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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 referred to as the Sandcastle. He was 97.

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

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

As an architect he was largely self-taught, although Frank Lloyd Wright invited him to review at Taliesin West, his property and faculty 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 dwelling rooms, hearth pits and peaked A-frame roofs. They’d 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 website in Malibu. Set on the seashore of a secluded cove, the Wave Home, constructed for his good friend and fellow surfer Gerry Cooper, seems to be 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 Home was in-built 1957, the identical yr the Danish architect Jorn Utzon gained the competitors to design the Sydney Opera House, and lots of declared, and proceed to take care of, that the Wave Home had been his inspiration. Mr. Gesner mentioned the resemblance was coincidental — although he did recall Mr. Utzon calling to go with him on his design, which had been publicized everywhere in the world.

“I do want folks wouldn’t insist that one thing seems to be like one thing else, however they do,” he advised Lisa Germany for her e book “Homes of the Sunset Sea” (2012), a survey of Mr. Gesner’s work. “It’s human nature and a bore. An inspirational idea comes from a group of elements and items of all we expertise within the act of on a regular basis dwelling 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 Tough Riders, the volunteer cavalry led by Theodore Roosevelt within the Spanish-American Warfare; 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 fantastic-great-grandfather was José de la Guerra, a rich Spanish army commander and landowner in Santa Barbara referred to as El Capitan, and one in every of Mr. Gesner’s uncles was Jack Northrop, the plane designer, engineer and industrialist who created the prototype for what would change into the B-2 stealth bomber.

Mr. Gesner was 19 when he landed on the seashore at Normandy, ducking by means of the waves from the aspect of a touchdown craft. The expertise marked him without end; he was, he mentioned years later, “rudely modified from a boy to a person after a couple of 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 review 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 Metropolis, 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 saved 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 mother and father and an aunt, Mr. Gesner designed homes made out of adobe bricks laid at an angle. Nestled into their landscapes, they regarded 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 website 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” made out of bamboo and glass beads — and perched it on a thin website overlooking Sundown Boulevard that engineers had claimed was not possible to construct on.

Mr. Gesner would change 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 previous ticker-tape machines — requested just for a bed room, a front room, a small kitchen and a moist bar (in addition to a three-car storage and tennis courts). The lavatory was a grotto, with the bathroom tucked right into a forest of ferns, and the home was surrounded by a pool, from which one might swim into the grotto.

One venture 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 Nineteen Sixties. It was to be powered by windmills and photo voltaic panels and cooled by a large aquarium that Brando wished stuffed with sharks and moray eels. Large 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 arduous to maintain the actor targeted.

“He was very bedroom-oriented, and every part developed from there,” he mentioned. “Out of the blue in the midst of a dialogue, a gorgeous Asian mannequin would stroll in and Marlon would disappear for half an hour. I might simply sit there and skim a e book.”

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 Home, was made out of lumber salvaged from a highschool that had burned down, and marble from public baths that have been about to be demolished. He used previous phone poles to assist its tower — Ms. Germany, the writer of “Homes of the Sunset Sea,” described the place as resembling “a Dutch windmill, a Spanish lighthouse, a Hobbit’s dwelling.” Mr. Gesner referred to as it a house for “two inventive and really a lot in love adults, a child boy and a Labrador retriever.”

Along with 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 resulted in divorce. Ms. Martin died in 2010.

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

“They may face up to the worst components,” he advised The New York Occasions in 2012. “Hurricanes, in fact. Tornadoes. Tsunamis. Termites and solar spots. Outdoors of withstanding a volcanic river of molten rock, I feel we will remedy all of our issues by good design, wise, sensible design that takes into impact all the weather.”

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