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 Home > About Us > Locations > Laniakea > Laniakea History > Julia Morgan Highlights

“Never turn down a job because you think it is too small, you don’t know where it can lead.” 
Julia Morgan 1872-1957

Because Berkeley didn’t teach architecture in the late 1800s, she became the first woman graduate in Civil Engineering – the closest thing to architecture.

First women ever to have received certification from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in architecture. It took her two years to get in.  Despite harassment from fellow students who poured water on her head and pushed her off the ends of benches, she excelled.

She was also the first woman to become licensed and practice as an architect in the State of California.

By 1927, Morgan had six women out of a staff of fourteen working for her.

Julia Morgan stood just five feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds.  Her strength was a source of wonder to her employees.  She seemed to live on nothing but Lifesavers and Hershey bars, yet she would go about on the job lifting heavy equipment with inexhaustible energy.

Wearing tailored suits and French silk blouses, she climbed scaffolds and descended trenches to make sure the smallest details met her high standards.


She demanded perfection from contractors and laborers alike, expecting top quality materials and workmanship.  Those who dismissed her complaints about what they’d done and how they’d done it were witness to her rip out faulty work with her bare hands.

Morgan like building women’s charitable organizations because she shared their wish to improve the lives of people who needed assistance.


Morgan arrived by ship in 1924 to study the site opposite `Iolani Palace. The Honolulu Advertiser reported that the plans Morgan presented for the building depicted a structure “designed to serve the women of the community from every stand point.”


The YWCA Laniākea Center on Richards Street was designed while Morgan was working on the Hearst Castle.  She remained in control of the operation by requiring that her architectural representative write, in duplicate, full daily numbered reports to be mailed by the weekly boat along with a roll of eight exposures of film and annotated and dated floor plans.

The YWCA Laniākea Center was listed as one of her eight favorite buildings. It was completed in 1927 at a cost of just under $400,000.


Morgan thought of her staff as her children and herself as the stern but loving matriarch.  She bought two Victorian homes in San Francisco, lashed them together under a single roof and made apartments out of one of them so that members of her staff could live next door to her.


Never interested in money, she divided the profits of her office with her staff, keeping a limited amount for herself and for office overhead. In addition she never rejected clients because they had little money to spend. Never in a year did she draw a salary of more than $10,000 per year. At her death, she was penniless.

Her philosophy was “careful carelessness” as opposed to dull perfection.


ywca of o`ahu  -  1040 richards street  -  honolulu, hi  -  96813
info@ywcaoahu.org  ·  phone: (808) 538-7061  -  fax: (808) 521-8416

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