Walking home last Friday from the City Commons Club noon program, I thought how blessed I am to live so close to the Berkeley City Club, a California Historical Landmark.
Known as the “Little Castle,” this lovely building, designed by Julia Morgan—who, of course, also built the famous Hearst Castle at San Simeon—is truly a Berkeley treasure.
A native Californian, Julia Morgan was born in San Francisco in 1872 but raised in Oakland, graduating from Oakland High School and later earning a degree in civil engineering from the University of California. She then traveled to Paris, where she became the first woman accepted into the architecture section of the École des Beaux-Arts. After her studies, she returned to the Bay Area, collaborating with her mentor Bernard Maybeck on several buildings in Berkeley and Oakland.
Formerly called the Berkeley Women’s City Club, this building has a rich and fascinating history. The property was purchased in January 1928 for $92,600. Selected as the architect in June of that year, Julia Morgan, who was 58 years old and California’s first female architect was paid the princely sum of $9,625! The building opened its doors November 20, 1930. Today it serves as a club, hotel, restaurant, and events and conference center.
The City Club is admired for its steel-reinforced concrete walls and ceilings, leaded glass windows, interior courtyards and mosaic-tiled indoor swimming pool. The building is a blend of Romanesque and Moorish styles of architecture, with a magnificent fireplace in the Drawing Room and sun-and-flower-filled courtyards. For all of its nearly 80 years the “Little Castle” has hosted social events, weddings, Chamber Performances and theatrical programs, such as the Central Works Theatre.
Once the site of the Aurora Theatre, the Club now offers the very popular “Actors Reading Writers” program, held the first Monday of the month. This delightful program, with free admission, directed by Rica Anderson and Thomas Lynch, features short stories read by Bay Area Actors.
As a member of the UC Retirees Association, I’ve attended many luncheons and holiday parties in the elegant second-floor dining rooms. The buffet is both delectable and affordable.
On Jan. 18, House Representative Barbara Lee honored the extraordinary life and accomplishments of Julia Morgan by inducting her into the California Hall of Fame. Rep. Lee noted that Morgan’s work shaped California’s architecture, and that her exquisite contributions, from internationally famed mansions (e.g., the Hearst Castle at San Simeon and Wyntoon, near Mount Shasta) and community facilities stand today as a testament to a woman of tremendous talent, vision, and brilliance.
Julia Morgan passed away on Feb. 2, 1957, at the age of 85. This tiny woman with the steel-rimmed glasses is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Her work and her life are directly intertwined with the identity and rich heritage of California. We are indeed lucky to have this Berkeley Treasure in our community.