I have long been fascinated by the work of Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner, two Bay Area architects who made an indelible mark on the architecture of California and Florida in the early twentieth century. Although there is no record that these two iconic architects ever met, they share a legacy of startling similarities (and some distinct differences).
Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner were both born in the Bay Area in 1872 and spent their formative years in Oakland and Benicia respectively. They both came from highly respected families of substantial means and social standing.
Julia Morgan was a feminist trailblazer who was the first woman to receive a degree in architecture at l’Ecole Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect to be licensed in the state of California. Julia Morgan’s design aesthetic was greatly influenced by her mentor, Bernard Maybeck, and by her exposure to European architecture as a student in Paris.
Addison Mizner, on the other hand, did not receive a formal education in architecture but became an apprentice and eventually a partner with a successful San Francisco architecture firm. Mizner traveled extensively in Europe, South America and the South Pacific during the early part of his career and incorporated these international influences into his designs.
1919 was a milestone year for both Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner. That was the year that Julia Morgan was introduced to William Randolph Hearst and began work on La Cuesta Encantada, better known as Hearst Castle, and Addison Mizner was introduced to Edward T. Stotesbury and began work on El Mirasol, a 37-room mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
Both of these palatial and over-the-top homes combine Spanish, Italian, Mediterranean and Gothic influences in a manner that didn’t exist in American residential architecture at that time. It is remarkable that these two Bay Area architects, working on projects at opposite sides of the continent, came up with very similar design solutions that would change the face of high-end residential architecture for years to come. Morgan would develop and evolve this style throughout her career and Mizner would become famous for the Palm Beach style of architecture that he introduced with El Mirasol.
The other similarity between Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner is that they are both assumed to be gay. Both of them had same-sex “companions” who played an important and yet discreet role in their lives. Neither of them opted to hide behind a marriage of convenience which was a courageous life choice for two such sought-after architects.
Julia Morgan would go on to have a prolific and successful career, leaving behind a rich legacy of buildings that have survived to the present. Addison Mizner reached incredible career heights but ultimately died broke and disgraced because of his involvement in the Boca Raton development scandal. He is remembered for the Palm Beach style he created even though there are very few of his buildings still standing. Those of you who saw the recent production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Road Show” at Theatre Rhinoceros got an entertaining introduction to Addison Mizner and his notorious brother, Wilson, who are the protagonists of the show.