July 27, 2015

[Q&A] National Trust CMO Amy Maniatis Dishes on Her First Summer Love: Julia Morgan's Swimming Pools

  • By: David Weible

Julia Morgan designed the pool at the Berkeley City Club, now a Historic Hotel of America.

Ever since our first historic pools post earlier this season, the National Trust staff haven’t been able to get enough of Julia Morgan-designed swimming pools. So, as we get into the dog days of summer, we figured we’d dive back in with an interview with National Trust Chief Marketing Officer and unofficial expert on the iconic architect’s aquatic wonders, Amy Maniatis.

As a Bay Area native, Amy spent her fair share of time lounging on the decks of two of Morgan’s most treasured creations, the Berkeley City Club pool and the Hearst Pool on the campus of UC Berkeley. Below, we finally put all of Amy’s leisure hours to work for a peek into why Julia Morgan’s pools were about more than a quick dip.

The Hearst Pool looks out onto the Berkeley Hills that surround the University of California, Berkeley campus.

What was your experience with Julia Morgan’s pools?

I went to UC Berkeley for undergraduate, so all through my years there I’d swim at the Hearst Pool in the afternoons and hang out. It’s where I met my husband on dates. So I had a fantastic experience.

The pool is unbelievable -- almost Roman -- with these large slate stairs. Everyone was just lying around with the Berkeley Hills behind them. It was so idyllic.

And then when I graduated, my parents had joined a club that had a relationship with the Berkeley City Club, and that had a Julia Morgan pool, so I’d go with my mom in the early morning hours. Nobody was there, but it was gorgeous. It was this hidden gem.

What do you remember most about the Hearst Pool and the pool at the City Club?

The cool thing about the City Club pool was that they hadn’t changed it at all since it was a women’s club, so there were no private dressing rooms. Men just had a different door to enter than women and there were just sinks down the middle.

With the Hearst Pool, you really did feel like you were at the Hearst Castle. It was very Gatsby-esque.

They were both like hideaways. The Hearst Pool is kind of elevated and you can see the hills behind, but otherwise, it’s super private. And then in the case of the City Club, you have no idea that it exists. It’s very hidden.

With both of them, there was a sense of magic, almost like you were on a film set or you had gone back in time. At the City Club pool, the joke we’d always make was that the movie Cocoon was filmed there.

The Hearst Pool on UC Berkeley's campus at night.

Were you always aware they were designed by Julia Morgan?

When I first started at Berkeley, everyone would go to the big gym to swim, and my older sister mentioned, “You have got to check out the Hearst Women’s Pool.”

So really the Hearst Women’s Pool was the first time I was turned on to Julia Morgan and understood who she was.

For me then, it became a very personal experience because I was born almost 100 years after her, and here she is this architect in San Francisco. For a woman to have created all of these great places, it was very inspiring and pretty amazing, like “Wow. How did she do that?”

What was it like swimming at these places?

At the Hearst Pool, you’d come and hang out on the steps in the sun, have some laps. People are chatting, and the whole vibe of it was much more like you’ve gone somewhere; you’re in this hidden, special place.

The pools were always quiet. It was almost like you’d entered into some kind of temple. It was reflective. You had kind of joined this shared experience and there was an appreciation of that. You felt like everyone had a sparkle in their eye, like “Wow, this is great. I’ve been able to carve out an hour to be at the Hearst Pool.”

A view of the Berkeley City Club pool from the spectator's platform.

What stood out to you about each place?

At Berkeley City Club, the light and the stained glass was just unbelievable, and the tile work was just gorgeous. There was also an intimacy and charm to the dressing rooms that even though they were very dated, it made you feel like you were very much in a female experience. There was a comfort level that was very cool.

At the Hearst Pool, it really was these massive Roman sculptures and huge steps and you felt like you were in an Olympic experience.

I think with both of them, it was also the entry that was special. At the City Club, it’s this grand hallway that you walk down and there are these very small little doors. You almost would have to duck to get through them. The intention was clearly for women years ago.

And by contrast, over at the Hearst Pool, you had this amazing grand staircase you were walking up almost like into an amphitheater.

They’re total opposites because the Hearst Pool was outdoor and all of the energy was going up into the hills, whereas in the City Club, you felt underground, as if you’d swum in a cave.

What made swimming in these pools so different from other spaces?

These weren’t places just for swimming. It was kind of like you were at Roman baths; a place for people to come and reflect and rejuvenate more so than just exercising.

They were an extension of the ideals of the places that they were a part of. It was a part of inspiration, and art, and culture, and ideas, and refreshing oneself through that leisure activity was integral.

The one thing I remember so well is, if I had something I needed to work through and think through, I would go to the Hearst Pool. It was a place to think or almost to meditate, and I think she designed it with that in mind.

It was kind of like she created an entire experience for your day. It wasn’t just about swimming. It was a whole event.

David Weible was the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

Join us for PastForward Online 2020, the historic preservation event of the year, October 27-30, 2020.

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