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The San Francisco Call, Sunday, September 10, 1899
Vol. 86, No. 102, p. 6
Excerpt from editorial column,
"Editorial Variations," by John McNaught.

From the designs submitted for the buildings of the University of California it is evident the competing architects took our large words literally. We said we desired the biggest thing on the globe, and they prepared their designs accordingly. Such superb masses of architecture have not been seen since the days of the Caesars. One enraptured gazer upon the plans said to another: "What do you think?" and the other responded: "I think I should like to live to see the last building of either set completed."

The vastness of each structure devised for carrying out the vaster plan of the stupendous whole has staggered the general public. We expected something that would surpass Stanford, and we have received something into which all Stanford could be placed and lost to sight, remaining not even to memory dear. If we make a stagger at accomplishing such a marvelous aggregate of palaces in our present mood it will be something like a case of blind staggers. For the moment we are "beat," and feel much like the peasant to whom the rajah gave the elephant.

Fortunately for us, the human mind grows up to the level of whatever it contemplates with a sincere aspiration. Magnificent as the plans are, they are in truth none too magnificent for California. They present to us an ideal of architectural beauty, and it is now our duty to live up to it. Something like a fortune will be required to construct a single one of the principal edifices of either of the designs, and it is not likely any Legislature will vote a sufficient appropriation for it. We must rely upon the munificence of millionaires, and I, for one, believe the reliance will not be in vain. At any rate, we have started out upon a big venture, and something monumental will come of it even if it be no more than a bust.

* * *

In commenting last week upon the fact that the Eastern press in referring to university education in this State nearly always speaks of Stanford and ignores Berkeley as if it were not, I said unless something be done promptly to advertise Berkeley the report of the great architectural designs would be regarded in the East as the announcement of an annex to Stanford's family monument. That was intended for exaggeration, but there is many a true word spoken when we do not intend it. On one of the designs for the new buildings there is laid out a broad thoroughfare through the grounds, and it is marked "Stanford avenue."

* * *

It is to be hoped the people of California will grapple in earnest with the noble task that has been set them at Berkeley. It is certainly an inspiring one, for superb architecture more profoundly affects the imagination than any other art. It appeals strongly to all that is greatest in the human mind, and accordingly kings and conquerors and all men of vast ambitions have been great builders. Nations that have cherished high ideals of grandeur, whether imperial or republican, have shared with their aspiring leaders the delight in magnificent structures. The turbulent freemen of old Rome yielded a more willing submission to the rule of Augustus Caesar because he transformed their city of brick into a city of marble and made it truly majestic. Napoleon won the people of artistic Paris by adorning that city with new palaces and stately monuments, and in our own country even so vulgar a leader as Boss Tweed long held the favor of the voters of New York by reason of the elaborate works he undertook in the way of splendid public buildings and park decorations.

"Man," said Cicero, "never works so like a god as in the building of a nation." Now, the spirit that animates a people to make a great commonwealth can best manifest itself in artistic forms through the medium of architecture. To that art all others except music are accessory and subordinate. A generous, patriotic woman, through a happy inspiration, has given us an impetus toward a genuinely noble achievement in architecture and has furnished us with the best designs for its attainment the skill and the genius of our age can provide. It remains to be seen how we will respond to the leadership. California holds a proud pre-eminence in the Union by reason of the grandeur of her scenery. Shall we now add to her glory a triumph of architecture not unworthy of the land of Yosemite, of Tahoe and of Shasta?

 

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