Maybeck's Masterpieces


The Summer 2022 issue of the Purpose included a story about a recent biography of Julia Morgan by Victoria Kastner. The book inaccurately furthers a misperception that Ms. Morgan was the architect of some of Principia College’s women’s dormitories. Dr. Robert M. Craig (US’62, C’66), Professor Emeritus at Georgia Tech College of Design and author of Maybeck at Principia College: The Art and Craft of Building, writes to set the record straight: “There is no question that all of what we still call the Maybeck dormitories (Howard, Anderson, Sylvester, Buck, Brooks, and Rackham) were designed by Maybeck,” echoing a 1989 letter to The Pilot from renowned historical preservation expert Dr. Charles Hosmer, Jr. (C’53), titled “Maybeck Did Do It Alone.” Letters from Craig and Hosmer are below.

Maybeck Drawing

Bernard Maybeck, Anderson Hall Sec 6, Sk 5, Sept. 14, 1932, Principia Archives.
Cover of Bernard Maybeck and Principia College, the historic district - Guidebook, 1989.

Letter to the Editor
February 6, 2023

I was sorry to read in the Summer 2022 issue of the Purpose a restatement of the misleading information, contained in Victoria Kastner’s biography of Julia Morgan, regarding Miss Morgan’s purported role in the “design and construction of Principia College’s Tudor-style dormitory buildings as a protégé of Bernard Maybeck.”  Ever since Morgan biographer Sara Boutelle, in 1988, listed “Principia College women’s dormitories” in her catalog raisonné of Miss Morgan’s work, subsequent writers, including most recently Victoria Kastner, have uncritically repeated the same misinformation.   Kastner’s 2022 biography of Julia Morgan was given an unsigned review in the Purpose.  As my 1972 dissertation and 2004 book (detailing the design and construction of Principia College) indicate, Bernard Maybeck was the designer of Principia College.  Principia announced its intention to begin construction on its college a mere week before the 1929 stock market crash, and was thus in a huge rush to translate its stock assets to real estate.  Maybeck’s small office premises and reduced staff (he was close to an intended retirement when Principia green light was communicated to him) prompted his borrowing of both draftsmen and office space from Miss Morgan.  Thus, his hiring of draftsmen who had earlier worked for Miss Morgan, and the use of her larger office space for the execution of some working drawings, may be the reason for Boutelle’s wrong assumptions regarding design credit.  Working drawings (i.e. blueprints) merely translate the architect’s design to scale line drawings with which the contractor is then able to construct the buildings)  There is no question that all of what we still call the Maybeck dormitories (Howard, Anderson, Sylvester, Buck, Brooks and Rackham) were designed by Maybeck and any attribution of Principia College buildings to Miss Morgan is what, in our local colloquialism, we call “fake news.”

Robert M. Craig, US 62, C66
Author, Bernard Maybeck at Principia College: The Art and Craft of Building

"Maybeck did do it alone," reprinted from Principia Pilot, May 26, 1989

Dear Editor,

Unfortunately I was misquoted in a recent article on the connection between the architect Julia Morgan and the Principia designs. My statement to the reporter was that Maybeck lived 17 years after he completed his work here at the college, not that he lived 17 years longer than Morgan. Actually Maybeck and Morgan died the same year, so it was impossible for her to have finished the work after his passing.

Here are the facts about Julia Morgan and the Principia commission, based on letters, reports, and taped interviews in our archives.

(1)   She did not design any buildings here, although one of her designers, Ed Hussey, came to work for Maybeck in 1930. Hussey prepared some drawings for Anderson building in Julia Morgan’s office, but they were all from Maybeck designs.

(2)   She was present for several conferences with Frederick Morgan and Maybeck in San Francisco to help find ways to cut the costs of constructing the college buildings.

(3)   She visited Elsah once in January of 1932 for a brief stop on a trip to the East. She commented that everything in the construction work was “too perfect.” Director Frederick Morgan and the two architects here on the job were very interested in her views.

(4)   Henry Gutterson of Berkeley completed some design work for the campus following Maybeck’s decision to step down in 1940. Gutterson worked on Cox Cottage, Beeman, and following World War II he designed Hitchcock and Williams. He also adapted Sylvester from a Maybeck design for a men’s dormitory.

All my other comments in your article still reflect my views on the subject of Julia Morgan and the Principia Commission.

Charles B. Hosmer, Jr.