The best deal in the Bay Area? Julia Morgan on the market for under $1 million

  • fa7b8 920x920 The best deal in the Bay Area? Julia Morgan on the market for under $1 million



A Julia Morgan home in Vallejo, originally listed in 2014 at $1.2 million, is now on the market for $998,000. The historic five-bedroom built in 1909 features splendid architectural details and Bay views. 

Photo: Jason Born

A Julia Morgan home in Vallejo, originally listed in 2014 at $1.2 million, is now on the market for $998,000. The historic five-bedroom built in 1909 features splendid architectural details and Bay views.

Photo: Jason Born

A Julia Morgan home in Vallejo, originally listed in 2014 at $1.2 million, is now on the market for $998,000. The historic five-bedroom built in 1909 features splendid architectural details and Bay views.

Photo: Jason Born

A Julia Morgan home in Vallejo, originally listed in 2014 at $1.2 million, is now on the market for $998,000. The historic five-bedroom built in 1909 features splendid architectural details and Bay views. 

Photo: Jason Born

Graceful banisters add flair to the staircase, top, hedges and planter boxes grace the grounds, above, and a fire
place adorns the living room.

Photo: Jack Journey

Mature trees and lush gardens surround the Vallejo home. 

Photo: Jack Journey

Ornate buttresses support the roof. 

Photo: Jack Journey

The wood-shingled home offers a total of four patios. 

Photo: Jack Journey

The home offers views of the surrounding foothills. 

Photo: Jack Journey

This covered patio includes a swing. 

Photo: Jack Journey

The Vallejo home has three tile fireplaces. 

Photo: Jack Journey

Tall hardwood wainscoting decorates the stately formal dining room. 

Photo: Jack Journey

A tile fireplace warms a formal dining room with built-ins and hardwood accents. 

Photo: Jack Journey

Stained-glass windows lend color and flair to the turned staircase.

Photo: Jack Journey

Wainscoting, a coffered ceiling and turned staircase are among the classical design elements in the Vallejo home. 

Photo: Jack Journey

The four-bedroom home was completed in 1909.

Photo: Jack Journey

The spacious master suite includes a tall ceiling and plenty of natural light. 

Photo: Jack Journey

A plethora of windows welcome natural light into the master suite. 

Photo: Jack Journey

Parquet flooring in the office is one of a myriad of classical design elements in the Julia Morgan-designed home.

Photo: Jack Journey

A wood-burning fireplace with tile surround warms the living room.

Photo: Jack Journey

Stained glass finishes fashion the classic kitchen. 

Photo: Jack Journey

A wooden deck sits behind the stately home that features a towering brick chimneys.

Photo: Jack Journey

A covered patio sits beside a brick pathway.

Photo: Jack Journey

728 Capitol St. in Vallejo is a four-bedroom designed by Julia Morgan. 

Photo: Jack Journey

Architect Julia Morgan, Cal.

Photo: File, San Francisco Chronicle

Julia Morgan
One of California’s – and the nation’s – most notable architects, Morgan began her career working on several buildings on the campus of her alma mater, the University of California-Berkeley. Of the many projects she undertook in her career, including Mills College and the YWCA, most of her most famous buildings were erected for William Randolph Hearst, including the famous Hearst Castle. Morgan was the first woman architect licensed in California and the first to receive the AIA’s Gold Medal, which was awarded posthumously in 2014.

Julia Morgan began her career in the office of John Galen Howard, and served as the supervising architect for UC-Berkeley’s Greek Theater. It opened in 1903; her boss is reputed to have told an associate about his “excellent draftsman whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman,” and Morgan went off on her own a year later.

Photo: SFC

Morgan’s first major commission on her own was El Campanil at Mills College in Oakland, one of a half-dozen buildings she did for the school between 1904 and 1925.

Photo: SFC

Another early project by Julia Morgan was the reconstruction of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill after the 1906 earthquake. Her work was structural, rather than architectural details, but the rapidity and quality with which it was done helped Morgan’s growing reputation.

Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SFC

Julia Morgan’s best-known work is Hearst Castle, the 165-room estate of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, in San Simeon. Construction began in 1919 and continued for 28 years.

Photo: SFC

As imposing as the architecture might be, the most dazzling feature for many visitors to Hearst Castle is the Morgan-designed Neptune Pool.

Photo: Hearst Corporation

There’s an indoor pool at Hearst Castle as well, complete with Roman sculptures. Those newspaper magnates knew how to live, and Julia Morgan knew how to keep her clients happy.

Photo: SFC

The largest collection of Morgan’s architecture is at the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove. She designed 13 buildings between 1913 and 1928 for the YWCA, which then owned the oceanside retreat.

Photo: Penni Gladstone, SFC

Merrill Hall, the last and largest building at Asilomar designed by Julia Morgan.

Photo: Joel Puliatti; Julia Morgan, Architect Of Beauty

Julia Morgan’s work for the YWCA wasn’t limited to Asilomar. The Chinese Historical Society building on Clay Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown began life in 1930 as the Chinatown YWCA — one of more than a dozen such projects in four states done by Morgan.

Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SFC

The YWCA in Oakland, designed by Julia Morgan, opened in 1915 on Webster Street. It now is occupied in part by an arts-related charter school, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Julia Morgan’s work extended to neighborhood commercial buildings, such as this retail building from 1916 on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland.

Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SFC

The Hearst Gym at UC Berkeley, from 1925, was designed by Julia Morgan with Bernard Maybeck.

Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SFC

in addition to civic and commercial buildings, Morgan did a number of private homes. Among the most distinctive is this seven-bedroom estate from 1928 on Claremont Boulevard in Berkeley.


In San Francisco, Julia Morgan’s residential work in the arts and crafts style includes this house on Filbert Street from 1909.

Photo: Noah Berger, SFC

The house on the 1100 block of Filbert Street as it appeared shortly after it was finished in 1909.

Photo: Courtesy Suzanne Dumont, SFC

The Heritage Retirement building, designed by architect Julia Morgan, sits in the late evening light on Thursday, June 19, 2014 in the Marina District of San Francisco, Calif. Morgan is being honored posthumously with a Gold medal from the American Institute of Architects.

Photo: Kevin N. Hume, SFC

The interior of the Berkeley City Club, one of Morgan’s last significant buildings. The structure at 2315 Durant St. near Telegraph Avenue was built in 1929.

Photo: Michael Macor, SFC

An exterior detail at the Berkeley City Club.

Photo: Paul Chinn, SFC

Many styles of building, many styles of architecture: a sort of Bavarian Gothic retreat done by Morgan for William Randolph Hearst at the family’s Siskoyou County getaway, Wyntoon.

Photo: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Robert E. Kennedy Library, Sarah Holmes Boutelle Archive

The listing price on the splendid George W. Wilson House designed by Julia Morgan at the turn-of-the-century in Vallejo was reduced from $1.2 million to $998,000 this month.

Less than $1 million for a piece of California history designed by one of the state’s most notable architects?

Even in a blue-collar town like Vallejo, isn’t this a deal?

Last spring, a diminutive 875-square-foot one-bedroom designed by the famed architect and located in San Francisco’s tony Pacific Heights was scooped up for $3.7 million. 

This home with five bedrooms three and a half baths offers 3,390 square feet — that’s only $300 a square foot.

“I was on tour in the Silicon Valley today and every house I saw was over $1,200 a square foot,” the home’s listing agent Jason Born said in an interview. “I look at that house in Vallejo and all the craftsmanship and the materials and there’s no way you could build it for $1 million.

Even in the worst neighborhood in San Francisco, I think it’s $4 million and anywhere else I think it would go for $5 to $6 million.”

“This house is an incredible deal for someone who wants to own a Julia Morgan.”

An architectural treasure

With rustic brown shingles, gleaming white trim and a soaring Bas-reliefs roofline, the home at 728 Capitol Street resembles a high-class Swiss Chalet.

It’s one of Morgan’s best examples in the First Bay Tradition, a style embraced between the 1880s and 1920s by California architects who designed homes that connected with nature and used locally sourced materials such as redwood.

“This house stands out among Morgan’s residential designs,” Julia Morgan scholar Karen McNeill said in an interview. “More than any other, it bears the influence of her mentor, Bernard Maybeck. Rarely does one find such a soaring roof line with dramatically overhanging eaves — far more exaggerated than in most Morgan houses.”

The interior is grand, elegant and filled with Arts and Crafts period details. Hardwood built-ins and wainscoting line the dining room, three fireplaces are adored with handcrafted tiles, and a sweeping staircase leads to the upstairs where stained glass windows overlook the lush, landscaped grounds with four patios.

Morgan was the first woman to study at the architecture program at l’École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. She’s best known for her work as the architect of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif.

Looking for the right buyer

The home originally hit the market with Sotheby’s in 2014 and Born, who took over the listing this summer, feels the agency was targeting a luxury buyer by only offering tours by appointment.

Born is looking for a buyer dedicated to the preservation of this home located in the heart of Vallejo’s Heritage District.

He mailed fliers to every Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck owner in the state and held a community open house.

“Over 300 people showed up,” said Born, who grew up in Vallejo. “The community loves this home.”

“I’m looking for a buyer committed to the home’s historical preservation and the civic importance of Vallejo.”

The former owner Judith Hilburg, who passed away last year, was well-respected in the community and frequently opened her home to the community. Her daughters have established lives in other parts of the state and aren’t in positions to move to Vallejo. They decided that finding a new owner would be better for the community rather than renting the property.

Location, location, location

With struggling public schools, a high crime rate, a troubled police department and a downtown that lost its soul with the opening of big-box stores, Vallejo has a bad rap. 

The city faced hard times in 1996 when the Mare Island Shipyard closed and thousands of jobs were lost and again in 2008 when the city declared bankruptcy and cut municipal services.

As a result, the city’s real estate market has remained flat while prices in the surrounding Bay Area have skyrocketed in recent years.

But Born says Vallejo is improving and it’s only a matter of time before real estate prices increase.

“If you look at Vallejo right now, it’s a community that can go nowhere but up,” he said. “The phoenix is rising.”

A thriving arts community, a growing police department, improving city services and an award-winning charter school are all signs of improvement, Born said.

What’s more, this Julia Morgan jewel is located in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, the Heritage District. This federally registered area is filled with historic homes built between 1860 and 1890.

“The location is fantastic — great views of Mare Island and the Bay, good walkability to Vallejo’s historic downtown, and located in the historic core of Vallejo, which has such great bones,” says McNeill. 

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