Sacramento’s architectural gold: the Julia Morgan House

By SUSAN LAIRD / Valley Community Newspapers editor

Tucked away in the Sacramento neighborhood of Elmhurst, just off of Highway 50, is one of the Capital City’s architectural treasures: the Julia Morgan House. It is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Julia Morgan House, the only structure designed by the famous California female architect in the Sacramento area, is now on the market. The asking price is $1.995 million. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The Julia Morgan House, the only structure designed by the famous California female architect in the Sacramento area, is now on the market. The asking price is $1.995 million. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The house was an impressive wedding present – albeit one delayed for nearly two decades –for Charles Meyer Goethe, Sacramento scion of the Goethe Company, which dealt in banking, agriculture and real estate investments, and his wife, Mary Louise Glide. Both were leaders in the early 20th century of the pseudo-science of eugenics. They were also devoted conservationists and environmentalists.

Mary came from a wealthy and prominent pioneer family in Sacramento. Her mother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Snider Glide, wishing to present the newlyweds with a unique wedding gift, commissioned none other than California architect Julia Morgan to design the house.

Morgan, quite arguably the first female architect in the United States, was already quite famous when she designed the Goethe’s house. She had made her mark as an architect of note in the San Francisco Bay Area after the 1906 earthquake and fire, and she was William Randolph Hearst’s architect of choice.

By this point in Morgan’s career, her calendar was full. Which makes Glide’s commissioning of a home in the heart of the Sacramento Valley all the more remarkable. Sited on six lots on S and T streets, the Julia Morgan House features a beautiful mansion, conference center facilities and an acre of beautiful gardens.

Julia Morgan custom designed tiles for the residence. Tiles and exterior frieze work depict the figures of griffins and dragons. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

Julia Morgan custom designed tiles for the residence. Tiles and exterior frieze work depict the figures of griffins and dragons. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The Mediterranean Revival style residence that Morgan designed runs true to her philosophy that architectural spaces should be balanced. It also reflects some genius for dealing with Sacramento’s hot summer weather in an era before the invention of air conditioning. In addition to ample casement windows positioned to take advantage of evening Delta Breezes, there was a custom-built pocket screen door made of teak that could be pulled across the open front door. Cool, refreshing air could rush in the front door and up the magnificent teak staircase to cool all the rooms upstairs.

The interior doors, floors and trim are all made from teak – a beautiful, long-lasting hardwood that was available as a naval war surplus material after World War I. The hand craftsmanship of the rosettes on the front door, the doors to the dining room and to the parlor is top flight, and is exactly what one would expect at the height of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The washrooms and exterior feature custom tile work designed by Morgan. Reminiscent of the work of William Morris, some of the tiles and exterior frieze work feature griffins and other fantastic medieval creatures. Following Morgan’s fondness for renaissance works, artwork over the fireplace in the parlor is a replica of “Boys with Drums” from the Duomo in Venice, Italy.

The master suite is spacious and has its own fireplace, outdoor patio and more. The upstairs features an original sleeping porch as well. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The master suite is spacious and has its own fireplace, outdoor patio and more. The upstairs features an original sleeping porch as well. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The library features a private entrance from the main entry hall, so business visitors would not disturb guests in the parlor.

The two upstairs bedrooms are spacious and cheerful. Mary’s office could have been used as a nursery, but the couple never had any children. She died in 1946. Charles survived her by some 20 years. When he died, he bequeathed a portion of his estate, his private library and the house to Sacramento State.

In the 1999, Sacramento State invested $1.7 million in restoring the front of the building and adding conference space to the back of the property. According to University Enterprises, which manages the property for Sac State, it costs some $40,000 a year to maintain – an untenable expense in these times.

So, the property is up for sale, for the first time in its history. The asking price is $1.995 million. Some consider this property as a potential Governor’s Mansion, and funding is set aside for the purchase of such in the future. Others wish to select another site.

The Goethe family resided in the home for some 33 years. Sacramento State has held the property for nearly 45 years.

The parlor features teak wood paneling, artwork replicated from the Duomo in Venice, Italy and a marble fireplace. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

The parlor features teak wood paneling, artwork replicated from the Duomo in Venice, Italy and a marble fireplace. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

Whether the Julia Morgan House will become the future Governor’s Mansion, an elite showcase corporate office or a private residence once more, one thing is certain: the future stewards of the Julia Morgan House will have a beautiful structure in which to write the next chapter of its history.

An acre of gardens, complete with a patio built for large functions and a small gated parking lot in the rear, make the Julia Morgan House a potential spot for high profile events. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

An acre of gardens, complete with a patio built for large functions and a small gated parking lot in the rear, make the Julia Morgan House a potential spot for high profile events. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Tom Paniagua

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