ALLYN MORRIS, ARCHITECT, DIED AUG 1, 2009 AT THE AGE OF 87 YEARS

IN FALL OF 1961 FRESH OUT OF UNIVERSITY OF OREGON I WENT IN SEARCH OF WORK FOR THE IDEAL ARCHITECT IN LOS ANGELES. JOHN LAUTNER’S OFFICE GAVE ME A TIP THAT ENDED AT NIGHT IN FRONT OF A GLOWING RED PLASTIC DOOR AT THE END OF A CANTILEVERED CARPORT . THE PORTAL OPENED TO A TWO STORY PANORAMIC KINETIC FREEWAY INTERCHANGE VIEW, A SPIRAL STAIR, STEEL AND CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION, COUNTER BALANCED DOUBLE HUNG GLASS WALLS, A CANTILEVER BED AND MAGENTA ICE PLANT LANDSCAPE. THE RAIN CASCADED DOWN A VERTICAL WALL TO AN INTERIOR POND. I FELT LIKE GOING DOWN ON MY KNEES, ARCHITECTURAL HEAVEN. ALLYN MORRIS WORE ASCOTS, DROVE A RED LINCOLN CONVERTIBLE AND HAD A BEAUTIFUL CLINGING DANCER WIFE MARY. HE DESIGNED, ENGINEERED AND BUILD HIS BUILDINGS. A STAR STANFORD QUARTERBACK THAT WAS THE TOTAL IMAGE OF HOWARD ROARK.

ARCHITECTURAL STUDIO HOME, 1956

ONE DAY HIS WIFE MARY TOLD HIM A TRUCK WAS RELUCTANT ABOUT DELIVERING SOME LONG STEEL DECKING UP THE NARROW HILLSIDE STREET TO THE JOB SITE NEXT TO HIS STUDIO. ALLYN VERBALLY BLASTED. MARY TOOK OFF AND AND THE NEXT THING I HEARD WAS THE GROANING TRUCK DELIVERING THE STEEL WITH MARY DIRECTING. GOING HOME THAT NIGHT I SAW TIRE TRACKS OVER MANY A GREEN LAWN.

ALLYN WOULD HANG OFF STEEL BEAMS WITH A TORCH IN HIS HAND PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER. HE BAFFLED ME WITH HIS ELABORATE EXPLANATIONS OF COUNTER BALANCE OF STRUCTURAL MEMBERS. HE TAUGHT STRUCTURES AT USC.

HE CAME FROM A ROUGH AND TUMBLE CHILDHOOD IN SAN FRANCISCO AND THE MILITARY SUPPORTED HIS ENGINEERING EDUCATION AT OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY AND STANFORD. HE LIKED JAZZ.

HE WORKED AT DANIEL MANN AND JOHNSON WHERE BERNARD ZIMMERMAN WAS HIS DRAFTSMAN. HE DESIGNED A ROUND SAFEWAY MARKET THAT FUNCTIONED MORE EFFICIENTLY, BUT THE DESIGN WAS SHELVED. HE BRIEFLY WORKED FOR LLOYD WRIGHT, BUT LEFT WHEN WRIGHT DID NOT HONOR HIS FINANCIAL COMMITMENT.

HIS INTIAL BUILDINGS WERE AN EXPLORATION OF MODERN MATERIALS PUT TOGETHER IN THE SIMPLEST OF WAYS WITH DARING ENGINEERING FEATS . A NEUTRA SCHINDLER COMBINATION WITH DYNAMIC SPACES. HE USED A ONE TWO MODULAR AND VARIED WITH THE DIAGONAL. HE DID NOT DUPLICATE, BUT STUDIED THE FUNCTION, AND OFTEN PRODUCED UNIQUE. HE LOVED BRIGHT COLORS. HE BUILT COST EFFECTIVE.

MURAKAMI RESIDENCE, 1962

CLIENTS WERE FEW, SO HE BUILT HIS OWN PROJECTS, TAKING FINANCIAL RISK, REQUIRING DEXTERITY WITH BANKS AND BUILDING DEPARTMENTS.

THE LARGER MULTI UNIT PROJECTS RELYED ON WOOD FRAMING AND STUCCO FINISHES. COST EFFECTIVENESS DROVE THESE CHOICES. HE WAS PROUD THAT SOME OF HIS PROJECTS WERE RESTORED AND IDENTIFIED AS ARCHITECTURAL MONUMENTS. THE RECENT INTERNATIONAL AND MID CENTURY MODERN REVIVAL HAS BROUGHT HIM ATTENTION.

