Hearst Memorial Mining Building

Hearst Memorial Mining Building opened in 1907 with great fanfare.

It was philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst’s dream that the Hearst Memorial Mining Building both train future miners and function as a monument to her late husband, U.S. Senator George Hearst, who made his fortune in mining, creating the financial basis for what later became his son William Randolph Hearst’s publishing empire. She also wanted this new home for the College of Mining to inspire the new campus as it grew and to remind students of the source of the wealth that created the building. Hearst Mining, designed by New York architect John Galen Howard, has long been recognized as a Beaux-Arts triumph, combining features of classical, mediterranean and California mission styles to create a truly grand and integrated structure that suits its landscape. The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has been called “the architectural gem of the entire UC system.”

Construction began in 1902 but was put on an 18-month hold after the 1906 earthquake, when materials were needed to rebuild San Francisco. When Hearst opened in 1907, one in five male students on campus majored in mining and the campus had just 3,000 students. Howard drew inspiration for the grand, three-story lobby, the Memorial Hall, from the celebrated reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.The hall was fashioned to resemble a mineshaft, with exposed structural steel rafters representing the support used to keep a mineshaft from collapsing. The Guastavino tile on the vaulted ceiling — the rage in New York and Europe at the turn of the century — recalls the hollowing out of a mountain for a mine. These beautiful tiles were an early fireproofing method not commonly found in West Coast architecture.

The College taught students how to build and operate mines. They learned how to dig long, deep vertical air shafts safely and how to ventilate and light them in a central and rugged atrium lab space that rose four stories to the top of the building and skylights. Students were trained to melt down materials and change them in upstairs labs with a furnace and chimneys. The building was equipped with small smelters, rock crushers, drill rigs and chemical fume hoods.

The six mining faculty members each had spacious offices with fireplaces, a sitting room to one side and a lecture room next door. “They had to walk no more than a few steps in one or two directions to teach class or meet with people,” Professor Ron Gronsky says. “It was a grand way to conduct scholarship.”