Category Archives: friends

Mardi Gras 2016

On this wet, chilly Mardi Gras back in Eugene, we’re recalling Mardi Gras in New Orleans last year.  I’ve put together a nine-minute video which captures the images and especially the music of that day, from parading with the St. Anthony’s Ramblers and the Panorama Jazz Band through the Marigny, St. Roch and the French Quarter, ending up at the amazing party at Constantine’s in the Pontalba on Jackson Square.

More photos and commentary from that day at  this post.

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Dan Rabin

As I’ve tried to pass on my hard-won wisdom to Greta over the past decade, certain insights and aphorisms have appeared repeatedly. Be aware of what is happening around you all the time. Always have three points of contact with the boat. How can this be explained by natural selection? Never put pineapple on pizza. But near the top of the list has been the warning, Be careful to whom you talk the first day of college, as you might be stuck with them for the rest of your life.

Dan, Bob and Mike

Dan, Bob and Mike

Dan Rabin is our prime example of this. Dan lived in a single next door to our suite in Hurlbut Hall freshman year. He was slight, youngish-seeming (he did turn out to be a year younger, having skipped a grade), from Silver Spring, MD. As I looked around his almost-bare room, two things jumped out at me. There was a rug on the floor which had a leaping tiger cub and said Daniel Eli, and there was a huge black and white city map on the wall. I didn’t recognize the city, so I looked more closely, and noticed that the map had been pieced together from many 14×17 sheets. It was a very detailed map, with blocks and streets clearly represented, and then I noticed it was hand-drawn in pencil. Dan explained that it was a city he had made up. I later found out that he hadn’t just doodled a map and it kept growing. He had recapitulated the process of metropolitan growth in the process of drawing the map. He started with the small colonial settlement on the natural harbor, which then expanded. In the 19th century, the railroad line came in, which shifted where the growth occurred, and various grids appeared, as new plats were added to the city, and outlying villages were subsumed. Finally, there was development of the 20th century street network, and the interstates came to the city, bringing the postwar suburban growth pattern with them.

This map is a good illustration of how Dan’s mind works – any seemingly casual remark is always backed-up by an incredible amount of research, knowledge and thought (as any reader of this blog knows from seeing Dan’s comments about my posts on Facebook, where he adds a lot of background and corrections to posts I’ve just tossed off.) For decades I’ve relied upon him to know more, and remember more, about a wide range of subjects – cities, music, science fiction, food, transit systems, science in general, computers, geography, politics, etc. – where I have gaps. In a dorm full of what I’ve characterized as “misfits and savants”, Dan was out there at the nerdy end of the spectrum. This was a semi-derisive term when we were young, but I’ve found that Greta and her friends are proud of this label, as it signifies people who have deeper concerns than whatever subjects are currently popular.

Dan arrived at college with an advanced background in science and math, especially computer science. He had been working as a summer intern at the National Bureau of Standards for years, getting an exposure to computers before it was on most people’s radar. Dan started as a physics major, but then like most of my friends, switched over to engineering. However, he took advantage of the range of subjects available, studying folklore and mythology, literature, etc. We talked about Tolkien in those early years (Dan was the only person I knew who actually wrote in Elvish), and he was part of our core group which became exposed to and then dove into the Grateful Dead freshman year. For physical activity, we walked around the Boston area looking at places, and he threw a mean Frisbee. This was when Dan began to really develop his obsession with strange rock music. A Beatles and Dylan fanatic when he was young, before long he was pulling out obscure Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart albums to educate me. Eventually in the 80s he ran out of offbeat rock music to collect (at one point he remarked that he had twelve Gentle Giant albums, and he didn’t really like Gentle Giant), and he switched over to collecting strange jazz, of which there is a limitless supply.

After college Dan, Norman and I drove cross country together, our first exposure to the West.redwood021

We returned to Boston, where Dan went to grad school at MIT for a couple of years in operations research. Living near each other in Somerville, we hung out a lot, and along with Jon Ehrman and John Wenzel, we taught ourselves to cook the new styles of Chinese food that had swept the country in the 70s. Dan stayed on in Boston after I moved to New York, working in the computer industry, and then moved to San Diego to be part of a research group at the university, doing what we now think of as artificial intelligence. After years of gloom and post-collegiate funk in Boston, Dan discovered life in the Promised Land (sunshine and great food!), and has spent most of his life there since. We would get together when business trips or family gatherings brought us cross-country.

Bob, Dan and me

Bob, Dan and me

One day, while Dan was working at Xerox PARC, it occurred to him that maybe he should take a computer class, which he’d never done. So he moved to New Haven to work on his PhD. I remember him gleefully contacting me the first day of fall term, after he had just taught a section of a large intro computer course, to tell me that he was teaching computer science at Yale, before he had actually ever taken a computer course himself..

