best friend. This was largest turnout of walkers ever for a Piedmont walk by the group.
There was a good reason for the large turnout. Will Adams was there to lead walk-by tour of eight Piedmont Julia Morgan designed homes. Will is a planner, urban designer, and architect who has lived in Piedmont for thirty years, and writes regular “Walking Piedmont” articles for the Post. The appeal of Will’s identification and discussion of Julia Morgan homes brought out a large number of regular Wednesday walkers, but also many first time walkers and Piedmont architect friends of Will.
After introductions, Will gave the group some history and background information on Julia Morgan. She was an American architect and engineer, born in 1872, who designed more than 700 buildings in California during her long career. She is best known for her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, but her presence and work is especially prevalent in Northern California and Piedmont. She designed the Berkeley City Club that is sometimes referred to a mini Hearst Castle, and the Greek Theater on the UC Berkeley campus with the support of Phoebe Hearst.
Will shared that Morgan was the first woman to be admitted to the architecture program at l'École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. She designed many buildings for institutions serving women and girls, including a number of YWCAs and buildings for Mills College. In many of her structures, Morgan pioneered the aesthetic use of reinforced concrete, a material that had superior seismic performance in the local 1906 and 1989 earthquakes.
Morgan sought to reconcile classical and Craftsman, Tutor, Mediterranean, formalism, and whimsical styles in her eclectic work. Will told the group he especially appreciates Morgan’s ability to design in any style, and also her ability to blend engineering, as well as landscaping, to create architectural masterpieces. However, he also noted that every design need not be considered a masterpiece. With the large number of homes that Morgan designed some might be simply considered lovely homes.
After providing the group with this background, Will led the long parade of walkers through the upper Piedmont Park, past the Community Hall and Tea House to emerge on Highland Avenue. Traffic control was used to cross the street and go up Sierra Avenue to see three examples of Morgan’s work. The first was an elegant Colonial Revival home. Next, a few doors away, was a Craftsman style home with harmonious landscaping. After pointing out some of its architectural details, Will literally hopped and pointed out a Tutor home next door with steeproofs that provided an interesting, side-by-side comparison of Morgan’s work. A photo of Will talking there with the group is attached.
Will then led the group down Sierra to Sheridan and Lincoln Avenues. They climbed up Lincoln to its corner with Crocker. There Will pointed to a home across the street and described it. He also provided more insight into Julia Morgan. She was a constant worker who was completely dedicated to her work. She never married. In addition to being an exceptional architect and engineer, Morgan was an excellent manager with a special rapport with craftsmen and artisans working on her projects. She had a hundred people working on her Hearst Castle project at one time, and was known for keeping her projects on budget.
While Will was sharing information with the group, the owner of the Crocker home, Tom MacBride, came outside and was curious about this hoard of people. Soon after Tom’s wife also came out and Tom gave her credit for the landscaping the house now enjoys. The beauty of this house is now due to at least two women. Additionally, it was there that Jay Russell from the Post caught up with the group to take pictures and talk with the walkers for his “Question Man” feature in the paper.
The group continued down the street to Crocker Park and up a narrow path, ducking under overhanding tree branches, through the park and then going up Hampton Avenue to Sea View Avenue. Another picture of the long stretch of walkers is attached. Further up the street is another Morgan masterpiece whose design Will described as a Tudor Craftsman blend. It has tile and wood carving decorations that accentuated the home’s beauty. As the walkers were appreciating the home, the self-identified grandmother of the home’s children drove up, said hello, and entered the home.
The three final Morgan homes were now across the street, down Farragut Avenue. The large home of the top of the hill is a classic Tudor. Will with his fellow architects and city planners told the group that a fairly recent addition had been made to left side of the home. They described the approval process that was required for the modification of this national landmark home. It went all the way to Washington DC. The walkers then went around the side of the home, down King Avenue to view an impressive, but much smaller carriage house that is now a separate home. The walkers saw its resident looking out her window and questioning what was going on.
Will’s tour was completed at the foot of Farragut. There at its corner with Crocker is the Morgan home that the Post had shown in a front page picture that day with an article announcing Will’s Wednesday walkers’ tour. It is another Morgan Mediterranean classic, worthy of the Post’s front page, and also the conclusion of this memorable and historic Walking on Wednesdays walk. The group gave Will an appreciative round of applause for making such an informative and enjoyable morning possible.