After earning her engineering degree from Berkeley in 1894, Julia Morgan moved to Paris and, refusing to accept the initial rejections from the École des Beaux-arts, finally gained admittance and became the first woman to receive the school's degree in architecture. In 1904 she became the first female architect licensed by California and designed El Campanil for Mills College, the first freestanding bell tower on a US campus and the first reinforced concrete structure on the west coast. After the 1906 earthquake all architects were in demand, none more so than Morgan because her tower survived unscathed. She created many Bay area landmarks, from institutional buildings to dozens of homes in her signature Arts and Crafts style. Within a decade she accepted her first commission in southern California, the Spanish revival Herald-Examiner building in LA, after which the paper's owner approached her about designing a little something at the top of 250,000 acres he owned near San Simeon. Hearst was tired of camping up there. He thought he wanted a bungalow. Quickly, it became a castle. And a 25 year project, in part because of its scale (58 bedrooms, 60 bathrooms, 41 fireplaces, virtual tour here) and in part because he constantly "tinkered," e.g., demolished and rebuilt the epic outdoor Neptune pool three times before he was satisfied. (The indoor Roman pool is far more lavish.) Defiant about not being a debutante, never married, and widely believed to be a lesbian, Morgan retired in 1951 and died six years later at 85. She left behind 700 completed buildings, including 11 at the Asilomar retreat (above) which I highly recommend if you're ever near Carmel or Monterey.
Perennially rediscovered, she's the subject of many lavish books like Mark Wilson's Julia Morgan: Architect of Beauty and Sara Boutelle's Julia Morgan, Architect. Last fall, Landsmarks California held a six-week festival in her honor.