On June 10, Harry Gesner, the dashing and surf-loving architect whose soaring designs celebrated California’s dramatic landscape in houses that straddled canyons, perched over beaches, and cantilevered from cliffs, passed away at his home in Malibu, California, a whorl of a place called the Sandcastle. Harry Gesner’s designs celebrated California’s dramatic landscape in houses that straddled canyons, perched over beaches, and cantileve He was 97.
According to his stepson, Casey Dolan, the cause of death was cancer-related complications.
Mr. Gesner, who had spent his childhood in California, was an accomplished skier and surfer. At the age of 14, he had his first flight. During his senior year at Santa Monica High School, the actress June Lockhart was his first love. She attended Westlake, and the two of them met while water-skiing. However, their relationship was cut short when he was drafted into the military and sent to fight in World War II.
Although he was mostly self-taught as an architect, he did get an invitation to study at Taliesin West, the house and school that Frank Lloyd Wright had established in Scottsdale, Arizona. His shiplike homes, which were often constructed by Norwegian shipbuilders, were uniquely and excitingly Californian. They featured walls of glass, spherical living rooms that were sunken into the ground, fire pits, and A-frame roofs with pointed peaks. They would define the landscape, aesthetic, and freewheeling ethos of Southern California just as much as the houses designed by John Lautner, another eclectic modernist. Lautner designed the Chemosphere, also known as the flying saucer house, which floats above the North Hollywood Hills. These houses would define the landscape, aesthetic, and freewheeling ethos of Southern California.
While Mr. Gesner was floating on his long board in front of the location where his most renowned home would eventually be built in Malibu, he drew the house. The Wave House, which was constructed for his friend and fellow surfer Gerry Cooper and is located on the shore of a remote cove, resembles either a winged creature or a wave that is cresting. Copper shingles that have been hand-cut into round shapes and installed on the vaulted roof of this structure seem like the scales of a fish.
Many people have claimed, and continue to believe, that the Wave House was Jorn Utzon’s inspiration for the design of the Sydney Opera House. The Wave House was constructed in 1957, the same year that the Danish architect Jorn Utzon won the competition to design the Sydney Opera House. Mr. Gesner said that the similarity was only accidental; however, he did remember Mr. Utzon phoning to commend him on his design, which had been disseminated all over the globe. Mr. Gesner added that he was flattered by the comment.
An imaginative idea is the result of piecing together a variety of aspects of life that we encounter on a day-to-day basis and adding a dash of that magical ingredient known as “imagination.”
On April 28th, 1925, Harry Harmer Gesner was born in Oxnard, California, which is located west of Los Angeles. His father, Harry M. Gesner, was an inventor, engineer, and adventurer. At the age of 16, he participated in the Spanish-American War as a member of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry unit. He also surfed with Duke Kahanamoku, an early Hawaiian surfing star, and piloted his own biplane. Ethel (Harmer) Gesner, Harry’s mother, was an artist. Her father, Alexander Harmer, was a well-known landscape painter in Southern California. Alexander Harmer was Harry’s grandfather. One of Mr. Gesner’s uncles was Jack Northrop, the aircraft designer, engineer, and industrialist who created the prototype for what would eventually become the B-2 stealth bomber. José de la Guerra, a wealthy Spanish military commander and landowner in Santa Barbara known as El Capitan, was one of Mr. Gesner’s great-great-grandfathers. El Capitan was also the name of one of Mr. Gesner’s great-great-grandfathers.