Bernard Maybeck is one of those architects whose
place in architectural history will be unjustly denied
like that of many great architects, being overshadowed
by the success of more renown architects and by the
new course that architecture took during his lifetime.
To many, Maybeck's creativity in architecture is
thought tohave reached .the greatness of Frank Lloyd
Wright's. This point is, I believe, subject to argument
both ways but Maybeck's name will undoubtedly be brought
up any time that native architectural genious is the I
issue. Native Californians will be as proud to call'
Maybeck the grandfather of California's Bay Region Style
as the people of the Midwest will be to term Frank Lloyd
Wright as the author of the Prairie Style
It has been said that Wright's praise of his own
work brought him international fame while Maybeck's
reticent character kept his no less remarkable architec-
ture unknown outside San Francisco,however, a highly
individualistic type of architecture which almost reaches
the point of eccentricity is more likely to find a very
limited and special clientele than wide acceptance in
different regions. Thus Maybeck's architecture grew in
an almost local context, remaining virtually unknown
outside its region.
Whatever the reasons were that kept Maybeck's archi-
tecture known only to a few might never be all too clear.
It OS only lamentable that It so happened, for I see in
the present approach to architecture no room for the
development of a creative genious of the kind of Maybeck.
1862 - 1957
Bernard Maybeck was born on February 7, 1862 in New
York city. His father, a wood carver by trade emigrated
from Germany in 1848, his mother had decided beforehand that
her first son would become anartist. She died before Maybeck
reached the age of three, but her father was determined to
carry out her wishes.
From childhood Bernard was guided into the first steps
that would eventually develop his creative genius. He would
always remenber how other boys would play ball while he was
forced to learn drawing .
As a child Maybeck attended public school while enrolled
in two private ones where he studied French, German and phi-
losophy, but his heart was never in any of these subjects
as he found more joy in designing intricate structures for
In short, Maybeck made it clear early in his life that
he was not cut out to be a scholar and at the age of seventeen
he was apprenticed to a wood carver that would pay him
$3 a month to learn his father's craft, Maybeck did not last
long as an apprentice, for he could not very well be depended
upon to carry out the orders of his employer, he seemed to know
more than his master.
Following his short lived apprenticeship, Bernard went to
work for his father, who was in charge of a fine furniture
shop of fifty men on lower Broadway. At this job, he kept his
father uneasy by introducing his own design into the furniture
he was supposed to be copying. This and perhaps the idea of
carrying out his wife's wishes made Bernard's father send him
off to Paris to study furniture design.
At the age of eighteen, Bernard was sent to Paris as an
apprentice in a furniture shop across the street from the
Beaux Arts. His interest in architecture soon began to flourish
as he passed every day by the old romanesque of St. Germain des
Pres and sat down to listen to the people singing, eventually
becoming aware of the emotional qualities created by the.
architecture of the church.
It wasn't long before Bernard wrote to his father asking
him permission to study at the Beaux Arts, which he was given
thus opening the door to his creative abilities.
Upon entering the Ecole, Maybeck's spontaneous and creative
view of the world around him was set free and he began to
become aware of the endless source of inspiration that the
architecture of the past offered. He drew from this inspiration
of the past an approach to building that was unique even at a
time when the use of elements from the past was the unquestioned
approach to architecture.
Maybeck loved the Ecole from the begining and never wavered
from his initial feelings, however, to the students of the
Ecole Maybeck was no more than a clown, unable to follow the
simplest of their approaches to design. Maybeck's creative
spirit was too independent and joyous for the strict system
of the Beaux Arts.
In 1886 Maybeck passed his examination from the Beaux Arts
and returned to the States Where he started to work in the
office of a former roommate at school? Thomas Hastings who
had just opened an office in partnership with Carrere and they
were at the time designing the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St.
