Landmarks Heritage Foundation – Berkeley City Club

Morgan designed a castle-like, six-story building, attending to every detail, including the lights, furnishings, dishes, and linen. She chose the late medieval style because she loved it but also because she had available many skilled craftsmen trained at San Simeon who could carry out ornamental details. Her favorite material, reinforced concrete, was just right for the great arched doorway, for the vaulted or beamed ceilings, and for the grand staircase tying together the two public levels. The plan is designed around two interior courts, “the camellia” and “the rhododendron,” which are wells of light and filled with colorful flowers or greenery all year round. Huge windows in the rooms and hallways and glass doors open to the courts bring in ample natural light.

Julia Morgan’s sketch of the proposed Berkeley (Women’s) City Club building.

Julia Morgan, renowned as the architect of the Hearst Castle at San Simeon, was also the architect of the Berkeley City Club, also known as her jewel, “the little castle”. Built in eleven months, this six-story landmark opened in 1930 as the “Berkeley Women’s City Club” with a membership of over 4,500. Originally a social club and residence for women, the Berkeley City Club has been available to both women and men since 1962 and today serves as a club, hotel, dining room, event and conference center as well as meeting place for Berkeley’s business community.  This historic building also hosts guided public tours, art exhibits and provides a beautiful venue for theatre and musical performances.

The building reflects the expanding roles of Bay Area women in the 1920s. The founding group of women, active in civic, social, athletic and philanthropic causes, wanted one impressive, multi-use building rather than several small clubhouses.  At the height of her career, Bay Area architect and one of UC Berkeley’s first women graduates, as well as the first woman architect to be licensed in California, Julia Morgan was a natural choice for the project.

The City Club is known for its steel-reinforced concrete walls and ceilings (artfully fashioned to look like wood), leaded glass windows, interior courtyards and magnificent indoor swimming pool. This building is a blend of Romanesque and Moorish styles of architecture common to the areas surrounding theMediterranean Sea. Julia Morgan’s engineering skills, evident in the seismically-solid building’s exterior, were matched by her attention to the interior designs for furniture, light fixtures, distinctive fireplaces and even dishes.

Landmarks Heritage Foundation