Calling all architecture enthusiasts! Want to cement your savvy-San Diegan status? Dazzle friends with interesting cocktail party conversation? Become a riveting tour guide for your out-of-town guests?
We’ve put together an overview of some of historic San Diego architects (some household names, some not), who designed notable places in San Diego. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can cram before your next social gathering. 😉
Let’s start with a big disclaimer. This list is not even remotely comprehensive. We’ve focused on architects who were designing San Diego structures in the 1960s and earlier, and primarily public-serving structures. Plus, we 100% acknowledge our bias in including our firm’s founder, Robert Platt.
Since we’ve also had a legacy of female ownership at Platt/Whitelaw, we’re shining the architecture spotlight first on a woman: Lilian J. Rice. This home-grown talent was born in 1889 in National City. She’s considered an early ecologist, and her understanding of the relationship between nature and architecture is evident in the Rancho Santa Fe Town Center, the ZLAC rowing club and the many homes she designed in La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe. Eleven of these are on the National Register of Historic Places.
A bit more ornate in their designs were the Quayle Brothers. Charles was born in 1865 and Edward in 1869. They were responsible for the San Diego Police Headquarters building downtown (now the renovated Headquarters at Seaport District), a couple of now-historic Gaslamp buildings, the North Park Theatre and the Cal Western School of Law (where, incidentally, Platt/Whitelaw Architects provided a face lift and some historic preservation work recently).
Skipping ahead a bit in time, a trio of very well-known contemporaries began designing in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in San Diego. They were Irving Gill, William Templeton Johnson and Richard Requa.
Gill, who lived from 1870 to 1936, used to work alongside Frank Lloyd Wright under Louis Sullivan. Gill is credited with creating an original, regional modern style in San Diego. This style is manifested in his designs for the La Jolla Woman’s Club, the La Jolla Recreation Center, the Ellen Browning Scripps house (now part of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego – La Jolla), the First Church of Christ Scientist on Second Avenue and several houses in Bankers Hill. He also worked on the George W. Marston House and designed the Fountain at Horton Plaza Park, although these two structures are designed in a more historic style.
Requa apprenticed as a draftsman to Gill and was best known as the creator of the Southern California style of architecture, a mash-up of Spanish Eclectic style with influences from the Mediterranean region, Mexico, and Central and South America. He also designed the Darlington House in La Jolla, the County Administration Center (along with Johnson and others), the Old Globe Theatre (later rebuilt and modified after a 1978 fire) and the Del Mar Castle.
In addition to working on the team designing the County Administration Center, Johnson was responsible for designing downtown’s San Diego Trust & Savings building and Samuel L. Fox building, as well as the Francis Parker School, the La Jolla Public Library, La Jolla High School, the San Diego Museum of Art, the La Valencia Hotel and the Junipero Serra Museum.
A little later, Lloyd Ruocco (1907-1981), who attended San Diego High School, became the second most significant modernist architect in San Diego history, after Gill. He is famous for his post and beam construction with large expanses of glass. In addition to designing the Fifth Avenue Design Center in Hillcrest and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he was an advocate for social change and sound city planning. Some know him best as the co-founder, along with Esther Scott, of Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 (C-3), a San Diego citizens’ planning group started in 1961.
During approximately the same time period as Ruocco, Los Angeles architect William Pereira (1909-1989) designed the iconic, futuristic Geisel Library at UCSD, and Sim Bruce Richards (1908-1983) designed the Morley Field Tennis Club and the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.
It’s hard to talk about iconic San Diego architecture without mentioning Louis Kahn (1901-1974). Along with Luis Barragan (1902-1988), Kahn designed the Salk Institute, arguably one of the best places to view the San Diego sunset at equinox.
The next (and last) generation of significant architects we’re covering includes our very own Robert Platt (1921-1988), who’s noted mid-century designs include the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma and the Clairemont Library. Also of note is Robert Moser (1920-2015), who designed the Coronado Bridge, the Aztec Center at SDSU and Muir College at UCSD.
If you find yourself thinking in a very loud head voice, ‘hey, you forgot to mention so-and-so as a historic San Diego Architect!’, you’re probably right. Please feel free to write about so-and-so and link back to our article. The good news is that San Diego has so many cool structures, we could write for days about all the great architects involved…and so could you. Who will accept our challenge?
Photo by ARIS on Unsplash.