Thus, at the age of 25 both Hastings and Maybeck were
at their first job. The result was a magnificent building that
although following some principles of "Mexican Romanesque"
architecture managed to convey the personal "stamp" of
Maybeck and Hastings. When construction started Maybeck was
assigned the job of superintendent in Florida. Maybeck's
father came down with him to do some of the wood carvings in
the hotel. The hand of Maybeck and his father's craftmanship
turned the Ponce de Leon Hotel into the most successful
project ever to come out of the office of Carrere and Hastings.
Upon finishing the Ponce de Leon Hotel in 1888, Maybeck
joined James Russel, another former classmate, setting up a
practice in Kansas city, Russel'.s home town. Unable to get
any commissions, their partnership was brief.
During his stay in Kansas city, Maybeck met Mark White,
a school teacher, and his sister Annie. In I889, Maybeck and
White set out for San Francisco and a year later, Maybeck
married Annie White.
In San Francisco, Maybeck worked for a brief period of
time in the office of Ernest Coxhead, an Englishman, who
like Maybeck, had also developed a sympathetic feeling for
the finely detailed houses of the region,
Maybeck then went to work for a furniture manufacturer
designing and carving furniture, and when the Crocker Building
in San Francisco was being designed in 1891, Maybeck was hired
by A, Page Brown, the architect, as a draftsman. Here Maybeck
started to use the entwined initials A. and M. for Annie Maybeck
as a decorative detail; possibly the start of his personal touch
in architecture. Later when doing the Swedenborgian Church in
1894, his influence was more apparent.
In 1894, Maybeck took a teaching position at the University
of California in the department of drawing, teaching descriptive
geometry, a subject in which he exceled.ln no time, Maybeck
had started to teach a course in architecture, which met at
his home. This was the begining of the School of Architecture
at the University of California.
In I896, Mrs. Phoebe Apperson Hearst.made an offer to
the University of California of funds for a mining building
to be built in memory of her husband. The president of the
university accepted the generous offer and immediatly called
on the engineering department to produce preliminary skeches
of the building within 24 hours..Failing to find any talent
capable of meeting such a challenge everyone turned to Maybeck
the only architect in the University.
Maybeck's proposed plans for the mining building were
accepted by Mrs. Hearst, but Maybeck was already one step
ahead when the time came for placing the building on campus;
foseeing the problems that haphazardly placed buildings could
create, Maybeck proposed that a master plan be created for the
University. The master plan, he thought, should be done by
someone outside the University so as to avoid any involve-
ment in thedesign of unimportant details which would unavoid-
ably hinder a good general conception of the design.
The sugestion of an international competition by Maybeck
for a university plan greatly pleased Mrs. Hearst, who
immediately agreed to sponsor the project. Thus the Phoebe
Apperson Hearst Plan was soon underway, described as the most
lavishly endowed architectural competition in history.
Maybeck, of course, was the director of the competition
and with the help of the telegraph and professor Gaudet in
Pards, the program for the plan came into being. At a cost of
over $100,000 six thousand programs, including contour maps and
photographs of the site, were mailed out. The competition was
an splendid pportunity for architects all over the world, and
in no time at all, the University of California was the main
concern of all architectural offices everywhere.
The winner of the competition was Emile Benard, a french
architect who refused to leave his country to carry out the
project, forcing Maybeck to invite John Galen Howard from New
York to supervise the execution of the plan. Howard soon firmly
took over all the work to be done and Maybeck lost the commission
to the Mining Building. Howard did not regard Maybeck's work
very highly and soon after he moved from New York to California
and was appointed professor of architecture at the University
Maybeck was out of his job as a teacher as well.
Although Maybeck'vS career at the University of California
was a rather short one, he profited very well from the very
same events that led to its termination by making several
important acquaintances and obtaining very significant
In 1899» Mrs. Hearst commissioned Maybeck to design
Hearst Hall, a building where Maybeck could entertain the
women students as well as the university community in general.
The result of this commission was one of Maybeck's most innova-
tive buildings as well as a masterpiece in architecture. The
building's central space was contained by a series of wood
laminated arches which rose to a height of 54' at their apex ;
a very daring acomplishment at the time since it was the first
time that laminated wood arches were ever used.
