Influential Jacksonville Architect and Vintage Design Professional William Morgan Dies at 85 – Information – The Florida Occasions-Union
Jacksonville-born architect and author William Morgan, whose passion for ancient architecture has left a lasting mark on the modern face of his hometown, died on Monday morning after a long illness. He was 85 years old.
“He was probably the best-known Jacksonville architect of all time after Henry Klutho,” said Wayne Wood, lead author of Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage. “William Morgan was known internationally. He really is one of Jacksonville’s standout figures.”
Slideshow: A selection of William Morgan’s contributions to Jacksonville architecture
Three of his designs were among the top 100 Florida buildings selected by the State Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2012. His projects on the list were Williamson House in Ponte Vedra Beach, his own oceanfront home in Atlantic Beach, and Dickinson Hall at the University of Florida, formerly the Museum of Natural History.
The University of Florida School of Architecture presented Mr. Morgan with the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. The faculty’s decision was unanimous, the school director said at the time.
Mr. Morgan and his contemporaries in Jacksonville, Robert Broward and Taylor Hardwick, were influential figures in the modern mid-century, a post-World War II architectural movement that marked a marked departure from traditional building practices. Wood called them “Champions of the Future of Jacksonville,” architects who pushed boundaries to create the city’s modern look.
Hardwick, who designed the former downtown Haydon Burns Library and Friendship Foundation, died in 2014. Broward, who designed the former Jacksonville Art Museum and Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, died in 2015.
In downtown Jacksonville, Mr. Morgan was the architect of the Police Department building he designed with gardens and trees on top of the building. He also created the Daniel State Office Building on the riverside on Northbank and the Science and History Museum, formerly the Jacksonville Children’s Museum, on Southbank.
He was also known for Atlantic Beach’s whimsical Dune House, a duplex apartment he built in 1975 in a sand dune with a lawn for the roof. In a 2009 Times Union interview, he called it “this little experiment of mine”. It has been written in dozens of architectural or non-architectural publications, including Playboy, where it was featured for a picture (fully clothed) called “Return of the Caveman.”
“I don’t know of any structure in Jacksonville that has attracted so much national and international attention, but it is so little known in Jacksonville,” he said in a newspaper interview. “And what is known here is a rather absent aberration.”
Mr. Morgan built it next to his oceanfront home in Atlantic Beach, which in itself is a characteristic structure made up of two giant triangles. Some of his other designs are scattered around the surrounding blocks of the seaside town, including the relatively simple and elegant lifeguard station on a narrow end of the road north of One Ocean Resort.
“He was always happy to say that his most important building was the lifeguard tower he built in Atlantic Beach,” said designer Richard Shieldhouse, who wrote a book tentatively titled “William Morgan – Evolution of an Architect” for University Press writes from Florida.
Mr. Morgan has designed buildings across the state, including the Tallahassee District Court of Appeals, the Fort Lauderdale U.S. Courthouse, and numerous private homes.
Mr. Morgan’s architecture was significantly influenced by his scholarship. He was an avid student of ancient archeology, particularly pre-Columbian North America and Micronesia, and wrote five books on the subject. His last book in 2008 was “Erdarchitektur: From antiquity to modernity”, in which structures were examined that, like his dune house, included the earth around them in their construction.
After graduating from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree, he was exposed to Micronesian culture while serving in the U.S. Navy. He also saw service during the Korean War. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Korea to flatten things,” he said in a 2013 interview with the Times-Union. “I’m sick of tearing things down.”
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After leaving the Navy, he returned to Harvard Graduate School to study architecture. He returned to his hometown in 1961 after studying in Italy on a Fulbright Scholarship.
“His work was really his life, and when he wasn’t designing buildings he was writing books,” said his son Dylan Morgan. “He was pretty much all-in when it came to architecture or design, prehistoric or modern.”
Mr. Morgan saw great opportunity in the city of his birth, said his son. “Dad told me this in the ’70s when he saw Jacksonville had the potential to be a great Babylon. It just didn’t know.”
Mr. Morgan is survived by his wife Bunny; his brother Thomas Morgan from Seattle; two sons, Newton Morgan of Poulsbo, Washington, and Dylan Morgan of Atlantic Beach; and five grandchildren.
Although the date has not yet been set, there will be a memorial service for him at Beach Church, formerly the Beach United Methodist Church in Jacksonville Beach. It’s a landmark structure, visible from many blocks, that Morgan created in the mid-1980s.
“He designed it after a medieval church, one of the sights he enjoyed in Europe,” said Dylan Morgan. “Dad designed the church and wanted his ministry to be there.”
Matt Soergel: (904) 359-4082