Julia Morgan Building Now Home in UC Botanical Garden

The UC Botanical Garden boasts more than 12,000 different kinds of plants, many of them rare, exotic or endangered. Now the 34-acre haven nestled near the top of Strawberry Canyon is home to something else quite precious: famed architect Julia Morgan’s Senior Women’s Hall, built in 1911 and listed on both California and national historic registries.

The building stands as a monument to the status of women at UC Berkeley, representing their first social center (History link) and once again, serves this social function in a new setting. Recognized as Berkeley Landmark and on the National Historical Registry, the newly renovated building received a 2015 ‘Preservation Award’ from the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association (BAHA) upon completion.

The building, moved from central campus in quarters in January, 2014, now stands near the front of the Garden where it looks like it has always belonged. While retaining as much of the historic character as possible, several modifications brought it up to current use standards. A new entrance and several internal modifications were designed to meet ADA compliance codes, the outside deck was expanded to create a special outdoor event space overlooking our California collection, and internal restrooms and kitchen were upgraded. A gas fireplace insert helps create a comfortable and home-like environment and Wifi and audio-visual capabilities were added to expand functionality. Landscaping surrounding the building consists of native California material in the spirit of Julia Morgan’s naturalist settings.

The Julia Morgan Hall is now open for a wide array of social events including celebrations (weddings, birthdays, memorials), seminars, conferences, retreats, etc. Close to civilization while in a natural landscape setting, this historic structure will take you back in time without giving up modern conveniences.

In 1910 the Associated Women Students asked prominent California architect Julia Morgan to design a small building for their activities on a wooded knoll just north of Strawberry Creek, east of what was then College Avenue, and about 500 feet south of the Greek Theatre. At the time, the Senior Men’s Hall had been built but women did not have access to this or most other men’s facilities. The young women staged programs and wrote letters to solicit funds. In the beginning, they referred to their project as Girton Hall, out of respect for the first women’s college at Cambridge University, but by the time it was completed, it was officially known as Senior Women’s Hall. In 1946, when College Avenue was closed, the building was moved about 160 feet west, to make room for the Gayley Road extension of Piedmont Avenue, Girton Hall 1944across the east side of the campus, into what became the shadow of Haas Business School. Its name was changed to Girton Hall in 1969 when it was given over to child care. It has served as a child care facility since that time but must now be moved to accommodate new space needs on campus.

Julia Morgan was an early graduate from UC Berkeley and is well known for many of her more ‘grandiose’ structures such as Hearst Castle, but Girton Hall is, in fact, the one and
only building entirely of her authorship on campus. Girton Hall is listed on the National and California Registers, and is a City of Berkeley landmark. Its identified historic significance is based on its association to “social history,” and for its being the work of an important architect, Julia Morgan. The only interior fitting known to be designed by Julia Morgan is the fire screen with the SWH (Senior Womens Hall) monogram that continues to adorn the beautifully fireplace that she designed.

Girton Hall is the University’s smallest and least known of Morgan’s campus buildings,
but it exemplifies those qualities of planning, harmony, and proportion which “…bring pleasure to the eye and peace to the mind.” It’s conversion to a child care facility closed it to public use but it will return it to its original public use in the setting of the Botanical Garden where it will overlook the native California plant collection, the flora that it was intended to join. The original large outdoor gathering (socializing) space was largely lost in the initial move, but the addition of a 15 ft. wide, wooden deck will renew this spirit.

Click HERE to read “Girton Hall: The Gift of Julia Morgan” from the Chronicle of the University of CaliforniaGirton Julia Morgan Sr Hall historical