At the front of the building two square towers stood on
either side, exposing the arch form. The sides of the building
were flanked by an outer structure which covered the arches
up to two thirds of their height. This outer structure created
bays to the sides of the central space and its roof served
as a promenade from which one could look down into the central
dance floor. Under the dance floor there was a banquet hall as
well as the housing for the mechanical equipment.
Some years after it was built, Hearst Hall was cut up
in sections and moved into the campus. The laminated arch sections
proved to be the product of a great engineering genius^ when one
bay section broke loose and rolled into a ditch without suffering
the least damage.
The years of work at the university gave Maybeck not only
commissions to a few important buildings but also the oportunity''
extensive domestic design. It was during these years that
Maybeck proved his extraordinary talent in architecture and
set the grounds for the most important works in his career.
In 1910, Maybeck almost 50 years of age was asked to
design the First Church of Christ Scientist. With his very
special ways of handling materials Fvlaybeck created here another
building with no precedent. His skillfull and imaginative way
of integrating building elements and architectural ornamentation
made the Christian Science Church a masterpiece of architecture.
After Maybeck finished the design of the Christian Science
Church, his practice started to decline, and not being as bright
in the handling of money as he was at the drawing table, Maybeck
and his family found themselves almost near bankrupfcy.
In a period of 35 years, Maybeck had set up three different
offices in San Francisco and had to commute there daily from his
house in Berkeley. Needless to say, he profited little frpm
his work. Mrs. Maybeck, who had taken over the bookeeping several
years after their marriage took care of all the bills while
her brother, Mark White, superintended the construction of the
buildings. The 8% fee was usually spent before a job had been
completed and a raise to 10^ made little difference; Maybeck
would continually make changes in a building as it was being
built, and the fee would disappear before the job was finished.
In 1912 plans for the Panama Pacific International Exposition
were made, but Maybeck had not been invited to participate
because he had never designed any large buildings, however Mrs.
Maybeck who was not about to give up on the oportunity sent
numerous letters to the architectural committe asking that
they give Bernard a job. Fortunatelly, the head of the head of
the directing commitee was Willis Polk, a former student of
Maybeck who hired him on an hourly basis as a drafstman.
The design of the Palace of Fine Arts for the Exposition
had been given to Polk, who being short of time to undertake
the commission to give some thought to a plan. Maybeck had
been asigned to coordinate the Joy Zone and knowing the area
well from previous experience he remembered a depression in
the land in which water had collected making a lagoon. His
romantic imagination soon conceived of a scheme that would make
use of this splendid site and in a quick charcoal rendering of
a gallery, an elliptical colonade and a rotunda, he froze> the
feeling of melacholy he thought the Palace of Fine Arts ought
The rendering impressed Polk, who passed it around to the
other members of the architectural commission. Henry Bacon
of New York was also greatly impressed by Maybeck'* s scheme and
as a result it was adopted as the design for the Exhibition.
Maybeck, given full charge of the project by Polk carried
out the buildings in the same spirit of the charcoal rendering
and the completed building was a remarkable achievement. Maybeck,
however, continued to earn a draftsman's salary while working
on the Palace of Fine Arts; his success lied in the recognition that
the building brought him over the years not in the money he made
The Palace of Fine Arts gave Maybeck a citation from the
American Institute of Architects and before the Exposition closed
there was a movement to save it from demolition. The people of
San Francisco succeded in saving Maybeck's buildings which in
defiance of their non-permanent construction stood for years,
slowly crumbling away, creating the feeling of ruins that Maybeck
At the end of the First World War, Willis Polk was given
a post with the city's Memorial and Monument Commitee and suggested
that the Palace of Fine Arts be rebuilt with permanent materials
as a war memorial, but nothingbame of his efforts.
With time, nature took its toll on Maybeck's buildings and
by the late 50's all that remained of the Palace of Fine Arts
were some ruins along with the memories of many native San Franciscans
who came think of the Palace of Fine Arts as part of San Francisco.