I spent a year working in Norwalk in 1995, so once again Dan and I could hang out, eating New Haven pizza and taking excursions into the City and around southern New England (Dan was especially fond of the post-19th-century-industrial landscape of places like Taunton). But missing California while succumbing to the widespread loathing of New Haven, he headed back to the Bay Area, where he finished his dissertation and remained. Dan’s timing for graduate school was bad, as there were no academic positions in his specialty for a few years, so he continued working in the industry, with stints at Apple, Adobe and Google. (Dan has noted that unlike most of his colleagues in the industry, he procured a PhD; instead, they procured houses.)

Living on the West Coast, we’ve been able to see more of Dan in recent years, and an important part of this has been his friendship with Greta. (I think their bond was cemented six years ago, when in the middle of a conversation, Dan lapsed into a Monty Python reference – “No, try again ” – and Greta correctly replied “Australia?”) Dan is on her very short list of favorite grown-ups, probably because he exhibits so little of the conventional behavior and opinions you expect from most grown-ups, and he’s always treated her as a peer, not dismissed her as a little kid. He understands the types of ideas and places Greta will find interesting, and our ramblings now skew in that direction, as on this visit in 2010.IMG_2098

Dan has been gainfully unemployed in recent years, devoting his time to biking, photography, and bird-watching (usually combining these three), music, and restaurant-exploration with friends. Those of you who are Facebook friends with me undoubtedly have seen Dan’s many insightful and funny comments on my posts (indeed, not a few of you have mentioned that getting to read Dan’s comments is the main reason you’re friends with me). I think these comments take a significant amount of work, and I’m hoping that his Facebook oeuvre is being archived somewhere for future generations (but perhaps with a pun-filter.)

Greta and I were pretty burned out with trip planning by the time we got to the Bay Area, so we let Dan determine our agenda. He took us to some of his favorite places (such as the Lick Observatory), and a wide range of fabulous Asian restaurants around the Peninsula. I did my normal digression into chicken-walk photography around notable architecture, which works much better with Dan along – when he and Greta get tired of the architecture, they can sit and talk to each other about other things.DSCF1054

Just as Leon Krier often included a small sketch of James Stirling as part of the entourage in his renderings, I’ve noticed that in many of my architectural and city photos over the years, Dan appears in a corner of the picture,DSCF1660

as we have spent much of our time together in the past four decades wandering around looking at places and talking. The partnership works well, as our interests overlap quite a bit, but Dan brings a different perspective and knowledge far beyond mine on many aspects. (For examples, Dan has ridden every mile of the New York City subway system, but he has never lived in New York. Another time, he spent weeks of vacation visiting and analyzing the structure of Central Valley towns, after which he sent me a report.)

When we began this trip, I mentioned to Greta that I intended to track down a lot of my old friends, and she said cool, she wanted to meet more of them, as the ones she knew well (Dan, Bob and Mike, pictured at the top), were really interesting and entertaining. And as we neared California on this trip, trying to decide what parts of that vast state we had time to visit, Greta said she had only two absolute requirements: revisiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and seeing Dan. So it turns out that not only might you get stuck with the people you meet the first day in college, but your kids might also.

San Francisco undergrads

After they graduate, most of our students head off to the big West Coast cities to start their careers – Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are their most common destinations. About 20 years ago, I remember a student telling me how excited she was to graduate and move to San Francisco, and I thought, I’ve been in Eugene longer than her – why don’t I get to graduate and move to San Francisco? It is such a great town to live in as a young adult that I was jealous of them, having never lived there myself. But even though I’ve stayed in Eugene, I have about a 20-year backlog of former students living in the Bay Area, so we at least got to experience life there vicariously by seeing some of them.

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Katharine Dwyer and Chris Gebhardt both graduated from the UO three years ago. Katharine came from Oakland, and has now returned to her hometown, while Chris came from Colorado, and used his stint at the UO in the way that many of those from landlocked states do, to jump-start a more coastal lifestyle. I got to know both of them when they were in my Housing the 99% studio in 2012, where Katharine’s project focussed on how unit sizes could be shrunk back down to reasonable levels for all household types (an excellent exercise for someone about to move back to the Bay Area), and Chris focussed on how the income streams and cash flows could work within a block of housing that mirrored our national economic and demographic mix. They both exemplified the type of smart, engaged, and wide-ranging undergraduates we sometimes take for granted around here. Chris was also one of my main informants on interesting things out there in the culture – he was the one who first exposed me to XKCD, and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. (I think I paid him back with Babymetal.)

Katharine and Chris both seem gainfully and happily employed – Katharine as a job captain at the Huntsman Architectural Group (she regaled us with a story about her exposure to urban rooftop beekeeping earlier in the day), and Chris as a designer at Ankron Moisan’s new San Francisco office (with which his preceding firm just merged), continuing his interest in housing. It is always an adjustment for me to realize that people I still think of as college students now actually have a substantial amount of professional experience, and I was struck by how much they’ve done and how clearly they understand the world of practice.

