Entry Author: David
Ralph Maybeck was born February 7, 1862 in New York City,
the son of German immigrant parents. His father Bernhardt
was a cabinet maker, specializing in architectural carving,
who had emigrated to the United States in 1851. Bernard's
mother, Elisa, died when he was three and he was brought up
in his maternal grandfather's house. At private schools in
New York he obtained a broad liberal arts education, including
French, German, philosophy and the arts. In 1881 his father
arranged for him to be apprenticed in Paris. Soon after arriving
there, Maybeck applied to enter the prestigious architectural
school, L'École des Beaux-Arts. After five years
of intensive training, based in the atelier of Jules
André, Maybeck had completed the equivalent amount
of work to French students who were awarded the diplome.
Maybeck returned to New York in 1886 and started work for
the newly-formed firm of Carrère & Hastings, contributing
to the designs of two Florida hotels, the Ponce de Leon and
By 1889, Maybeck was ready to establish his own practice and
selected Kansas City as the location. However the nationwide
economic depression of the late 1880's meant that there were
few opportunities there. While in Kansas City though, Maybeck
met the White family, including father Henry, sons John and
Mark, and daughter Annie. In 1890, Willis
Polk encouraged Maybeck to move out to San Francisco.
Maybeck proposed to Annie White and they relocated to the
Bay Area, settling in Berkeley. Annie became his secretary
and business agent, as well as his lifelong companion.
In San Francisco Maybeck worked first for architects Wright
& Sanders and then, for a year, as an interior designer.
In 1891 he joined the office of architect A.
Page Brown, contributing to the design and then supervising
the construction in Chicago of the California Building for
the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, and later working on
the Administration Building and the Manufactures and Liberal
Arts Building for the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco.
In 1894, the Reverend Joseph Worcester, pastor of the Church
of the New Jerusalem and an architectural patron in the City,
commissioned Brown to design the Swedenborgian Church (www.sfswedenborgian.org)
at the corner of Lyon and Washington streets in Pacific Heights.
Along with Maybeck, architect A. C. Schweinfurth, and artists
Bruce Porter and William Keith also collaborated on the design.
Examples of all of their contributions to the final result
may still be seen in the Church. Author Charles Keeler, for
whom Maybeck had designed a home in the Berkeley hills, writes
about the mutual respect of Worcester and Maybeck and clearly
attributes the design of the church to Maybeck. Thanks to
a long effort by church elders and staff from the award-winning
architectural and historic preservation company, Architectural
Resources Group, the church is now in the final stages of
being added to the National
Register of Historic Places.
As work on the Swedenborgian Church neared completion, Maybeck
was invited to apply for a position of instructor in descriptive
geometry for the Civil Engineering College at the University
of California, Berkeley, for the fall semester of 1894. So
began an involvement with U.C. which was to last until 1903
and included his organization of a worldwide competition,
funded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, to create a comprehensive
and permanent plan for development of the University. Maybeck
also encountered several students, such as Lewis
Hobart, Albert Lansburgh
and Julia Morgan, who were
more interested in architecture than engineering. Maybeck
began teaching them architectural design and encouraged them
to attend L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, as
he had done. With Maybeck's help, Julia Morgan became the
first woman to be formally admitted.
In 1895, Maybeck was also appointed Director of the Architectural
Section of the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, which was located
in the Gothic mansion on Nob Hill designed by Wright &
Sanders for Mark Hopkins, treasurer of the Central Pacific
Railroad. Hopkins had died before its completion in 1878.
Hopkins wife Mary remarried in 1881. Her second husband, Edward
Searles, was an interior designer and art collector. When
Mary died in 1891, Searles inherited most of her fortune and
generously donated the mansion to the San Francisco Art Association
Also in 1895 the Maybeck's invited the rest of the White family
to join them after Henry White was forced to retire from teaching
in Kansas City due to ill-health. Annie's brothers John and
Mark White would work in collaboration with Maybeck at various
times for the rest of his professional career. Maybeck opened
his own office in 1895 at 307 Sansome Street, which was later
lost, along with all of his records, in the 1906 earthquake
and fire. In 1907 Maybeck opened a new office at 35 Montgomery
During Maybeck's long career he designed over 150 buildings
in California, the majority of them being houses in Berkeley,
but with several in San Francisco. Two of the earliest, in
1909, were in Presidio Heights - a townhouse for Samuel Goslinsky
at 3233 Pacific, and the much larger Tudor-style corner house
for Leon Roos at 3500 Jackson, now San Francisco Landmark
In Forest Hill he designed 51 Sotelo (1913), 270 Castenada
(1916), 275 Pacheco (1917), and the Association Clubhouse
at 381 Magellan (1919). Examples of his commercial work in
the City can be found on Telegraph Hill at 1736 Stockton (1907-28),
now the 'Maybeck Building' offices, and the Earle C. Anthony
Packard showroom at 901 Van Ness (1926), now San Francisco
In 1910, Maybeck was selected to design the First Church of
Christ, Scientist, in Berkeley, now widely regarded as an
architectural masterpiece. Much later he was to design Principia
College in Elsah, in Jersey County, Illinois, also for the
Christian Scientists. Maybeck's involvement with Principia
began in 1923 and lasted until 1940, carrying his San Francisco
office through the Depression. Eleven of Maybeck's original
buildings remain, nearly all steel-framed or reinforced concrete
construction. In 1993 Principia College was added to the National
Register of Historic Places.
Maybeck's best known legacy to San Francisco architecture
is the Palace of Fine Arts and Lagoon, designed for the Panama-Pacific
International Exposition of 1915. Willis Polk was the Chairman
of the Board of Architects for this World's Fair. Polk conceived
a 'Walled City of Palaces' for the Exposition and was so impressed
with Maybeck's initial sketches for the Fine Arts building
that he turned over its design to him. Maybeck kept part of
the site from being filled, to form the lagoon. Much has been
written about the Palace itself, with its magnificent domed
rotunda, the semi-circular peristyle, the Corinthian columns,
and the curving gallery in which the valuable artwork was
exhibited. Maybeck himself wrote ".... I find that the
keynote of a Fine Arts Palace should be that of sadness modified
by the feeling that beauty has a soothing influence."
Palace of Fine Arts, Rotunda
Photo courtesy of Ralston Independent Works
When the Exposition closed in December 1915,
despite an attempt to preserve the entire site, only the Palace
of Fine Arts, built on Presidio land, was saved. The remainder
of the site had been privately owned and was sold for development,
becoming the Marina residential district. The Palace of Fine
Arts was rebuilt in the 1960's in concrete, thanks to the
effort and financial support of philanthropist Walter S. Johnson,
and its art gallery now houses a theater and the Exploratorium.
Recently, the Maybeck Foundation (www.maybeck.org)
has embarked upon a three-year $15 million campaign to restore
the Palace to Maybeck's original plans.
In 1951 Maybeck was the first Bay Area architect to be awarded
the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal of Honor.
In a recent AIA poll, Maybeck was ranked ninth on a top ten
list of the greatest architects this country has ever produced.
He died on October 3, 1957 at the age of 95, one year after
his beloved wife Annie.
Entry taken from the website of David Parry
and is used by permission. Unauthorized use of this copyrighted
material is strictly forbidden without permission from the