In 1958, a bond issue to rebuild the Palace was voted down, but
in 1959» a resident of San Francisco, Walter Johnson gave $2 .'
irdllion in order to save the buildings. The State of California
gave another $2 million and by 1977» at a total cost of $8.5 million
the Palace of Fine Arts was rebuilt with poured in place
concrete from the original drawings, stored in the University
of California's Architectural Library.
Before the Panama Pacific Exposition opened, Maybeck
received an important commissioni the layout of a town,
Brookings, Oregon, for Brookings Lumber Company. The war in
Europe had caused a spur in the Ixmiber industry and Maybeck
went as far as designing a few buildings for the small town,
and a temporary wooden dormitory for workmen was built, how-
ever, with the end of the War the project was never completed
In 1917» as a result of being appointed as a supervising
architect to the United States Shipping Board, Maybeck was
commissioned to do the layout of a new town, Clyde, near
Port Chicago in order to handle the enormous increase in
employees from the shipyards. Maybeck went as far as designing
a hotel . for the town and about 200 houses. The hotel today
stands abandoned and deteriorating as the Palace of Fine Arts
did for many years.
The end of the War, brought Maybeck several small commissions
however, they were all significant in that they all displayed
his inventive genius in architecture. An outstanding example
of Maybeck's work during this time the mountain cabins designed
for Glen Alpine Lodge on lake Tahoe in 1923* Massive stone
butresses framed series of industrial steel windows, creating
an impressive contrast between the supports and the walls.
The roof was covered with corrugated steel panels which were
bent over the roof joists as to use their inherent qualities
to their full potential.
In 1923 a disastrous fire destroyed many of Maybeck's
houses in Berkeley and looking for a solution to this serious
problem Maybeck started to use concrete in the design of his
In his search for better methods of construction, Maybeck
experimented with a lightweight concrete mixture that a Berkeley
man had invented by mixing chemicals with cement. Maybeck dipped
wet burlap sacks into the mixture called "Buble Stone" and
nailed these to the framework of a building thus creating a
very inexpensive method of construction.
At the age of 65, in 1-926, Maybeck met Earle C» Anthony,
a man of wealth for whom Maybeck would design some of his
most important buildings. Earle C. Anthony commissioned Maybeck
to do two Packard showrooms; one in San Francisco and another
in Oakland. In these buildings which were built around 1928
Maybeck was able to capture once again the romantic spirit
which was such an important element of the Palace of Fine Arts.
For the Anthony's Maybeck also designed a house in 1927?
a twentieth century imitation of a medieval castle. The half
million dollar building required the unlimited use of the
most expensive materials in order to create the desired
effects. At the same time, Maybeck was working on a small
library in Carmel, a building which unlike the .Anthony's
house, forced Maybeck to make use of his ingenuity.
In 1927 Maybeck did the Hearst Memorial Gymnasium in
association with Julia Morgan and in 1929 worked with Henry
Gutterson on a Sunday school for his Christian Science Church.
The last important commission Maybeck was given was for
the layout and the buildings of the Principia College Campus
which had originally been planned in 1923 for St. Louis but
were later changed to Elsa, Illinois where construction started
in 1938. Eight buildings were completed, Maybeck had designed
them in his own Tudor Style in reinforced concrete and although
he did not personally supervise the work, the buildings showed
the unmistakable hand of Maybeck.
In 1942, when Maybeck was 80 years old, he was succeded in
his office by William Gladstone Merchant who had worked as an
assistant to Maybeck in the Palace of Fine Arts.
The Maybecks moved to Twainhart during the war years and
lived in a cedar bark cabin which Maybeck designed and built
at a cost of only $1,500. In Twainheart, Maybeck worked on
drawings of a proposed boulevard for San Francisco, he had
at one time been a.member of the Berkeley City Planning Board
and his drawings of a proposed boulevard for Berkeley hung in
the office of the Planning Board for years.
After the war,Maybeck returned to Berkeley and spent the
last years of his life there where he could sit in the eucalyptus
grove by his house and look at many of the houses he had designed
years before, in the prime of his architectural practice. Maybeck
kept himself busy building models of buildings and airplanes and
talking to visitors interested in his experiences while studying
During his late years, Maybeck received honors for many of
his works. In 1951. at the age of 89, he received the Gold Medal
of the American Institute of Architects.
