Walter T. Steilberg (1887-1974)


Steilberg, Walter T.

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    1887-1974
Occupation:    American architect
Location (state):    CA

This record has not been verified for accuracy.

AIA Affiliation

Not a member of the American Institute of Architects at the national level.

Biographical Sources

Biographical information:
Contributed by the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley:
Walter T. Steilberg was born in 1887 in Louisville, Kentucky. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1910 with a bachelor's degree in architecture and a minor in structural engineering.
Steilberg worked with Julia Morgan from 1910-1920 as draftsman , architect, office manager, and structural engineer. In 1920 he formed his own architecture and consulting firm, and designed the Berkeley College Women's Club, Claremont Junior High School in Oakland, the Pavilion at Lake Merritt, and numerous residential projects. In addition, he designed buildings on many University of California Campuses, and directed the preservation of Sather Tower. He also supervised the dismantling of Spanish monastery in Santa Marin de Oliva, Spain. The building was shipped piece by piece to San Francisco as a gift to the city from William Randolph Hearst, but was never reassembled. As a consultant, Steilberg collaborated with Gardner Dailey on many projects.
Steilberg became an expert in seismic architecture and engineering issues. He researched and wrote a book entitled " Earthquakes Made Simple," presented illustrated lectures, and collected reference materials on the subject. Additionally, he did extensive experimental research in concrete.
He was a member of the American Institute of Architects, the Seismological Institute and the Concrete Institute of America. Steilberg died in 1974 at the age of 88.
Sources: University of California job application, 1942 (folder II.1)
W. T. Steilberg Dies; San Simeon Designer San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle: 8 December 1974: 4.
Biographical information:
Contributed by Special Collections, Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo:
Walter T. Steilberg, noted California architect and engineer, was born on May 12, 1886, in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1890, his parents, Willie and Matilda, relocated the family to San Diego County, where they took up ranching.
As a young man, Steilberg worked briefly for architects Irving Gill and Myron Hunt. While studying for his architecture degree at UC Berkeley, Steilberg joined the practice of John Galen Howard as a drafter, participating in the design of Wheeler Hall, the UC Library, and the president's house. After graduation in 1910, Steilberg worked for Julia Morgan for a year, upon the advice of architect Arthur Brown. Steilberg rejoined Morgan's practice in 1918, and continued to consult for her through the 1930s, even after he left to start his own practice.
According to the biographical statement of the Environmental Design Archives at UC Berkeley, "Steilberg had just built a home for himself and his family on Panoramic Hill when the influenza pandemic of 1918 took his mother; his wife, Rowena — an artist who designed detailing for some of his projects — and his newborn daughter. 'Miss Morgan knew just what to do for me,' he told [architectural historian Sally] Woodbridge. 'She had me working about 16 hours a day.' Steilberg gave the home he had designed for himself and Rowena to her parents, then built another for himself nearby, where he lived with his second wife and raised a family. Panoramic Hill became Steilberg country, dotted with homes he built for clients and friends."
While working for Morgan, Steilberg directed the stone-by-stone dismantling of the Santa Maria de Ovila monastery, a thirteenth-century structure built by Cistercian monks on a hilltop, overlooking the Tagus River in Spain, about 90 miles northeast of Madrid. The monastery building was shipped to San Francisco, where Morgan and Hearst contemplated its use at Wyntoon. When the plans were dropped for lack of funds, Morgan convinced Hearst to give the stones to the city of San Francisco for a medieval museum to rival Manhattan's Cloisters. Morgan contributed additional plans and by 1941, the city had selected a site in Golden Gate Park. After a series of arson fires at the warehouses obliterated the markings on the stones, the city lost enthusiasm for the project. This last great collaboration between Morgan and Hearst was never realized.
According to a 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, in the 1930s "Steilberg experimented with concrete houses, influenced by the destruction wrought by the Berkeley fire of 1923, and the Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925. The Depression also affected his thinking, grandson Jonathon Dwyer says. He also saw concrete houses as an economical way to provide housing for workers and, after World War II, for returning veterans and their growing families. Steilberg developed and patented a system he dubbed 'Fabricrete' that involved hollow concrete walls troweled onto steel mesh. When he couldn't get sufficient financing, he turned to a local building firm, Pacific Coast Aggregates, and designed structures using their large (3-foot-long) Berkeley Concrete Bricks. He also designed buildings using precast 4-by-8-foot concrete grids."
During World War II, Steilberg kept in touch with Julia Morgan when he relocated to Alaska to serve as an instructor for the Seabees. During the 1950s, he worked extensively in Saudi Arabia for Aramco.
Steilberg died at the age of 88 on December 6, 1974, succumbing to injuries after being struck by a car while walking near the UC Berkeley campus.

Related Records

Julia Morgan

Archival Holdings

Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley

Collection Number: 1973-1. Extent: 12 boxes, 5 card file boxes, 10 flat files, ca. 35 tubes.
The Walter Steilberg Collection spans the years 1910-1973 and documents Steilberg's engineering and architectural careers, as well as his own research into building materials and the structural effects of earthquakes. The collection is organized into five series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Office Records, Project Records, and University of California.
Steilberg's personal papers are minimal, consisting of his student drawings. His professional papers, which contain correspondence, collected articles, writings and photographs, are more thorough. These records are primarily related to earthquakes throughout California and in other states. The Berkeley fire of 1923, the structural characteristics of concrete and the effects of termites are also documented. Office records include correspondence to various trade publications and product literature.
Steilberg's project records include correspondence, notes, reports, photographs and drawings documenting both his consulting and design work. Projects for the University of California, including the Sather Tower renovation, are well-represented. The project records also contain correspondence between Steilberg and architect Gardner Dailey, and biographical information on Julia Morgan.
Link to online finding aid: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf209n992b
Special Collections, Robert E. Kennedy Library, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
Julia Morgan-Walter T. Steilberg Collection, 1908-1974, MS 144
The Julia Morgan–Walter T. Steilberg Collection contains photographs and files relating to Julia Morgan commissions in the Bay Area, created by long-time staff member and engineer Walter T. Steilberg.
Project files and project photographs are arranged alphabetically by client name, followed by building type, city and date of construction. Cities listed on folder headings are located in California, unless noted otherwise.
Where possible, the provenance, or original organization, of the papers has been preserved. However, in order to simplify access to the collection for researchers, some materials in specific formats and topics were reorganized and refoldered to more accurately reflect their contents.
There are two series in the Julia Morgan–Walter T. Steilberg Collection:
1. Personal Papers, including obituaries and Steilberg's photographs of buildings in California; and
2. Professional Papers, including Steilberg's written and visual documentation of work for Julia Morgan.
The collection is housed in one box. Series 2 Professional Papers contains the most significant and unique portions of the collection, including both Steilberg's published and unpublished recollections of working in Julia Morgan's practice, as well as Steilberg's vintage photographs from the 1920s of various Morgan commissions soon after their completion.
Link to online finding aid at: http://lib.calpoly.edu/specialcollections/findingaids/ms144/