Born in New York
City on February 7, 1862 to German immigrants who had come
to America slightly more than a decade earlier, Bernard
Ralph Maybeck (1862-1957) grew up in a family circle that
encouraged him to draw and paint. He studied at the Deutsche-Americanische
Schule and the Benjamin Franklin School in New York, learning
both French and German before entering the college of the
City of New York.
Before graduating, he entered his father's trade of high
quality wood carving, but he found designing more exciting
than the details of production. His father arranged for
him to study in Paris at the studio of one of the two partners
who owned the custom furniture and architectural carving
business where the senior Maybeck worked.
Bernard Maybeck was 19 when he arrived in Paris. The École
des Beaux-Arts was near the studio, and Maybeck decided
to become an architect. Although his training seemed inadequate,
his high scores on the entrance examination gained him admission
in 1882 in the atelier of Jules André, elected as
one of the forty members of the Institut de France.
After completing all the work required for the diplomé
(although as a foreign student he was not eligible to receive
this distinction, a regulation that was lifted a year later),
he returned to the U.S. in 1886. In New York he began his
career with the new partnership of John Mervyn Carrère
and Thomas Hastings, both of whom had been students at the
École, the latter being Maybeck's roommate in Paris.
For Carrère and Hastings, Maybeck worked on aspects
of Henry Flagler's Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine,
Florida, a lavish structure in a romantic Spanish Renaissance
style. Because Maybeck favored medieval design as his inspiration
rather than the classicism of Carrère and also recognized
that he was not likely to become a partner in Carrère
and Hastings, he moved to Kansas City in 1889. It was there
that he entered his first competition, one held for the
design of the St. Louis City Hall.
in front of his studio in Berkeley, wearing a red velvet
robe of his own design
limited in Kansas City, Maybeck left for San Francisco,
returning to Kansas City late in October, 1890 to marry
Annie White with whom he returned to California to make
his lifelong home. Eventually he found work in the office
of A. Page Brown, whose commissions included the California
building at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Maybeck supervised
its construction and had an opportunity to see the Fair's
other buildings and its formal layout, which he admired.
The Maybecks moved to Berkeley in 1892, and two years later
Maybeck became an instructor in drawing in the Civil Engineering
College at the University of California. Along with his
other duties, Maybeck taught an independent course in architecture.
He also taught at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art in San
Francisco where he became director of the architectural
section. Then, after a European tour he became Instructor
in Architecture at the university, the first such position
and one he held from 1898 until he resigned in 1903. Among
his students were Harvey Wiley Corbett and Julia Morgan.
In 1895 Phoebe Apperson Hearst indicated her desire to donate
funds to the university for a mining building that would
commemorate her husband, who had made his fortune in that
occupation. To Maybeck, the sole architect employed by the
university, fell the task of preparing a sketch for the
building, a rendering that Mrs. Hearst approved. This led
Maybeck to urge that the university prepare a campus development
plan. The Board of Regent's initial negative reaction gave
way before Mrs. Hearst's endorsement of the idea. She asked
that Maybeck be given a two-year leave to act as professional
advisor for an international competition to select the best
design, the prizes to be donated by her. In 1896 Maybeck
published a sketch of his own to illustrate the kind of
approach that might be followed, although, as advisor he
could not become a competitor.
One passage in the prospectus for the competition that the
Regents issued reflects Maybeck's thinking, if he did not
actually write it:
expanison of the Univeristy of California forced the
Berkeley Unitarian Church to relocate. A new church
was built under the leadership of
Rev. J. Raymond Cope
on land donated by Maybeck.
is a city that is to be createdA City of Learningin
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 the designer. He is asked to record his conception of
an ideal home for a university, assuming time and resources
to be unlimited. He 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 in harmony with the universal principles of architectural
Maybeck and his wife left for Europe in 1897 to arrange
the details of the preliminary round of the competition
and to select the jurors. By the time the preliminary judging
took place in Antwerp, 105 entries had been received. From
these, the international jury selected eleven finalists
who came to Berkeley at the expense of Mrs. Hearst to see
the site. In 1899 the first prize went to Emile Bénard
of Paris for his formal design, but when Bénard declined
the position of Supervising Architect, John Galen Howard,
winner of fourth-place was appointed to guide the growth
of the campus.