Bernard Maybeck died on October 3, 1957 at the age of 95•
William Gladstone Merchant, the man that succeded Maybeck at
his office still keeps his name in the directory of the lobby
of the Rust Building. He says; Maybeck didn't like the idea of
retiring, so I promised him that he would have an office for
as long as I was alive.
The architecture of Bernard Maybeck is as unique
as the man himself. If there is no precedent to be found
in many of his buildings it is because they were the
product of a man who could in many ways be considered
an eccentric. Self styled clothes with trousers so high
waisted as to eliminate the need for a vest, the prac-
ticing of vegetarianism and other ideas on healthful
living as well as the use of his wife's initials in the
conice of a San Francisco office building, sire diversions
from the norm that can only be attributed to an unusual
if not unique soul.
His eccentricity, however was coupled to tremendous
ingenuity. Thus his talent in dealing with materials and
his unique perception of the world airound him served as
the vehicle that allowed him to express his spirit in
In the realm of highly personalized architecture
within the last one hundred and fifty yearsj Maybeick
has been associated with names such as Claude-Nicholas
Ledoux, Sir Joane Soane, William Butterfield, Antonio
Gaudi, Victor Horta, Charles Rennie Mac Intosh and the
Philadelphicin Frank Furness. However, as the term ec-
centric, given to this category of architects indicates
it would be totally erroneous to try to find great.
likeness between the architecture of these men, and it
is questionable wether they should at all be grouped
together. Their eccentric personalities produced buildings
so different in character that their similarity for the
most part can only be attributed to the fact that they
deviated from the accepted ways of approaching architec-
tural design in their respective epochs.
It is likewise inapprpiate and contrary to its na-
ture to try to find, in the architecture of many of these
men any specific consistance from one building to another.
Maybeck's way of approaching a design seems to vary con-
siderably from one building to another and the only
apparent commitment seeems to have been that of creating
an extremely plaasant and beautiful environment to suit
the function that the building was to serve.
Sometimes, as it is the case with his Christian
Science Church, Maybeck's ability to design a building
by inventive improvisation and by ecclectic borrowing,
created what' at first seems to be a series of contra-
dictions in architectural philosophy,,:
In the Christian Science Church Maybeck makes an
unprecedented and imaginative mixture of past architec-
tural styles. Elements from the Byzantine, Romanesque,
Gothic, Renaissance, Japanese, Swiss and wooden verna-
cular find themselves as part of a harmonious composi-
tion of which metal factory windows and asbestos sheeting
were also part.
As if designed by amother architect, Maybeck's
cabins near lake Tahoe display tremendous talent in exe-
cuting a straight forward design. Here boulders of gra-
nite found around the site were used to build the massive
piers which act as butresses in holding the roof load.
Factory metal windows reduce the effect of mass between
the piers to a minimum making a strong and beautiful
contrast between mass and void. The way in which the
roof is teated in these cabins shows yet another touch
of creative geniousj the light, corrugated metal sheets
are bent over substancial framing members in such a way
that their inherent structural characteristics are used
to their full. The effect achieved here by the apparent
lightness of the roof is one of inbalance between two
structural building elementst the piers and the roof
structure. However, the strange feeling of disproportion
that the buildings give at first glance comes from from
the hindering association with the image that a building
is expected to prtray. At once it becomes apparent that
the whole scheme is born strictly out of a functional
approach and the buildings coWe through as masterpieces
in construction and architecture.