SILVER RIDGE DUPLEXES, 1964

THERE IS A BANK IN NAPA, AND HOUSES AND MULTI UNITS IN SILVER LAKE, EAGLE ROCK, PASADENA, AND A LARGE SEMI CIRCULAR MULTILEVEL HOUSING COMPLEX BORDERING ECHO PARK LAKE. HE WAS PART OF A GROUP OF OUTSTANDING LA ARCHITECTS THAT BERNARD ZIMMERMAN PUT TOGETHER, THAT INCLUDED JOHN LAUTNER. RAY KAPPE AND FRANK GEHRY.

A LOVER OF NATURE AND LAND BARGAINS HE RETREATED TO OAKHURST, CALIFORNIA, BENEATH YOSEMITE PARK.

HE BUILT A STUDIO AMONG LARGE BOULDERS ON A RIVER IN OAKHURST THAT WAS IMMERSED IN NATURE, BUT WAS NOT ACCEPTED ARCHITECTURALLY BY THE COMMUNITY. HE NEEDED LA ACTION TO SUPPORT HIS IDEAS. WE OFTEN TALKED ABOUT THIS AND HIS DESIRE WAS TO RETURN TO LOS ANGELES, BUT HE HAD BEEN PRICED OUT OF THE MARKET. HE FINANCIALLY SUPPORTED MARY AND HIMSELF BY TRADING ON THE STOCK MARKET. A PHYSICAL MAN THAT KEPT HIMSELF IN TOP SHAPE UNTIL HE WAS GROUNDED TO A WHEEL CHAIR THE LAST FEW YEARS OF HIS LIFE. RECENTLY I MENTIONED TO HIM ABOUT NOT HAVING ARCHITECTURAL WORK, AND HE SAID “HE COULD RELATE”, IN A MANNER THAT FELT LIKE HIS WHOLE ARCHITECTURAL BEING WAS IN PAIN.

TOO BAD HE WAS NOT INCLINED TO WRITING, BECAUSE HE HAD A LOT TO SAY. HE WILL BE MISSED , A DEAR FRIEND, MENTOR, AND FANTASTIC ARCHITECT. HE DID IT HIS WAY AND WAS TRUE TO HIS ARCHITECTURAL SOUL. I VISITED HIM A FEW TIMES IN OAKHURST. HE SAID I WAS THE ONLY ARCHITECTURAL FRIEND FROM LA TO DO SO. WHAT A SAD COMMENTARY.

GRIFFITH PARK APARTMENTS, 1966

ALLYN WAS A FUN GUY. WORKING FOR HIM WAS A CHALLEGE. ALLYN BEING A HANDS ON ARCHITECT BUILDER I WAS IMMERSED IN DOING CONSTRUCTION, BUT MY CONSTRUCTION SKILLS TO THAT DATE HAD ALL BEEN WOOD. HE TOLD ME TO GO DOWN THE HILL BRING BACK A PIPE CUTTER ,SET IT UP AND START CUTTING STEEL PIPE. HE BARKING AT ME ALL THE TIME. HE PUT ME IN CHARGE OF A CONCRETE FORMING JOB FOR MURKAMI RESIDENCE. THE DAY OF THE PORE ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE, ALLYN SAID IT WAS THE WORST FORMING JOB ON THE JOB. YOU CAN STILL SEE THE BULDGES IN THE ENTRY POOLS. YOURS TRULY TO BLAME. AFTER A FEW MONTHS I GOT ANOTHER JOB, BECAUSE I COULD NOT EXIST ON THE WAGES I WAS GETTING AND TOLD ALLYN I WAS LEAVING. HE SAID THAT WAS GOOD, OTHERWISE HE WOULD HAVE FIRED ME. WE LAUGHED ABOUT THAT FOR YEARS.

ALLYN BECAME A DEVELOPER ARCHITECT AND SWITCHED FROM CUSTOM CRAFTED STEEL CONSTRUCTION TO STUCCO OVER WOOD FRAME. THIS UPSET PEOPLE LIKE BERNARD ZIMMERMAN, BUT TO ME A NATURAL EVOLUTION, I LIKED IT ALL. BUILDING HIGH END DESIGN CHEAP SHOULD BE CELEBRATED, BUT THE PROFESSION ONLY REWARDS THE SLICK EXPENSIVE. ANOTHER SUBJECT.

ECHO PARK

ALLYN AND MYSELF ARE EXAMPLES OF ARCHITECTS MOVING AWAY FROM UGLY LOS ANGELES TO NATURE. A DELIGHT OF BEING IN NATURE, BUT A REAL BUMMER TO HAVING CLIENTS AND STAYING IN THE LOOP OF PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITY. I ADVISE AGAINST IT.

MARY HIS WIFE IS HAVING DIFFICULTY SELLING THEIR STUDIO ON THE RIVER IN OAKHURST CALIFORNIA, IF YOU WANT MORE INFORMATION CONTACT THEIR SON AT howard@morrisphoto.com.