Staying in touch with former students through Facebook has turned out to be a good thing for an old guy trying to vicariously live in San Francisco. I get to see signs that Katharine is doing all those fun young professional lifestyle things around the region, and that Chris spends a lot of time racing on sailboats out in the Bay. It is also clear is how nice it is that they arrived in the city with a pre-existing cohort of friends that all moved down from the UO, and that those really strong architecture school friendships can continue into the next phase of their lives.

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Javier Ruiz is another San Francisco native who returned to the city after graduating from the UO in 2009. Javier was in my housing thesis studio that year, where he proposed a block of high-density rowhouse types in downtown Eugene, a project of remarkable complexity and context-specific adaptation. Javier was another one of those students with whom it was often difficult to stay on topic – he just knew about too many other interesting things beyond architecture, and always had something very amusing to say about them. He was restrained and quiet on the surface, but there was always a lot going on under that surface.

After years working on institutional projects, Javier has recently begun work with Gunkel Architecture, where he is getting back into residential work, illustrating the timeless irony of young architects in major cities doing residential projects that they could never afford to live in. (When I was l working in New York, and a client complained that the master bedroom in a unit was too small, I drew a rectangle in one corner of it. He asked, what’s that, and I answered, my apartment.) Javier has recently suffered the fate of many native San Franciscans, forced out of their hometown by rising real estate prices. His reaction on Facebook was classic Javier:

Okay, I surrender, moving to Berkeley. But when I return across the narrow bay it will be with dragons and a goddamned army, and no quantity of gadgetry, web design, crossfit, crowdsourcing, VC, tasting menus, queues, maker spaces, or general purpose artisanal bullshit will save you. Peace! (For a limited time only.)

A new job and residence were not enough disruption for Javier last year – he also got married – hitting the trifecta of fundamental life changes. Photos of their wedding at the San Francisco City Hall just appeared on Facebook one day, the first time I’ve seen pictures of a straight couple getting married there in years.

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Greta and I instigated a Facebook-based get-together with these former students, and ended up at an Indian restaurant south of Market that Javier knew about. We dragged Dan along with us, which amplified one of my favorite aspects of these crowd-sourced gatherings – strange juxtapositions of friends from very different stages of my life. It’s always fun to mix up different cohorts of our graduates – I assume that they know each other within a geographic region, but they usually don’t. Dan added another level of complexity to the relationship mix, and I enjoyed seeing other connections emerge; whereas Dan may be the primary amusing Facebook commenter of his generation, I have found Javier to be the rising star of his. His posts offer wry insights into life in the Bay Area, politics, design, and broader currents in our culture. I think he should give up architecture and get his own YouTube channel.

We tried to schedule another Facebook gathering in the East Bay, but the logistics just got too complicated for getting together with Lisa Leal, Matt Cunha-Rigby and Olivia Asuncion, among others; there are entirely too many people to see in the Bay Area, and we would need a few weeks to cover them all. But having touched base with students from three and seven years earlier, we were later able to see what an older generation of former students have been doing with their lives for the past 20 years.

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Randy Wiederhold and Christine Lehto both graduated from the UO in 1995. Randy was from Palo Alto and Christine was from a small town on the Columbia River. They were members of a great undergraduate class which included Roberto Cipriano, among many offbeat and accomplished others. Randy was in my second year studio, and even at that early stage it was obvious that his brain worked at lightning speed, and with remarkable rigor. While most young undergraduates focus on making a big formal gesture, Randy saw that the logic of the building fabric and systems could help determine the order of the architecture, and not simply be used to implement a driving metaphor.

After college Christine and Randy worked in Portland for a while, then moved to the Bay Area so Randy could get an engineering degree at Stanford. They both continued their careers, with Randy working at a number of notable firms before starting his own practice; Christine has now been working at Gensler for nine years. We had some interesting discussions about the state of the profession – they’ve worked in a broad range of practices, from sole practitioner to a large, multi-city corporate giant, and once again I learned a lot from thoughtful former students, who really understand more about where things are going than I do.

Over the years on Facebook I’ve seen pictures of their two kids growing up, and we were looking forward to meeting them in person. Anni immediately got added to Greta’s ever-growing list of cool nerdy girls she’s met on this trip, whereas Eli and Greta had a harder time comprehending each other, and it took Eli a while to realize that Greta was a girl. We met up with them all at the DeYoung Museum, where a friend of theirs was the artist in residence producing amazing giant paper flowers,

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and at one point the kids devolved into parallel play in what seemed to be some of their dominant activities – Greta writing, Anni drawing, and Eli zoning out.dscf1506

We wandered over to their house in the Richmond, and got to see the richness of how they live, both at the private and neighborhood scales. Christine and Randy bought a small multi-family building (back when doing such a thing was a stretch but not unimaginable), and have figured out how to make a go of urban family living through smarts, sweat equity and adaptability. The building has four units over a ground floor of service and garage. That’s their famous VW van parked in front, used for family camping excursions.

