Eugene Weston III, modernist architect, dies at 87

Posted Feb. 12, 2012, at 9:13 p.m.

Modernist architect Eugene Weston III was in his early 30s when he declared that “the house is the last of the handcrafted objects” in an industrial age.

The year was 1956, and he argued in the Los Angeles Times that even a modest house could be “more beautiful and meaningful” if it was built with post-and-beam construction that opens up interiors and invites the outdoors in through walls of glass.

A third-generation Los Angeles architect, Weston built a string of midcentury homes here before spending three decades with a San Diego firm known for such large-scale commissions as the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Wild Animal Park and several major buildings at the University of California, San Diego.

Weston died Jan. 31 in Santa Barbara, said Ron Adler, a son-in-law. He was 87.

Through their work for local clients, Weston and such well-known architects as Richard Neutra and John Lautner introduced experimental designs that influenced “countless imitators,” according to “Foothill Moderns,” a 2007 exhibit at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga.

After completing his studies in 1947 at what is now the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Weston worked at the Hollywood firm of his father, Eugene Weston Jr., known for designing the temple-like American Legion building on Highland Avenue.

With another architect, Douglas Byles, Weston formed a partnership, and they became general contractors who built their first post-and-beam home on speculation in 1949 in Pasadena. The widely published design sold for about $12,000.

Weston’s “designs are simple, elegant and to the scale of how many people desired to live, then and now,” Keith York, an authority on Southern California modernism, told The Times in 2006.

The architect built a number of homes in and around Pasadena but only one in Eagle Rock, in 1953, for Norman Bilderback, then a director of design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

After art dealer Scott Nadeau bought the hillside home in 2003, he compared it to a treehouse for the summer light that streams through both sides of the living room: “I kept thinking about this 28-year-old designer, Eugene Weston. God, how smart is this guy?”

Nadeau reached out to the architect, and they became friends and business partners who worked to reissue Weston’s early 1950s line of furniture that included a dining set and stackable stools.

While acknowledging the recent renewed interest in his architecture, Weston once said: “Though a lot of them were small, the houses are still very livable. I guess people finally realized this is a good thing.”

Weston was born in 1924 in Los Angeles into a family of architect-builders.

His grandfather, Eugene Weston, established a company in Los Angeles at the end of the 1800s to build stone-foundation bungalows. His father and uncle, Joseph Weston, were architects who opened a factory in the 1930s to build prefabricated houses.

After serving in the Army in the U.S. from 1942 to 1945, Eugene Weston III studied industrial design at the Art Center and met his future wife, Wanda, an interior design student.

In 1956, he moved to La Jolla and continued building midcentury homes. When the housing market slowed, he began a partnership with architect Fred Liebhardt in 1960.

The firm’s projects included the San Diego Yacht Club clubhouse, the Islandia Hotel in Mission Bay and buildings for San Diego State, Scripps Research Institute and the San Diego Zoo.

Upon retiring in 1990, Weston moved to the Sea Ranch, a Northern California coastal enclave, and designed his last project there, a wood-and-glass structure that he called home until 2003, when he moved to Santa Barbara to be near family.

Weston is survived by Wanda, his wife of 65 years; four daughters, Candy, Karen, Mimi and Sherri; a sister, Jane; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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