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Newsletter | Sep/Oct 2014


Girls Who Grow Up to be Architects
by Jacqueline Morgan, Architect


Jackie's 1898 Georgetown house and front parlor office, and her childhood tree house

Jackie, a long-time OWA member at this year's retreat, reflects on childhood building projects and architectural practice.

Perhaps it was the many summer weekends I spent growing up, helping my family build a summer cottage on the shores of beautiful Keuka Lake in upstate New York, that sparked my desire to be an architect. Back in the 50’s and 60’s the buzz words green and sustainable were not known, but my father built the cottage with those principals, using recycled materials.

Every Friday my mother would load us four kids into the station wagon and drive to the train wrecking yard where the car would be loaded with creosote coated 2x6’s from old box cars. Our work for the weekend was taking out the nails from the boards. The boards were used for the floors and ceilings. Homosote (recycled cardboard) was the siding; 6’x12’ windows from an old store were the living room windows; and reused tiles which my mother glued on were used on the ceiling. Every once in a while over the years one would fall to the floor with a big bang.

Most girls at fourteen were out looking for boys but my lake friend Audrey and I scouted up and down the lake road looking for boards from construction sites. We would haul them half a mile up a steep hill behind the cottage where we built what we thought was an amazing tree house.

“Girls can’t be architects; you want to be an interior designer,” my high school guidance counselor told me. Luckily I had parents who encouraged me and a wonderful Girl Scout leader who was an architect who inspired me. Off I went to Syracuse University, and despite a professor who told me women should be home having babies and a curfew for the women the first two years (the men could continue to work in the design studio), I managed to graduate from Arizona State University.

I was able to get my first job at a big firm in San Francisco because of affirmative action. Before that I was always asked how fast I can type!!! Several years, jobs, and a teaching credential later, and after three years as a professional freestyle skier, my husband and I moved to his great grandfather’s house, built in 1898, in the small Sierra foothills town of Georgetown, where we could live rent-free. There was no electricity, no running water, no foundation, and lots of buckets in the attic to catch rain. Needless to say, we have been working on it ever since. The second day we were there, my husband walked down the street and got a job helping remodel an old house. The owner had been tagged for not having a building permit, so I also was hired, and we have had work ever since.

I had lost track of my friend Audrey but in the early 90’s I was reading a book review of High Rise, How 1000 Men and Women Worked Around the Clock and Lost $200 Million Building a Skyscraper by Jerry Adler. Imagine my surprise to learn that the chief architect the author followed in writing the book was none other than my tree house building buddy, Audrey Matlock!

Often I had pondered what it be like to work on big projects for a prestigious architectural firm but after reading about all that Audrey had to contend with, I felt happy to have my small one-person firm with small projects that I could manage.

I got in touch with Audrey and she sent me a photo of our tree house. It certainly was not the magnificent structure I remembered! What different roads we had traveled down since the tree house.