Why did you go into architecture? What prompted you to come to California?
It all started when I was relatively young, 14 years old. I was starting to think about what I wanted to do. Architecture is a creative profession - a mix of art and science. I was good at drawing. I had an inspiring teacher in high school. We had a class of about 118 kids and out of the class, six of us became architects. I’m from a small community in Minnesota and this inspiring teacher got me interested and I thought I could do well. I also majored in architecture in college. I graduated from Moorehead State University and North Dakota University in Red River Valley.
I always loved the culture in LA and I had a couple of friends that talked me into into buying a motorcycle. Within two weeks of graduating, I was on the road on a motorcycle and came to California. My entire family is in Minnesota. The weather was too brutal for me. Growing up in Minnesota, I always felt you could see the world and you were observing it, but not participating in it. I wanted to be in a place that was more social and culturally invigorating. It was stifling for me in the Midwest. I wanted to do more.
I hit California in the early 70s. Especially this time of year being in LA (in Thanksgiving), I remember reading books in classes and colleges about the environment, issues in California, and the California music scene, which was the Beach Boys. It seemed like it was a live, hopping place - a place with a nice climate I had to experience. I never really want to go back East. I thought it would be temporary, initially. I can remember day by day the adventure of coming out on a motorcycle. I left July 1, 1971 and arrived on July 28, 1971. I spent a week in Golden, California - a friend’s brother was living there. I made an adventure out of it; we were called the “Minnesota Hippies” and “Queasy Riders.”
At that time, I left with $300 in my pocket, most of which I spent along the way. I found an apartment in Venice. There were four of us living there and rent was $150 a month. We didn’t have any money. We lived on potatoes and butter, that was about it. It was an interesting time, but a humble start - starting from the bottom and working my way up.
My first job here was at a car wash for a month. They wanted me to go on to management training. I went from there to a clothing store and met my girlfriend, now wife, who asked me what I was doing with my life. In the early 70s there was no work with the recession going on at the time and very little opportunity. I decided to meet with a headhunter and eventually went on 17 interviews. I gave myself a week to find a job. I pounded on a whole bunch of architects’ doors. Finally, I started running blueprints as a print boy, and as a junior at Steven Oppenheim & Associates in Hollywood at Sunset, east of La Brea. I worked there for a month and then they fired me because they ran out of work. I was in tears because I thought they had done me a disservice. One month wouldn’t be any good on a resume. They called me that night and brought me back with their property manager to do property management. I then painted apartments in San Diego and repaired sewer lines in Malibu. I painted the outside of the Sunset Orange Motel to have a job for another two months.
I started interviewing again and after an additional two months, I left and joined another company in LA for five years. After a year, I started with Construction Administration. There was very little architectural work at the time. But, through that job I learned a lot about how buildings go together, and how to relate to contractors and cities, and consulting. This was the basis of my groundwork; it was invaluable.
In 1979, I broke away with two other partners and we started our own company. We had six people in 1979, by 1984 we had 12 people. By 1986, 60 people and 1988, 160 people in the company. The recession of 1991 hit and the mantra in the industry at that time was staying alive until 1995, when a lot of firms were going out of business. We shrunk to 75 people and were able to stay alive. On January 28, 1999 we moved to 111 West Ocean Blvd, Long Beach, CA. We stayed there for 16 years and just last year moved out, to the location we are at today. From 1999-2008 we continued to grow and opened multiple offices around the country. We had offices in Sacramento, Denver, Portland, Hawaii, Arkansas and D.C. Many of those have closed now, but we still have offices in D.C., Arkansas, Downtown LA, Long Beach and Shanghai.
What’s the first project you ever worked on?
Lake View Center in Yorba Center. I was a draftsman at the time. I barely knew what I was doing. With technical drawings, we did a retail center in a very heavily wooded, mountain chalet themed with heavy timber and wood. It was fun and exciting, but a lot of work. It’s been remodeled several times since then and probably exists under a different name.