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Christine and Randy lived in one unit as they renovated the building, making a fantastic home for themselves at the rear of the main floor, and expanding that unit down to the ground floor, with access to the rear garden. As their family and needs grew, the building gave them the flexibility to expand, even as the rental units provided income, and they’ve recently taken over the garage space as a room for all the kids’ activities.

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Their main space is open and light, with the kitchen, dining and living areas all connected. The design is elegant and simple, and works as the armature for all the things that matter in their lives – the space was full of art, music, books, and food. As they explained their history of buying, renovating, maintaining and changing the building over time, I was really impressed. I often tell my students that as architects don’t make a lot of money, if they want to live in a certain way or place, they’ll have to achieve that by being smarter and thinking unconventionally. If you just accept what the market has to offer, you’ll end up in a conventional apartment that has none of the qualities that matter to you. In one of the toughest housing markets I the country, Christine and Randy came up with a strategy that worked physically and financially, a place for their family to thrive.

We walked around the neighborhood, and saw how embedded they were in the community. They kept stopping to chat with friends. We passed many great-looking little restaurants, and ended up at a Korean barbecue place. After dinner we spent some time at the amazing independent bookstore near their house. Greta was in awe as she saw that this kind of living was possible in a big city, where a kid could walk to restaurants, museums, parks and especially, a bookstore.

A major goal of this trip has been to expose Greta to a wide range of ways people live in this country, so meeting up with these friends in San Francisco was an eye-opener. Greta’s not sure where she wants to live in the future, but she’s now clear about one criterion – it has to be a place where a car isn’t needed to conduct her day-to-day life. As for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to live in San Francisco, but thanks to our former students who stay in touch, I have been getting a good sense of what that life could be like, as I watch them proceed through all the stages of grown-up architect life.

The Finrows

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As I’ve written blog posts about all the friends we’ve visited and stayed with this past year, I’ve noticed a paradox – the more time I’ve spent with someone over the years, the harder it is to write about them. If it’s an old high school buddy whom I haven’t seen in 30 years, time (and age) acts as a filter. I remember certain stories from the distant past (and doubtless have forgotten many more) that frame the friendship, and then I can follow with the holiday-letter synopsis of their adult life. But if it’s someone with whom your friendship has evolved continually over the years, there are just too many aspects to cover, so these posts necessarily feel more cursory, or inadequate. This has certainly been true in writing about our family members, and with some close friends, such as Jerry and Gunilla Finrow.

I first spoke to Jerry in 1990, when I called about a job at the UO for which I had seen an ad in Architectural Record. Jerry surprised me when he said he had heard of the firm where I worked, and he strongly encouraged me to apply for the job. I did, and that pretty much set me on the course of my life since.

Jerry had grown up in eastern Washington, and attended the undergraduate architecture program at UW. He worked for some noted architects and landscape architects in Seattle, and then went off to graduate school at Berkeley in the 1960s. He was there for the intellectual and political foment that was Berkeley in that period, and he was actually in the Christopher Alexander seminar where they first began to develop the idea of the Pattern Language. Jerry and Gunilla met at Berkeley, as she was a graduate student also, after having grown up in Helsinki and gone to architecture school at the ETH in Switzerland. They left the Bay Area to move to Eugene, where Jerry became a faculty member (and later department head) in architecture, while Gunilla became a faculty member (and later program director) in interior architecture. They lived in a house on Fairmount which they beautifully remodelled, and where they raised their children Eric and Eva.

The year after I (and Linda) arrived in Eugene, Jerry became the dean of AAA. We had a great, but necessarily limited relationship, as deans are always travelling or busy, and don’t spend a lot of time just hanging out with junior faculty. But Jerry and I had a lot of overlapping interests (such as housing), and even while he was busy running the school, he always found time to track what I was doing, and give me excellent pointers and suggestions. Linda and Gunilla had a closer relationship, as they worked together in a much smaller program, although their relationship went back further: Gunilla had been Linda’s adviser when Linda was in graduate school at the UO, and Gunilla had been the one who encouraged her to apply for the faculty position back at the UO when it became open. So it’s very clear that without multiple interventions by the Finrows, Linda and I would never have met.

In 1995, Jerry accepted the job of dean at the University of Washington, and they moved to Seattle. We missed having them in Eugene, but visited them several times there while on work-related trips, including the summer of 2001, when Linda was pregnant. While we were there, they mentioned that they had started construction on a summer house on Whidbey Island, and did we want to run up to see it? We did, and fell in love with the place. The house was exquisite, a blend of vernacular, modernist and Scandinavian influences, simple and impeccably detailed.DSCF1128

We were also taken with the historic town of Coupeville, and the landscape of Ebey’s Landing. I remember eating lunch on the beach at Ft. Casey, and Gunilla relating how she had grown up on the water in Helsinki, but then had lived inland in Eugene for 25 years, and was never quite content. Now she would be able to see the water every day, and it felt right. I completely understood, as I had moved back to Eugene two years before after four years in Portland; Eugene was the only place I’d lived in my life that didn’t have salt water, and it didn’t feel right to me either. We visited them on the island several times after Greta was born, and eventually bought our own property in the town and built a house (often staying with the Finrows until it was occupiable). So once again the Finrows casually set us on a major life trajectoryDSC04104

