Independent, visionary, dramatic, eclectic Bernard Maybeck is a luminary of American architecture whose work is particularly prized in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the majority of his masterworks can be found.
Maybeck was born in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1862 to German immigrant parents, who encouraged him to draw and paint. Maybeck’s father, a woodcarver, sent his son to Paris to study furniture making. But young Maybeck soon chose his own path and enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied architecture until returning to the U.S. in 1886.
In pursuit of opportunity, Maybeck migrated west and arrived in California in 1890, where, like other young architects of the time, he took inspiration from the local environment. In 1894, Maybeck joined the faculty of UC Berkeley as a drawing instructor in the Civil Engineering College; from 1898 through 1903, he served as the university’s first professor of architecture.
After leaving UC Berkeley, Maybeck established an architectural office in San Francisco, specializing in homes, churches, and club buildings. He experimented with innovative building materials and developed an eclectic and personal style combining Spanish mission, Gothic, and Japanese influences. Hallmarks of Maybeck’s work include use of native woods, large windows, handcrafted details, masterful use of color, and integration with the landscape.
Maybeck designed many of the Bay Area’s most treasured buildings. His homes, both small and grand, incorporated features considered radical at the time, including shingles, rough redwood interiors, and huge hand-wrought fireplaces. His public commissions include the First Church of Christ, Scientist (1910) in Berkeley considered Maybeck’s masterpiece with its Gothic influences, brilliant color, and all interior furnishings designed by the architect.
From 1913 to 1915, Maybeck also created the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, the most popular building at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and the event’s only surviving structure. Designed as an art gallery, in the style of an ancient ruin, the Palace displays Maybeck’s flair for drama and his passion for buildings in harmony with their natural surroundings.
The American Institute of Architecture honored Maybeck twice during his lifetime with citation in 1913 and with a Gold Medal in 1951. Maybeck died in California in 1957.
SELECTED MAYBECK PROJECTS
Hearst Hall, University of California, Berkeley (1899) (destroyed by fire)
Faculty Club, University of California, Berkeley (1902)
First Church of Christ, Scientist (1910), Berkeley, California
Rose Walk, Berkeley (1912)
Palace of Fine Arts (1915), San Francisco, California
Principia College (1930), Elsah, Illinois