However, Maybeck's unique £tnd inventive approach
to architecture, in which no apparent discipline guided
his design, would at times show its weaknesses as as
William Jordy points out in this quote from his excellent
essay on Maybeck:
"Extreme originality and empericism imguided
by principle more substantial than a misty
loftiness rarely acomplishes much. When it
does, the achievement depends less on intui-
tive logic than on intuitive equilibrium
among conflicting inclinations - an internal
equilibrium tending by its very nature to be
transitory, hence incapable of invariable
achievement at a high level. Thus Maybeck's
v;orst buildings are confused and saccharine"
To say that Maybeck had no guiding principles, on
the other hand, becomes somewhat of a superficial asump-
tion for upon analysing his architecture in some depth,
the more basic principles that guided his design come
to light. His main comitment, as I stated before seems
to have been that of creating beauty in his buildings?
beauty, that is, within the context of the particular
building, its materials, its site, its function and
also within its social and economic conditions.
His principles of design were, therefore true
principles, having very little to do with specifics,
thus no rule of ornamentation or design pertaining to
a particular "style" was sacred to him, he seemed in
this respect to go a step further than most of his
contemporaries. His great understanding of materials
and his ingenuity along with his little regard for
the architectural "recipes" of the Beaux Arts gave
Maybeck the freedom to create great architecture; not
always consistent, but definitely superior to that of
the more comformist architects of his time.
(1) AMERICAN BUILDINGS AND THEIR ARCHITECTS by William
Jordy, Anchor Books, 1976.
(2) CALIFORNIA'S ARCHITECTURAL FRONTIER, STYLE AND
TRADITION IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.The Huntington
(3) FIVE CALIFORNIA ARCHITECTS by Esther Mc. Coy
Praeger Publishers, 1975'
(1) Bangs, Jean Murray. "Bernard Ralph Maybeck, Architect,
Comes Into his Own", The Architectural Record. V.103
Jan 1948, pp. 72-79.
(2) "Bernard Maybeck, A Parting Salute To A Great Romantic"
House and Home. V. 12. Dec. 1957i pp.124-129.
(3) Besinger, Curtis. "After 50 Years, This House is Newer
Than Many Moderns". House Beautiful. V. 104. May 1962,
(4) Flamn, Roy. "Maybeck". Interiors. V. 119.Jan I960,
(5) Harris, Jean. "Bernard Ralph Maybeck" American
Institute of Architects, Journal. V.15 May 1951
(6) Morrow, Irving F. "The Packard Buildings at Oakland"
California Art and Architecture. V.35, Feb. 1929
(7) Nichols, Frederick D. "A Visit with Bernard Maybeck"
Society of Architectural Historians. V. 11, Oct. 1952
LIST OF SLIDES
■Note- All the slides listed, except for the numbered
ones, come from FIVE CALIFORNIA ARCHITECTS (see bibliography)
Hearst Hall, exterior view.
Hearst Hall,interior of main hall.
Hearst Hall, laminated wood arches.
Hearst Hall, interior of main hall.
David Boyden house, exterior view. 34784
D. Allen house, rear view. 3477
Coslinsky house, strret facade. 4l852
Goslinsky house, detail. 41853
Christian Science Church, street facade.
Christian Science Church, Street facade. 3478I
Christian Science Church, detail. 3894
Christian Science Church, side view.
Christian Science Church, entrance. 41886
Christian Science Church, portico entrance.
Christian Science Church, auditorium. 4l884
Christian Science Church, auditorium. 41883
Christian Science Church, truss detail. 4l88l
Christian Science Church, side aisle. 41889
(20) Christian Science Church, trellis at entrance.
(21) Christian Science Church, reader's table. 4l882
(22) Christian Science Church, Sunday school entrance. 4l888
(23) Christian Science Church, school addition. 4l885
(24) Christian Science Church, floor plan. 41909
(25) Panama-Pacific Exposition, Horticultural Hall. 25214
(26) Panama-Pacific Exposition, Rotunda, 34842
(27) Palace of Fine Arts across lagoon.
(28) Palace of Fine Arts, propylaeum. 3484l
(29) Palace of Fine Arts, rotunda. 48125
(30) A.E. Bingham'house. 41856
(31) A.E. Bingham house, floor plan. 4l855
(32) Glen Alpine Cabins, Lake Tahoe.
(33^ Residence, corinthian columns. 3898
(34) The Packard Agency, Oakland.
(35) Hearst Memorial Gymnasium.