Linda and I managed to have Greta without any interventions by the Finrows, but they’ve been an important part of her life ever since. As all of Greta’s grandparents were much older and across the country, she didn’t get to see them very often, and the Finrows became her surrogate West Coast grandparents. We’ve been spending our summers on Whidbey for ten years now, a half mile from the Finrows, and being able to to spend time with them (as well as Bill and Mary Gilland, who built a house across Penn Cove), has been one of the things we most look forward to every year. Over the years Linda and Gunilla have spent a lot of time consulting on gardening, and I can sometimes drag Jerry out to be the helmsman on the boat.IMG_9341

Jerry and Gunilla are now both retired, living between downtown Seattle and Coupeville – spending their time gardening, cooking, going to the symphony, and relaxing after busy careers. They’ve also been travelling quite a bit – usually trips to visit Gunilla’s family in Finland, or garden tours in the UK. When we get together at the beginning of each summer, Bill and Jerry (both former deans of AAA) will ask me how things are going at the UO, and will listen attentively as I launch into a narrative about the latest administrative crises and outrages, etc. After a few minutes they both begin to grin, and one will say to the other, Boy I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any of that anymore. I have a few years to go, but I’m looking forward to joining them.

Jerry and Gunilla had been heading south for some time every winter, and a few years ago they decided they needed another architectural project, so they designed another great house in Santa Cruz. They use it as an intermittent vacation residence, and their daughter Eva and her family use it as a weekend house, coming over the hills from the Bay Area. It works really well as a multigenerational house, with the main living spaces and the Finrows on the upper level (with a view of the ocean), and the Born family occupying the ground floor. Something they didn’t plan on (but they must have grasped at some intuitive level) was that Keyes family would be showing up again someday, and the house has superb urban camping amenities, with a nicely secluded spot for our trailer behind the porte cochere.  109. Santa Cruz007DSCF0962

Our unplanned timing was great, as we not only got to see the Finrows, but also Eva’s family. (Greta has known the Born boys since she was little.) Eva’s husband Colin took Greta along to the beach, and six-year-old Peter taught her how to boogie-board while Colin and Ben were surfing. We also spent an evening talking about our travels with Colin, who would love to undertake such a trip someday, and who has also been the only person we’ve seen on our trip who has understood the central importance of making an Allman Brothers pilgrimage to Macon, Georgia.

By this stage we realized that were on the last leg of our trip, and were frankly a little exhausted, not feeling the impetus to do every single cool thing that could be done in every place. Just as the landscape was starting to feel more familiar, giving us some signs that we were home, staying with the Finrows was very familiar also. They’ve been such constant friends and wonderful hosts over the years that staying with them felt a lot like being at home, and we just relaxed after months on the go. And it was very thoughtful of them to build a house that fit in so well with our itinerary.

Jolie Kerns and Albert Narath

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Albert Narath showed up at the end of our hallway about six years ago. Linda and I had offices on a hard-to-find, dead-end corridor in the upper reaches of Lawrence Hall, and one September we returned to find Albert ensconced in the one other nearby office. Actually, he was more tentatively perched than ensconced, in the midst of the standard new faculty experience at the UO, having been assigned an office only to discover that it didn’t come with any really useful furniture. We passed him some extra chairs, and alerted him to where on campus were the best scrounging spots for furniture. Albert took all of this with good humor, which is the essential quality for a new faculty member being able to survive at the UO.

Albert was the new architectural historian in our school, having gone to grad school at Columbia after growing up in Albuquerque and college at Bowdoin, a trajectory that seemed to reflect a desire for maximum geographical diversity as much as academic focus. He was notably funny and interesting, and was such an engaging neighbor that I eventually had to make myself deliberately walk past his office sometimes without stopping in to chat; he was too polite to throw me out, and I knew that if I kept distracting him he would never get enough work done to get tenure.

Soon thereafter we met Jolie Kerns, who had come from New York with Albert. Jolie had grown up in Sacramento, gone to Berkeley, worked in the building industry, and then gone to architecture school at Columbia, where she and Albert met. She had stayed in New York, working for some very notable small firms, such as those run by Bernard Tschumi (the dean at Columbia), and Toshiko Mori (the department chair at Harvard). Jolie was interested in establishing her own design practice in Eugene, and Linda and I had the moral dilemma of deciding whether we should try to save her a lot of grief by explaining the circumstances in Eugene which made this highly unlikely (and perhaps souring her on the place soon after her arrival), or letting her learn this on her own. (I think we gave her a few hints and answered direct questions, but really pursued the latter strategy.)

