Harry Gesner, Architect of Soaring California Style, Dies at 97

Harry Gesner, the dashing, surf-loving architect whose hovering designs celebrated California’s dramatic panorama in homes that straddled canyons, perched over seashores and cantilevered from cliffs, died on June 10 at his dwelling in Malibu, Calif., a whorl of a spot known as the Sandcastle. He was 97.

The trigger was problems of most cancers, stated Casey Dolan, his stepson.

Mr. Gesner, who was raised in California, may ski and surf like a professional. He flew his first airplane at 14. The actress June Lockhart was his past love, throughout his senior yr at Santa Monica High School — she went to Westlake, they met water-skiing — however their romance was interrupted by his service in World War II.

As an architect he was largely self-taught, although Frank Lloyd Wright invited him to check at Taliesin West, his property and college in Scottsdale, Ariz. His shiplike homes, which have been usually constructed by Norwegian shipbuilders, have been distinctly, excitingly Californian, with partitions of glass, spherical, sunken residing rooms, fireplace pits and peaked A-frame roofs. They would outline the Southern California panorama and aesthetic and its freewheeling ethos, as a lot as the homes of John Lautner, one other eclectic modernist, who designed the Chemosphere, in any other case referred to as the flying saucer home, which floats above the North Hollywood Hills.

Mr. Gesner sketched his most well-known home whereas bobbing on his lengthy board in entrance of its eventual web site in Malibu. Set on the seaside of a secluded cove, the Wave House, constructed for his pal and fellow surfer Gerry Cooper, appears to be like like a winged creature, or a cresting wave. The hand-cut spherical, copper shingles on its vaulted roof are just like the scales of a fish.

The Wave House was inbuilt 1957, the identical yr the Swedish architect Jorn Utzon gained the competitors to design the Sydney Opera House, and lots of declared, and proceed to keep up, that the Wave House had been his inspiration. Mr. Gesner stated the resemblance was coincidental — although he did recall Mr. Utzon calling to go with him on his design, which had been publicized all around the world.

“I do want individuals wouldn’t insist that one thing appears to be like like one thing else, however they do,” he informed Lisa Germany for her guide “Houses of the Sundown Sea” (2012), a survey of Mr. Gesner’s work. “It’s human nature and a bore. An inspirational idea comes from a set of elements and items of all we expertise within the act of on a regular basis residing and that great sauce, ‘creativeness.’”

Harry Harmer Gesner was born on April 28, 1925, in Oxnard, Calif., west of Los Angeles. His father, Harry M. Gesner, was an inventor, engineer and adventurist who at 16 rode with the Rough Riders, the volunteer cavalry led by Theodore Roosevelt within the Spanish-American War; surfed with Duke Kahanamoku, the early Hawaiian browsing star; and flew his personal biplane. Harry’s mom, Ethel (Harmer) Gesner, was an artist, the daughter of Alexander Harmer, a famous panorama painter of Southern California. A terrific-great-grandfather was José de la Guerra, a rich Spanish army commander and landowner in Santa Barbara referred to as El Capitan, and one among Mr. Gesner’s uncles was Jack Northrop, the plane designer, engineer and industrialist who created the prototype for what would turn into the B-2 stealth bomber.

Mr. Gesner was 19 when he landed on the seaside at Normandy, ducking by means of the waves from the aspect of a touchdown craft. The expertise marked him without end; he was, he stated years later, “rudely modified from a boy to a person after a few minute with the wounded, dying and about to be useless members of my squad.”

He survived D-Day however practically misplaced his legs to frostbite combating alongside the German line. He sketched as he marched, capturing the aqueducts, church buildings and castles of Europe, noting their Gothic particulars.

