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SunLit Interviews

A Colorado author grew familiar with the architecture of Julia Morgan from buildings on her college campus

When Phyllis J. Perry realized the full impact of California's first female architect, she not only wrote about her. She nominated her for the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Phyllis J. Perry is an author of works of fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. She grew up in northern California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.

She received her doctorate degree at the University of Colorado Boulder. Perry worked in various capacities for the Boulder Valley Schools before retiring and devoting full time to writing. She has published 93 books and won the Colorado Authors’ League Lifetime Achievement Award.  Among her most recent award-winning books is a biography of the famed architect, “All About Julia Morgan.” She and her husband reside in Boulder.

The following is an interview with Phyllis J. Perry.

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit


What inspired you to write this book?

 As an undergraduate student at the University of   California, Berkeley, I became aware of the work of Julia Morgan, the first female licensed architect in the state of California.  She designed several buildings on the campus, including the Hearst Mining Building, the Hearst Gymnasium, and the Greek Theater. In the Greek Theater, she introduced into the United States the use of reinforced concrete. I also saw and admired her work in designing a mining executive’s house in my home town of Grass Valley, California, and major projects in San Francisco and at Mills College in Oakland.  I visited her most famous work, Hearst’s Castle at San Simeon, which she designed and built for William Randolph Hearst. I thought her biography would be an interesting one and would serve as an excellent role model for readers.

“All About Julia Morgan” by Phyllis J. Perry.

Who are your favorite authors?

I enjoy many authors of the past and present who write fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry for children and for adults. Among favorites of the past are Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Lois Lowry, and A. A. Milne.  Among the present writers are members of the Colorado Authors’ League and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators such as Claudia Mills, Ann Nagda, and Mary Peace Finley.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

I chose the excerpt, which discusses Julia Morgan’s work at Hearst’s Castle, because it is her most famous building project, and has attracted visitors from all over the world.  The Neptune Pool on the grounds is to me one of the most beautiful of architectural achievements. And the collaboration of Morgan and William Randolph Hearst was a fascinating one of mutual respect and admiration.

What was the most rewarding part of working on this book?

As I worked with Dani McCormick, editor of this book, she pointed out that it was hard to believe that Julia Morgan had not been admitted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  So the two of us nominated Julia Morgan for that honor. Admission to the Hall of Fame occurs every other year, so we are waiting and hoping that next year, when announcements are made, we will learn that this very deserving applicant has been accepted.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book?

It was hard to write about the unfinished fairytale castle at Wyntoon in northern California.  This is an architectural project that was never finished, and it was mostly used by William Randolph Hearst with a few family members and friends. Unlike San Simeon, which has a huge number of visitors, Wyntoon is a private place. Pictures and information about it are harder to find.

What was one interesting fact that you learned while researching this book?

I discovered that a huge collection of materials relating to Julia Morgan is available at the Robert E. Kennedy Library (named in honor of its present emeritus and opened in 1980) located at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. The collection includes architectural drawings, correspondence with clients, photographs and drawings.

— Buy “All About Julia Morgan” at BookBar

— Excerpt from “All About Julia Morgan” by Phyllis J. Perry