GLEN HOWARD SMALL, AIA ARCHITECT

THIS ARTICLE AND PICTURES HAVE THE BLESSING OF SURVIVING FAMILY MEMBERS, MARY HIS WIFE AND HOWARD HIS SON.

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  • eric chavkin

    Glen,

    I was a shame to hear about Allyn Morris. Jan and I had a wonderful time meeting them. You know the story: Jan and I are exploring the architecture in Echo Park. We run into this fantastic house a spot a lady in her backyard garden ‘who was the architect’? She answers, ‘my husband. Are you studetns? Would would you like to come in? Maybe twelve hours later were still eating, drinking, talking about everything from SCI-Arc to post-modernism to box beams to the state of the world… and just barely getting home after having a really great time. And yes the view from that little red steel house is the most spectacular entry view i ever experienced – suspended mid-air on a spiral stair looking straight-out with the freeway buzzing below. Dramatic is too soft a word.

    eric

  • Pat Konrad

    Well, we certainly didn’t have anybody in Tampa like this. Reminds me of the culture I left behind when I moved out here. Did Morris have any large scale visionary ideas? If so, would be nice to see some pictures of them, if they exist.

    Pat

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      PAT,

      NOT WHAT I RECALL, HE WAS A NUTS AND BOLTS ARCHITECT. HE WAS EXPERIMENTING WITH SOME DOME THINGS, BUT THEY WERE NOT HIS THING.

      YOU MIGHT CONTACT HIS SON’S E MAIL ON THE BLOG.

      WISHING YOU THE BEST,

      GLEN

  • http://www.r10.net Kýyafet Oyunu Oyna

    Thanks you for that wonderful post. Looking for much. See you later.

  • http://jeniferpalmer-lacy.com Jenifer Palmer-Lacy

    What wonderful photos! I live next door but one to the Murikami House and that view is totally lost. Has anyone ever done a catalog of Morris’ buildings? Aren’t most of them on Silver Ridge?
    I was trying to find him through the internet for the last few years and there had been an office in Pasadena, but I am sorry to say I never located him. One of his original clients still lives on the street, but most of houses have been sold.

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      DEAR JENIFER PALMER-LACY

      YOU CAN CONTACT HIS SON HOWARD howard morris

      HE HAS LOTS OF PHOTOS AND CAN REFER YOU TO PEOPLE THAT LOVED ALLYN.

      LIKE MOST ARCHITECTS THAT PRODUCE GEMS, THE NEXT OWNER FEELS ENTITLED TO DO WHATEVER THEY WANT TO DO TO THE GEMS. MONEY TALKS LOUD IN THE USA.

      STAY CLOSE,

      GLEN glenhowardsmall@gmail.com

  • Stephen Chin

    Thank you for sharing these memories of Allyn.

    I live in his original Studio, so I get to walk through that door and experience that space and that view almost every day. After 15 years, there’s still a sense of wonder and joy living with Allyn’s architecture. Over those years, I had the privilege of meeting and becoming friends with Allyn. I invited him down for a party in the Studio with what was then a small band of home-owners dedicated to preserving and restoring the then-underappreciated work of L.A. modernist architects. He was still opinionated, outspoken and charismatic, though I gather from those at the gathering who knew him in earlier years that some of the bombastic intensity had mellowed. He was kind, gracious and generous, sharing blueprints and photos and memories of life in the Studio.

    Later, when I met Julius Shulman and shared pictures with him of the Studio, Julius was dismayed that Allyn had only asked him to take pictures of his later work. I was able to put Julius on the phone with Allyn (the first time Julius had used a cell-phone) and they joked about the miracles of modern technology and plotted a reunion that sadly never happened.

    I was deeply saddened when Allyn passed. Somehow, it seemed impossible that he would. His work gives me pleasure and satisfaction every day, and it has me spoiled for other spaces. I am continually astonished by how well designed and engineered this, his first work, was. I feel his vitality, flamboyance and rigor in every bit of it.

    I never thought I would leave the Studio, but, like Allyn, marriage and family will likely force me to move in the near future. I hope to pass it on to someone who will appreciate what Allyn built here, and preserve his legacy as I tried to do.

  • Rick Rubinoff

    I lived in this studio house in the late 60’s as a renter and I still marvel at it’s architectural innovations.

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  • Patriciac A. Marks. Oct. 24, 2013

    I am the present owner of Allyn Morris studio since 2011. It is a joy that I marvel at each day. The spectacular view that he visioned, the materials of steel, glass and brick that he combined in such an inspiring way. The patterned brick, the three story glass stair well with glass meeting glass at 9o degrees. The dynamic primary color scheme with an emphasis on red, all lending itself to drama of the first order.
    . When standing in the living area your eyes automatically looks upward as the space is so soaring. The sky is awesome as a constant palette of changing scenes seen through the towering glass windows. And at night the moon traces its light thru the overhead windows onto my bed. I feel blessed each day to live sp gloriously.