Julia Morgan

About one hour and a quarter of reading, with parts for ten people. The play presents a scene from seven different parts of Julia’s life, starting when she was in Paris working on her architectural certification, until after her retirement in her early seventies.


Avery Morgan Julia Morgan’s younger brother
Mrs. Morgan Julia’s Mother
Bernard Maybeck Well-known Architect
William Randolph Hearst Newspaper Magnate
Phoebe Hearst William’s Mother
Grace Fisher Richards YWCA Administrator
Emma North Julia’s sister, two years younger
Julia Morgan Architect
Marion Davies Silent film star
Sachi Uguchi Oka friend and one-time housekeeper for Julia

Scene 2.

[It is now Late April, 1906.  William R. Hearst, Editor and Publisher, and his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, are in his New York home, sitting in comfortable armchairs reading matching copies of the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER.]
PHOEBE: Well, Willie, I congratulate you.  This was only two days after the Quake?
WILLIAM: Printed in Oakland.
PHOEBE: Remarkably like the EXAMINER, I should say.  I don’t know how you got it up and running so fast.  With the crazy conditions you were working under!
WILLIAM: Truth is I have a crack production team.  And the Oakland newspapers were incredibly generous with their presses and the whole thing. That made it possible to keep our staff, too.   If we had been down a month instead of 24 hours, we would have lost staff.  I’ve always said, “It’s the people that make the newspaper, not the building.”
PHOEBE: Speaking of buildings, I was chatting with Adele the other day and she said the Law Brothers are looking for an architect to do the Fairmont reconstruction.
WILLIAM: Yes, they want so much to keep what’s left, those marvelous pillars and the gorgeous marble and so forth.
PHOEBE: And it was set to open in another month!  Oh, this earthquake has been unbelieveable!  What a shame to tear down the only thing left on the hill!
WILLIAM: It’s beautiful in a way, sitting up there amid the rubble…like a Temple of Athena. Incredible.
PHOEBE: The irony of it…the one thing saved has to be torn down.  Well, Julia would know.  If she says it has to come down, I wouldn’t argue with her.
WILLIAM: I assume you mean Miss Morgan.  I don’t think she has been consulted.  In fact, they are trying to find someone who can tell them if the building is viable.
PHOEBE: Someone to tell them–!  Oh!    It never ends, does it?  They don’t consult the best authority, and probably only because she’s a woman!
WILLIAM: Mother, just because you think Julia Morgan can design anything doesn’t mean everyone else does.
PHOEBE: Honestly, Willie!  It’s not as if it’s just some fantasy I built up.  The woman studied engineering, and graduated at the top of her class!  She has the best architectural degree in the world!  She has designed a number of excellent buildings since she’s been back.  What do they want, an engraved invitation?  Men are so—so—stupid sometimes!  They haven’t consulted Julia?!!  Well, I’ll drop Adele a note today.  Or, no, you should telephone one of the Law Brothers, Willie.
WILLIAM: I don’t like to interfere…
PHOEBE: You love to interfere!  Don’t tell me you doubt whether Julia would be best for the job.
WILLIAM: It’s not just her—gender.  She can’t be more than thirty.
PHOEBE: She’s 34!  She got her Beaux Arts degree just in time, before the cutoff age of 30; your paper was full of it, and that was four years ago.  Don’t you read your own paper?
WILLIAM: Yes, but for some reason, I don’t remember the age of everyone mentioned in it.  You’re obsessed with her.
PHOEBE: I have to be obsessed with my UC girls, or no one else will be.  Willie, when you were 32, we were buying you a second newspaper.  You were 26 when we got you the EXAMINER.
WILLIAM: I’m a man.  I was raised with money.  I’m used to authority.
PHOEBE: I can’t believe I’m hearing this.  She went to good schools, and she was the best sort of student, by the way, unlike yourself.
WILLIAM: Mother!  My school record has no bearing on whether Miss Morgan—
PHOEBE: And a good thing it doesn’t, too.
WILLIAM: You know what Mark Twain used to say, “It takes a great mind to resist education.”

When I first started researching this play and I would say I was working on a play about Julia Morgan, most people said, “Who?” Then Sara Boutelle wrote her beautiful biography full of colored photos and I no longer had to worry about helping rescue Miss Morgan from obscurity, and started worrying about if someone else would write the play first. I shouldn’t have. Julia didn’t have a dramatic life. No great romances, no near-death rescues. Like many accomplished women, she didn’t spend time promoting herself and her point of view, or making the “right friends”. “I want to be known by my buildings”, she often said.

In order to write a play, rather than a narrative, I had to find something to provide tension, besides “Was she going to get through architecture school?” . In an era of car chases and violent rapes, merely being the first woman in an academic program is a hard sell. We couldn’t have scenes where we sat and watched her study, or draw something. So several of the scenes in this play are of people who knew her, debating some point with each other. Also, I went for humor whenever possible.

If you’re nearby I’m willing to bring copies and run a reading with you for a modest fee. Or on the other hand, if you want to pay my way to New York or Paris, I’ll force myself and go there, too!