||John Galen Howard's
1922 architectural study depicts a complex of UC Berkeley
campus buildings including a stadium, armory, and gym
Image courtesy College of Environmental Design
John Galen Howard and the design of the 'City
of Learning,' the UC Berkeley campus
BERKELEY - Perhaps more than
any other individual, architect John Galen Howard shaped the
of the U.C. Berkeley campus. In a new book from UC Press, "John
Galen Howard and the University of California: The Design of
a Great Public University Campus," author Sally B. Woodbridge
rolls back the clock to 1890s, when the Regents sought ways
to improve the University.
Bernard Maybeck, then a mechanical drawing instructor in the
Engineering department, proposed an architectural competition.
looking for a "grand vision" (in Woodbridge’s
phrase) to transform the undistinguished
campus into a "City of Learning." Maybe, it was felt,
legislators and philanthropists would support the University
if they could see architectural renderings of the buildings
"that would perpetuate their names in stone."
When the international competition was announced, Phoebe Apperson
Hearst, widow of Senator George R. Hearst, emerged as the major
offering to fund not only the competition but two buildings
from the winning plan. Woodbridge writes that Maybeck was largely
responsible for the competition prospectus which outlined
an unparalleled — indeed,
scarcely believable — opportunity for architects. Said
"The purpose is to secure a plan
to which all the buildings that may be needed by the University
in its future growth shall
conform. All the buildings that have been constructed up
to the present time are to be ignored, and the grounds
are to be treated as a blank space to be filled as a single
and harmonious picture as a painter fills in his canvas.
"The site of the University of California at Berkeley,
California, comprises 245 acres of land,
rising at first in a gentle and then in a bolder slope from
a height of about 200 feet above the sea level to one
of over 900 ... It is thought that the advantages
of the site, whose bold slope will enable the entire mass of
buildings to be taken in at a single coup d’oeil, will
permit that production of an effect unique in the world,
and that the architect who can seize the opportunity it offers
will immortalize himself.
"It is seldom in any age that an artist has had a chance
to express his thought so freely, on so large a scale, and
with such entire exemption from the influence of discordant
surroundings. Here there will be at least 28 buildings,
all mutually related and, at the same time, entirely cut off
from anything that could mar the effect of the picture. In
fact, it is a city that is to be created — a City of
Learning — in
which there is to be no sordid or inharmonious feature. There
are to be no definite limitations of cost, materials, or
style. All is to be left to the unfettered discretion of
He is asked to record his conception of an ideal home for
a University, assuming time and resources to be unlimited.
is to plan for centuries to come. There will doubtless be
developments of science in the future that will impose new
duties on the
University, and require alterations in the detailed arrangement
of its buildings, but it is believed to be possible to secure
a comprehensive plan so in harmony with the universal principles
of architectural art, that there will be no more necessity
of remodelling its broad outlines a thousand years hence
than there would be of remodelling the Parthenon, had it
to us complete and uninjured.
"In the great works of antiquity
the designer came first, and it was the business of the financier
to find the money
to carry out his plans. In the new building scheme of the
University of California, it is the intention to restore
the artist and
the art idea to their old pre-eminence. The architect will
simply design; others must provide the cost."
John Galen Howard did not win the competition. He finished
fourth. The winner was Émile Bénard of Paris.
Bénard delivered a series of designs but when he traveled
to Berkeley, managed to insult virtually everyone he
met, and persuaded the Californians that he was
not to be entrusted with the execution
of any of his work. Too, Bénard could not have executed
his designs because he refused
Paris for duty in the sticks of Berkeley.
Enter John Galen Howard.
Howard, a New Englander who had attended MIT and the Ecole
des Beaux-Arts in Paris, spent a year in Los Angeles
before entering the Berkeley architectural competition. Because
of his California connections, he was appointed to an advisory
council to "oversee the implementation of Bénard's
designs." President Benjamin Ide Wheeler subsequently appointed
Howard as the
architect of the University in
In reviewing the Woodbridge book, Clark Kerr, president emeritus
of the University of California, notes that what many have
long attributed to Bénard rightfully must be
credited to Howard.
had falsely believed the myth that the original Berkeley campus
'Bénard plan' resulting from the Phoebe
Apperson Hearst competition of 1899. Sally Woodbridge shows
me how wrong I was. The actual
plan was that of John Galen Howard. He was hired to carry out
the Bénard plan but thought it to be 'utterly impractical.'
So he went to work in his more practical way as the campus
of today so well demonstrates."
Howard developed a style of architecture that was inspired
by stately classical lines. Among the campus landmarks built
during his tenure were the Hearst Memorial Mining Building
(1902-7), the Hearst Greek Theatre (1903), California Hall
(1905), Doe Library (1911-17), the Campanile (1914), Wheeler
Hall (1917), Gilman Hall (1917), and Hilgard Hall (1918).
This ensemble of buildings helped transform what had been
a pedestrian institution into a true "City of Learning," the
UC Berkeley campus of today.
In addition to the story of the
Hearst competition and its unexpected outcome, author
an account of Howard's 25-year career in architectural
the founder and head of the University of California's
School of Architecture. Her book fills in the social context
work and the character of the campus community during
the first quarter
of the twentieth century.
Wrote Sunset magazine senior editor Daniel P. Gregory, "This
book fills a large gap in the design history of Northern California
and career of classically trained architect John Galen Howard,
who, more than any other individual, helped shape the early
twentieth-century character of the U.C. Berkeley campus. It's
a story of Beaux-Arts artistry meeting Bay Area informality
to produce an early expression of environmental design."
Among Sally B. Woodbridge's books are Bernard Maybeck: Visionary
Architect (1992), San Francisco Architecture (1992), Details:
The Architect's Art (1991), and Bay Area Houses (1988). In
1993 Woodbridge received national honors from the American
Institute of Architects for her work as a writer and historian.
The book can be ordered
online from UC Press.