Ciji: In virtually all of my historical novels, I’ve always asked the question “What were the women doing during this particular era?” When I moved to San Francisco in 1998 and learned that our apartment on Nob Hill was designed and built in the aftermath of the horrific 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm by California’s first licensed woman architect…well, I had to find out more about Julia Morgan.
I chose to tell the story of the rebuilding of San Francisco through the lens of a composite character, Amelia Hunter Bradshaw, based on the lives of men and women who either had worked for or knew Morgan during her rebuilding of the fabled Fairmont Hotel by the first anniversary of the quake: April 18, 1907. The speedy opening of the city’s finest hostelries was key to signaling the world that San Francisco would, indeed, rise from the ashes. I was so thrilled to be able to tell a new generation of Americans about the significant role this pioneering woman architect played in the city’s rebirth.
Julia Morgan, probably best known for designing and building “Hearst Castle” in central California for the newspaper baron, William Randolph Hearst, was born in 1972 to a well-to-do family who encouraged both the boys and girls in her family to seek education in whatever fields interested them. Julia, whose father was a civil engineer, was the only woman in her graduating class of 1894 at UC Berkeley to earn her degree in the engineering department. Mentored by San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck who taught Julia geometry during her undergraduate days, she soon went on to be the first woman in the world to earn her credential as an architect from the famed L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1902.
Within four years of her return to San Francisco from her studies in Europe, her beloved city was rocked by a tremendous earthquake at 5:12a.m. on April 18, 1906. The temblor and subsequent fire ravaged some 2,831 acres of the city, destroyed thirty schools, eighty churches, and left 250,000 of 400,000 San Franciscans living in tens and shacks for up to two-and-a-half years.
Morgan was only 34-years-old when the quake struck, but suddenly her little firm had more business than it knew what to do with, including the commission to restore the wounded Fairmont Hotel whose floors had fallen some seven feet. She and her colleagues attempting to revive “the Jewel of Nob Hill” entered into a competition with the city’s other hotels to open their doors by the one-year anniversary.
It was this rivalry that developed between the owners of such landmarks that formed the core of my novel about women who pitted themselves in a world dominated by men and yet succeeded in “putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again.” Morgan and her allies soon discovered that their competitors wouldn’t hesitate to employ daring, cunning and a variety of corrupted political ploys to rebuild their lives and fortunes in the face of such monumental tragedy.
If Morgan and her hand-picked employees had not been so well-schooled in engineering as well as design, I doubt that the magnificent Fairmont Hotel would be the enduring beaux arts beacon it has become for the City by the Bay.
Given the recent events of the quakes in Japan and Haiti; Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami in Indonesia, and the BP Oil Spill, I hope you will be as swept away as I was by the story of how communities can recover from events that shake buildings and lives from their very foundations. For more information on A Race to Splendor, and my other historical novels, you’re most welcome to visit www.cijiware.com
Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware for a giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of A Race to Splendor, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.
I will be using random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.
This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.
The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday April 22nd.