Both Albert and Jolie settled in to the school perfectly. Albert was an enormously engaging teacher, as could be seen by the constant lines of students sitting in the hall outside his office, waiting for a chance to talk to him. He taught courses in modern architecture and design, but began to inflect his work towards his new milieu. The architecture department at the UO has been at the forefront of environmentally-sensitive and energy-efficient design for decades, pushing sustainable design long before anyone started using that word. Albert dove into the history of this movement, and initiated a very popular course on it. (Albert informed me of what was known around the country as the “Oregon conspiracy”, the fact that almost everyone who teaches in this area elsewhere has a strong connection to the UO architecture department). Our students loved his classes, and I found them constantly referring to ideas they had gleaned from them.

Jolie began teaching studios as an adjunct in our department, which often brought her background and approach as an architect into the very different landscape she now found herself in. I reviewed some of those studios, and was struck by the conceptual clarity of the work, the rigor which her students exhibited. So I was later really pleased to be able to co-teach studios with Jolie a couple of times – both second-year undergraduate and first year graduate students. Teaching is usually a solitary pursuit, which just feels wrong to those of us with professional architectural experience – a good office is usually based upon the collaboration of colleagues with a wide range of talents and approaches, seldom just upon the insights of the sole design genius. Jolie had attended Columbia twenty years after I did – a period in which the conceptual approach of the profession had changed dramatically – and consequently her background and approach to design were very different from mine. We both sort of scratched our heads at first upon seeing how the other engaged a problem, but we were both open-minded and willing to try different methods, and the studios were richer and better because of it. It’s a commonplace in academia to say how we learn from our students, and how being exposed to energetic and idealistic young people keeps us from becoming too set in our ways, but I think the influx of younger colleagues is even more important. They have processed the new approaches of their youth and have integrated them into mature viewpoints, which they are then able to demonstrate to their older colleagues as well as their students. Jolie brought all this, plus she had the innate qualities of a great design instructor – insight, empathy, adaptability, humor, and the ability to think on her feet and react immediately.

Jolie and Albert also settled into life in Eugene. Their daughter, the adorable Willa, was born. They had a tres Eugene wedding out at Mt. Pisgah. They bought a cool modern house up in the hills. We figured they were around for the long run, but it was not to be. They ran into the trailing spouse problem which is widespread in Eugene – the non-tenure-track partner is usually unable to find professional employment commensurate with her prior experience and skills, and the UO has long been notable for not doing very much to help solve this problem (unless the employee in question is a member of the central administration); our department wasn’t able to make a commitment of sustained employment to Jolie. There was also the allure of life back in California, which had become more central after Willa’s birth, with Jolie’s family (and Willa’s young cousins) in the Bay Area. So Albert looked around for new positions, and was hired at UC Santa Cruz.

Greta and I spent a couple of entertaining days with them – Albert and Willa showed us the hip new commercial developments (especially the gourmet hot dog cart), and all of us toured around the UCSC campus together. Jolie is now working as a campus architect, in charge of building projects on the campus. Her most significant new project is the renovation of Kresge College, the very important residential complex designed by Charles Moore (more on this later).109. Santa Cruz002DSCF0867

Willa was a very different child than the one we knew (being 100% older than when she left Eugene) – still adorable, but with the self-possession of a happy four-year-old. (As we wandered around the campus, Greta pondered what would obviously be Willa’s familiar fate: being dragged around the world behind her parents, looking at architecture.) Albert and Jolie were just the same, and we immediately fell back into talking at great length. We were happy to see them so well, and how well life is working out for them in California, but we really wish they were still living in Eugene.

Beth Wilbur

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Greta got to meet many of my old friends on this trip, but only one old girlfriend. Beth and Greta had actually met once before, when Beth was in Eugene on a business trip and came over to our house for dinner, but Greta had no memory of this, as she was at an age where she was still playing happily in the bath tub, as Beth recalled.

Beth and I met in Boston in 1980 (a prime support of Bill McGowan’s claim that he had introduced me to all of my girlfriends on the East Coast). We lived a few blocks from each other across the Beacon Street Cambridge-Somerville border, (in that district which used to supply incredibly cheap housing to broke graduate students and recent college grads), in a ground floor apartment with a constantly-changing cast of roommates, all of whom were smart, young, beautiful and charming.DSCF3615

Beth had grown up in Concord, attended Bowdoin, and in Boston was leading a life revolving around involvement in the arts – she played the flute, sang in choirs, and seemed to spend all of her waking hours drinking coffee and reading books. This interest in the arts led her through a series of jobs – on the staff at Boston’s classical radio station, and then as manager for a number of performing arts ensembles. In later years she directed programs at the humanities center at MIT, and then worked in the education department at the Museum of Fine Arts.

I was working in an architect’s office in Boston, and we spent our spare time doing what young professionals in that demographic do – hanging out, eating brunch, talking about the meaning of life. Beth’s ancient VW Beetle allowed us to take day trips to beaches,Other054

and she even taught me how to drive a stick shift in that car with the miserable clutch. I met Beth’s mother early one Saturday morning, when she dropped in to visit while Beth and I were eating breakfast; she never dropped in unannounced again. Despite that inauspicious meeting, and the time that I almost capsized her dad’s Dark Harbor 17 sailing in Maine, her family was always wonderful to me, and getting to know them was a very nice part of the package.