On his discharge, he spent six months at Yale auditing an structure class taught by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a visiting professor on the time. Wright invited Mr. Gesner to check with him at Taliesin, however Mr. Gesner boarded a freighter as a substitute and headed to Ecuador, the place he excavated pre-Incan artifacts. He then headed to Mexico City, the place he bumped into the actor Errol Flynn at a bar. Flynn requested him to assist take his yacht, Sirocco, again to California, however the departure date stored being postpone, so Mr. Gesner went dwelling.

He labored for one more uncle, an architect, as an apprentice to the builders after which started designing his personal homes.

For his dad and mom and an aunt, Mr. Gesner designed homes comprised of adobe bricks laid at an angle. Nestled into their landscapes, they appeared as in the event that they have been rising out of the bottom. For a developer, he constructed a glassy rhomboid, set on a ridge over the Malibu coast. For a household with a small web site in a canyon, he constructed a home like a bridge — or an aqueduct — that spans two slopes.

For Fred Cole, the swimwear magnate, he designed a double A-frame bachelor pad with Tahitian touches — for its partitions of glass, Mr. Gesner designed “curtains” comprised of bamboo and glass beads — and perched it on a thin web site overlooking Sunset Boulevard that engineers had claimed was unimaginable to construct on.

Mr. Gesner would turn into the go-to architect for a lot of of Hollywood’s well-heeled bachelors. John Scantlin — whose firm invented the Quotron, the primary magnetic-tape-based inventory market system, which changed the outdated ticker-tape machines — requested just for a bed room, a lounge, a small kitchen and a moist bar (in addition to a three-car storage and tennis courts). The rest room was a grotto, with the bathroom tucked right into a forest of ferns, and the home was surrounded by a pool, from which one may swim into the grotto.

One mission that by no means left the drafting board was a compound for Marlon Brando, to be constructed on the French Polynesian atoll he had purchased after filming “Mutiny on the Bounty” within the early Sixties. It was to be powered by windmills and photo voltaic panels and cooled by an enormous aquarium that Brando wished full of sharks and moray eels. Giant palm trunks have been to be flying buttresses for a number of roofs, which have been to be sheathed in pandanus leaves. Brando additionally wished a mini-version of this island fantasy for his property in Beverly Hills. As Mr. Gesner told Architectural Digest in 2008, it was exhausting to maintain the actor centered.

“He was very bedroom-oriented, and every little thing developed from there,” he stated. “Suddenly in the midst of a dialogue, a good looking Asian mannequin would stroll in and Marlon would disappear for half an hour. I’d simply sit there and browse a guide.”

Mr. Gesner used sustainable supplies lengthy earlier than it was modern. The Sandcastle, which he constructed for himself and his fourth spouse, the actress Nan Martin, on the secluded Malibu cove proper subsequent to the Wave House, was comprised of lumber salvaged from a highschool that had burned down, and marble from public baths that have been about to be demolished. He used outdated phone poles to help its tower — Ms. Germany, the writer of “Houses of the Sundown Sea,” described the place as resembling “a Dutch windmill, a Spanish lighthouse, a Hobbit’s dwelling.” Mr. Gesner known as it a house for “two inventive and really a lot in love adults, a child boy and a Labrador retriever.”

In addition to his stepson, Mr. Gesner is survived by his daughter, Tara Tanzer-Cartwright; two sons, Jason and Zen; and 5 grandchildren. His marriages to Audrey Hawthorne, Patti Townsend and Patricia Alexander led to divorce. Ms. Martin died in 2010.

In the Nineties, Mr. Gesner transformed his beloved 1959 silver Mercedes 190 SL convertible into an electrical car. He had three patents for a system to show stable waste into gas, and in his later years he labored on designs for poured concrete and wooden constructions that have been engineered for excessive climate. “Houses that survive,” he known as them.

“They will face up to the worst parts,” he told The New York Times in 2012. “Hurricanes, in fact. Tornadoes. Tsunamis. Termites and solar spots. Outside of withstanding a volcanic river of molten rock, I believe we will clear up all of our issues by good design, smart, sensible design that takes into impact all the weather.”



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