Architectural gem returns to UC

The UC Board of Regents authorized the purchase of a historic Claremont Ave. property to serve as a location for University events and the official living quarters for UC presidents.

Dec 23, 2021

The University of California has reacquired a historic Claremont Avenue property.

The UC Board of Regents authorized this purchase to serve as a location for University events and the official living quarters for UC presidents. The purchase price of $6.5 million included art work and furnishings, some of which were original to the house.

The 6,400-square-foot main building blends Renaissance, Mediterranean and Moorish styles and has been relatively untouched for nearly 100 years. It was designed by famed Bay Area architectural pioneer Julia Morgan, one of the first women to graduate from the College of Civil Engineering at UC Berkeley. Morgan, who grew up in Oakland, went on to design Hearst Castle, Mills College, the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, and more than 700 other celebrated buildings across the state. These works established Julia Morgan as a historic figure in American architecture.

Morgan designed the home in 1928 for Northern California hops farmer Seldon Williams and his wife Elizabeth Glide Williams, daughter of Glide Memorial Church benefactor Lizzie Glide. The University bought the property from the Williams family in 1971 and sold it in 1991.

After her time at UC Berkeley, Morgan became the first woman architect admitted to the famed École de Beaux-Arts department of architecture in Paris as well as the first woman architect licensed in California. Later, she worked for John Galen Howard, the supervising architect for UC Berkeley’s master plan. During this period, she helped design the campus’s Mining Building in honor of Senator George Hearst, as well as Hearst Greek Theater, named after Hearst’s son William Randolph Hearst.

Morgan’s architectural skill and vision prompted the younger Hearst to hire her to design what would become Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. During a lull in the 28 years she worked on Hearst Castle, she took on the Williams home project, traveling by train with her best craftsmen and artists to Berkeley.

In 2020, UC Berkeley created the 150W Project, a commemoration of the contributions of women at Cal. The school’s College of Environmental Design contributed to the project by showcasing archives in its collection, including the Julia Morgan Collection.

“Julia Morgan continues to be a source of inspiration for students, designers, historians, and those who simply appreciate architecture,” wrote one of the curators of the collection. “She designed many buildings for institutions serving women and girls, including YWCA buildings and buildings for Mills College.”

UC’s former official presidential residence, Blake House in Kensington, has been uninhabitable for more than a decade because of extensive — and cost-prohibitive — deferred maintenance, in addition to significant seismic risks and landslide hazards. The university plans to sell this property at an appropriate time, with proceeds going to UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.