We had met just after I had applied to architecture graduate schools, and in the fall I moved to New York to attend Columbia. So Beth and I had a commuter relationship for more than a year, taking Greyhound buses back and forth a couple of times a month. The older and wiser version of myself wishes I could have informed my younger self that this almost never works (a viewpoint confirmed by over 25 years observing young adult architecture students in relationships). We were both determined to make our way in our widely-separated career paths, and so we split up, contentiously, but not irrevocably so.

We stayed intermittently in touch, and I was pleased to receive reports from our mutual friends on what they knew about the not completely prepossessing guys Beth was seeing. (You may not want old girlfriends who’ve dumped you to be miserable, but you don’t want them to be too happy either.) This changed when I began to hear rumors about this Brian Donoghue, who was well-known as a theater director in Boston and around the country. He sounded impressive, the relationship sounded serious, and I eventually got to meet Brian at their wedding in 1991, during the Summer When All of My Old Girlfriends Got Married. The ex-boyfriend doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with the groom at a wedding, but I liked what I saw.

Brian had taken a job as the director of the performing arts center in Carmel, and they moved out to Carmel Valley, along with Brian’s son, Ryan. It was a radical change of life for Beth – her first home outside of New England, removal from the arts world where she’d spent her whole career, and raising a son through a high-intensity adolescence. Beth switched gears professionally, and entered the world of textbook publishing, where she is now a VP and editor-in-chief for biological and environmental science at Pearson. (All of her old friends find this astounding for a music and English major, someone whom the College Board wanted to study, as the spread between her verbal and math SAT scores was amongst the highest they’d ever recorded.)

Brian retired about eight years ago, and Beth splits her time between working in the San Francisco office (and a small apartment in the Marina), and her home office in the backyard of their house in Carmel Valley. The house is spectacular – everything an iconic California house should be (even if the driveway did present the most extreme trailer-backing challenge of the trip, with an S-curve overlaid on two compound diagonal slopes with a gate in the middle).DSCF0824

It is built of concrete block, wood and glass, designed by Mark Mills, an employee of FL Wright’s who moved to Carmel to superintend the construction of the famous FLW house on the water, and then stayed on to start his own career. The detailing, materials, spaces, sequences and views out to the oak savannah hillside are amazing. Even more amazing is what Brian and Beth have done to restore it – when they bought it, there was wall-to-wall carpeting on the concrete slab floors, and three levels of window treatments obscuring the views. I am an incredible stickler when it comes to design decisions and workmanship in a project like this, but the work, which Brian has largely done himself, is sympathetic to the original design and impeccable. One bathroom, which Brian gut-remodeled with stone and a large skylight, beats out the campground in Apalachicola for our award for the most beautiful bathroom of the trip.

We had a wonderful time staying with Beth and Brian, in a beautiful environment where we felt at home and very comfortable, after months mainly spent in a tiny trailer. There were a few long, talk-filled dinners, including one where they had invited their lovely friends Kate and Richard, who had heard about our trip and wanted to meet us. It was great to see how good their life is, with a happy marriage and interesting careers, in a beautiful place surrounded by friends.

Brian didn’t know whether Greta had heard about our past history, so he was planning on being circumspect, until Beth told him it was okay. Beth and Brian now have two granddaughters, so they are well-attuned to teenage girls, and they and Greta hit it off instantly. As has happened before on this trip, I was pleased to see Greta make a good impression and acquire another surrogate aunt and uncle. For myself, it was wonderful to reconnect in a friendship with Beth that has lasted over half of our lives, and to spend enough time with Brian to figure out that we are now friends too.

Brian Leverich

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The first Westerner I ever got to know was Brian Leverich. He lived down the hall from us in Hurlbut Hall, that “…dorm full of eccentrics, misfits and savants…” where I first encountered so many of my best college friends. Brian’s family was from Oklahoma, or Colorado, or some other vague place west of the Eastern Seaboard that I couldn’t quite place. Having spent my whole life in the New York metropolitan area, at first I couldn’t figure him out at all – he talked slowly and softly, with significant pauses, when you couldn’t tell if he was done speaking. In my world, talking in this manner was generally taken as an indication of mental deficiency, but after a little while hanging out with Brian, I realized that he was actually very smart, and often subtly funny. In retrospect, being friends with Brian was the beginning of the acculturation process that prepared me for marrying a woman from Kansas, and spending most of my adult life in Oregon.

