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A. C. Martin & Associates Fetes Anniversary : 80 Years of Designing L. A.'s Skyline

August 31, 1986|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

If you've worked or lived in Los Angeles any length of time, certain familiar buildings may now seem like old acquaintances.

Several have a common link to A. C. Martin & Associates, a firm that can look back on 80 years of notable architectural contributions to the landscape and skyline of downtown Los Angeles and its environs.

Take City Hall, for instance. Many of us have been in it for one reason or another, to clarify some ordinance, attend a City Council meeting or to get a glimpse of an international celebrity, such as Queen Elizabeth II waving from its steps.

The 28-story tower was designed in 1926 by Albert C. Martin Sr., founder of the firm, in collaboration with John Parkinson and John C. Austin.

Scores of parishioners worship regularly at St. Basil's Church (1969) in the mid-Wilshire area, another Martin landmark, designed in the early Christian architectural style, or across town at St. Vincent's Church (1923) on Adams Boulevard at Figueroa Street, done in the Spanish baroque style of Jose Churriguera.

And, while on a night out at the Music Center, how many of us have stood mesmerized by the Department of Water and Power Building (1963) and its shimmering waterworks, dancing against a dark sky.

The Martin firm, headquartered in the Fine Arts Building at 811 West 7th St. and with branch offices in Irvine, will celebrate its 80-year milestone with a two-month historical exhibit in the building's lobby during September and October, highlighting major accomplishments from 1906 to the present.

The company's history, in many ways a reflection of the history of Los Angeles, has been sustained by its own deep Southland family roots and its ongoing family business.

Cousins David and Christopher Martin, leaders in this third generation of Martin architects, describe their role as that of "city caretakers."

"We are just carrying on in the same spirit as our fathers and grandfather, helping to meet the needs of our growing city with caring concern," Christopher Martin said.

"The city's development can be either haphazard or intelligently planned," added David Martin, "and we try to envision concepts that emphasize the quality of life."

The young Martins, both graduated of the USC School of Architecture, have completely taken over the firm's leadership from their fathers, Edward Martin and Albert C. Martin Jr., who succeeded their father, founder of the firm. There have been only five partners in the firm's history, all Martins.

Christopher Martin, 36, started as a draftsman with the firm in 1970, became a partner in 1980, and was recently named managing partner with overall management responsibility of the firm that has 200 employees, of whom 50 are architects. David Martin, 43, has a key role as partner in charge of resources, with the chief responsibility for design and engineering.

Beginning with the senior Martin's first project, started in 1904 as a member of the A. F. Rosenheim architectural firm, the current exhibit recalls his role as construction engineer on the Hamburger department store, which later became the May Co. at 8th Street and Broadway.

In 1906, Martin Sr. opened his own architecture and engineering office and went on to design such landmarks as the Greco-Roman-styled Ventura County Courthouse, and in downtown Los Angeles, the Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre, which featured a 104-foot, poured-in-place concrete arch, the world's largest, during the World War I period.

The arch was hailed as an engineering feat, following a test on the reinforced concrete cantilever balcony it sustained. To prove its strength, the balcony was weighted down with 1.75 million pounds of sand bags, the equivalent of three times its prescribed live-load capacity, showing a mere one-eighth of an inch deflection, after the experiment.

During the 1930s, Albert C. Martin & Associates developed the Art Deco landmark May Co. at Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard on the Miracle Mile, and in the 1950s entered the aerospace industry and designed about 30 buildings for the TRW Space Park in Redondo Beach.

The senior Martin pioneered in many areas of construction, patented several reinforced concrete systems and advanced the thinking on structural seismic issues.

"We are very proud that our structural engineers continue to carry on this tradition of inventiveness, pushing the edge of the envelope, so to speak," David Martin said.

"Their accomplishments may not be quite as dramatic as in earlier years, but their knowledge of applied mathematics, aided by computer know-how, has resulted in extraordinary improvements in mechanical engineering and in energy-saving technology.

Planning for Exected Growth

"The design challenge, we feel, has also been met. We are equally concerned with the human and social responsibility of our buildings. And this means a great deal of planning ahead for what we believe will be an increase of 3 million people to our population by the year 2000."

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