Maybeck established his architectural office in San Francisco
and began a practice that concentrated on the design of
private homes, churches, and club buildings. Most of his
over two hundred commissions demonstrate Maybeck's originality
and his refusal to follow conventional ideas of how a building
Work was not always forthcoming, and he entered several
competitions. In 1911 Maybeck entered two competitions.
One was for the design of the San Francisco City Hall, the
other for a courthouse in Dayton, Nevada, but his entries
did not win prizes. Needing money, Maybeck worked for Willis
Polk, and it was his design for Polk of the Palace of Fine
Arts for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of
1913 that led to his appointment as its architect.
Except for his
involvement with the campus planning competition for the
University of California, Maybeck had no recorded experience
in large-scale planning prior to the Canberra competition
for design of a Federal City for the Commonwealth of Australia.
He did influence the development of his own neighborhood
in Berkeley with recommendations for how houses should be
fitted into the steep hillsides, and in the 1906-07 bulletin
of the neighborhood association, a dozen of his illustrations
show how this could best be done.
In 1913 J. L. Brookings retained Maybeck to design "some
housing and community buildings" for his lumber mill
employees in Oregon. Maybeck produced a town plan as well
as drawings for grouped housing, a hotel, and other buildings
but except for the hotel this project died. His other town
plan was for Clyde, a shipbuilding community projected during
World War I on a site on San Francisco Bay. In this case,
Maybeck was called on to review and modify a design already
prepared. Today the place consists of three residential
His later experiences in large scale design were for college
campus plans, first for Mills College in 1918 and then for
Principia College. For the latter institution he prepared
two designs, each with variations. The first was for its
site in St. Louis, Missouri between 1923 and 1930 and the
second for a new site in Elsah, Illinois in 1930-38.
In 1937 Maybeck became associate architect for the Golden
Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, and he also
served as a member of the Berkeley, California city planning
commission. In 1951 the American Institute of Architects
awarded him its Gold Medal, and he also received honorary
degrees from Mills College and the University of California.
From typescript in the Documents Collection, College of
Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley.
The Palace of Fine Arts
indications of the living art of Bernard Maybeck we find
the three dozen cherished residences in the Berkeley hills.
His simple shingled design of the Unitarian Church of Palo
Alto has been celebrated for the mystical atmosphere which
he achieved. When the Unitarian Church of Berkeley was forced
to move from the University of California campus, he not
only recommmended the large site with a Bay view but gave
a generous gift to make its purchase possible.
now among his achievements as a California architect is
the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francsico which houses the
Exploratorium, a unique educational center which features
exhibits of science, art, and human perception.
The task of creating
a Palace of Fine Arts for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International
Exposition fell to the architect Bernard R. Maybeck, then
fifty years old and known for his innovative ideas. Setting
to work on this new project, he chose as his theme a Roman
ruin, mutilated and overgrown, in the mood of a Piranesi
engraving. But this ruin was not to exist solely for itself
to show "the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of
human wishes." Although it was meant to give delight
by its exterior beauty, its purpose was also to offer all
visitors a stimulating experience within doors.
In playing host to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition,
the Fair, which opened on February 20, 1915, San Francisco
was honoring the discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the
completion of the Panama Canal; it was also celebrating
its own resurrection after the shattering earthquake and
fire of 1906.
The problems of choosing the exact site in the city
had finally been overcome and groundwork had been going
on for some time. Last of the buildings to be erected, on
the lagoon and close by a group of Monterey cypresses, was
Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts. With its exhibition hall
to house the work of living artists (dominated by the Impressionists),
its colonnade, and its rotundaplans for all of which
had dazzled the Commissioners when the huge brown-paper
sketch was put before themit fulfilled the architect's
dream: it was as beautiful reflected in the water as it
was against the sky. And when the Palace was completed (Roman
in style although a freely-interpreted, purely romantic
conception, and Greek in decorative treatment) its exceptional
harmony gave it instant appeal to the public.