The other weird thing about Brian was that he was a conservative, a Goldwater Republican. Even though I came from markedly Republican stock myself, this was the mid-1970s, at Harvard, where the acceptable range of Republicanism ran from the patrician Cabot Lodge pole to the liberal Edward Brooke end of the spectrum. I had never before met an actual, libertarian-leaning, Western Republican, and I began to suspect he might have fired a gun at some point in his life. But just as I came to understand his intellect, I also learned that his political beliefs were reasonable, in that they derived from reason, and not just a knee-jerk anti-gummint answer to every question in life. Brian didn’t unthinkingly parrot the beliefs of his tribe, in an era when dogmatic certainty was the norm. (Once, when I had the audacity to question some left-wing shibboleth in a letter to the Crimson, an angry response referred to me as the “Spiro Agnew of Harvard.”) Brian was comfortable and rational in his opinions, and enjoyed poking at the liberal verities with which he was surrounded.

Sophomore year we moved into different Houses, and saw each other intermittently throughout college, then completely lost touch afterwards. Brian continued his studies in engineering at Stanford, but after a few years there realized it wasn’t a good fit. However, while there he did meet his future wife, Karen Isaacson, who was also a grad student at Stanford, so those years were not wasted. Brian began a career which I can’t comprehend in detail, but it involved working as consultant on public policy / engineering-related issues (often defense policy), flitting in and out of the Rand Corporation, and at some point getting his PhD from the Rand Graduate School. These were the heady years of the Republican ascendancy, and Brian was there as the New World Order led to the End of History.

During this period, Karen had developed an interest in genealogy, and she and Brian were perfectly situated, as engineering nerds with a clear understanding of the potential of the emerging interwebs, to be among the first to see how genealogy could be brought into the modern world of technology. They were living in their little cabin up in the mountains of southern California, from where they were able to put their work up online. A major commercial genealogical venture, Ancestry.com, was developing at the same time, but Karen and Brian seemed to be able to do on their own just about what Ancestry was doing with a big company. Tired of the pesky little competitor, Ancestry bought out their company – Rootsweb.com – and Karen and Brian moved on.

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They eventually settled in San Luis Obispo, and a few years ago bought a fantastic place about two miles south of downtown. It sits up on a little ridge in the middle of farmland near the airport, with panoramic views in every direction.DSCF0617

Here they continue to pursue their many interests – genealogy through their new venture, Linkpendium.com, and participation in genealogical associations, extensive hiking in the mountains of the West, ham radio activity (Brian is currently trying to figure out the precise best place for a 60-foot aerial on their ridge), and hanging out with their huskies. Pictured above are McKinley and Denali, two charming dogs who are very highly placed on Greta’s list of Best Vicarious Pets of the trip, for their combination of liveliness and calm. Unfortunately, Denali died suddenly shortly after our visit, and Brian and Karen are now up to their eyeballs with a new huskie puppy.

As with many of my long-lost friends whom we’ve visited on this trip, Brian and I reconnected through Facebook several years ago. I’ve really learned a lot from his posts in recent years – he understands the worlds of economics, public policy and politics as a professional, and amazingly after all his years in the trenches, he still has the same integrity and thoughtfulness I noticed over 40 years ago. Brian has stayed true to his core principles, and has been aghast as the Republican party has marched off the cliff into know-nothingness and licking the boots of the Masters of the Universe. His arguments are about the most cogent I’ve seen in any online discussion – not assertions of moral superiority and self-righteousness, but clearly-reasoned positions based upon a wide-ranging base of facts and knowledge. He hasn’t quite converted me to being a Goldwater Republican, although I have come to recognize that I’ve always been an Eisenhower Republican at heart (and hence almost a Socialist in our current mileu.) As a way out of our current horrific political polarization and stalemate, the best option I’ve been able to come up with is to put Brian in charge.

Greta has always enjoyed my nerdy and amusing college friends, so she was really looking forward to meeting Brian and Karen. We had a great time with them, hanging around drinking and eating, seeing the sights of the greater SLO area (including our first sight of the Pacific in eight months at Morro Bay and Montaña de Oro State Park). But perhaps the best group activity (certainly for the nerdy end of the spectrum) was going to the movies. Greta had been counting the days until the opening of the Captain America Civil War movie, but our plans to see it the opening weekend in Bakersfield were dashed by the blown-out tire in the Mojave. When we inquired about possible movie venues upon our arrival in SLO, Brian’s eyes lit up. He too had been eagerly anticipating the movie, but despaired of finding an appropriate viewing companion, one who would have the requisite detailed knowledge and appreciation of the complex Marvel movies universe (MCU), and so be able to meaningfully participate in the critical post-movie analysis and discussion. We all enjoyed the movie (sitting in our electrically-controlled chaise-lounges with drink and popcorn holders, ahh California!), but the young and the old nerd were in heaven, continuing the discussion into the next evening back at home, when other DVDs in the series were pulled out, to bring the complete experience to a sense of closure.

Karen grew up in Oregon, and her mom lives in Vancouver, Washington, so they do pass by our neck of the woods from time to time. We’re counting on seeing them again soon (just as we hope all of the friends we visited will now come see us), perhaps coordinated with the release of the next Marvel movie.