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An Architect's Architect Succumbs to L.A.'s Charms

February 11, 1988|LEON WHITESON

As a young Navy pilot flying over England from a U.S. airfield in the 1950s, Barton Myers began to be excited by his aerial panorama of the spires, domes and towers of such architectural glories as Blenheim Palace and Ely Cathedral.

"I happened to live in the guest house of a man named John Crittall, chief of Britain's major window-manufacturing firm," Myers recalled. "He turned me on to architecture and sent me off to audit lectures on architectural history at Cambridge University.

"Flying over the old towns and villages of East Anglia gave me a wonderful bird's-eye view of one of the world's most attractive man-made environments. When my tour of duty was over, I decided to quit the Navy and study design."

'Seduced by Los Angeles'

Myers now owns a home nestled on the lip of the Hollywood Bowl, with a view of nighttime lights stretching from the Cahuenga Pass and the Griffith Observatory to Century City.

"What architect could fail to be seduced by Los Angeles?" said the transplanted Virginian/Torontonian. "Look at the electrographic pizazz of Hollywood Boulevard down there below--all those glowing neon signs and illuminated towers. It truly is a Magic Kingdom!"

Tall, rangy and hawk-faced, Myers is among the many top-flight talents attracted by Los Angeles' increasing reputation as a leading city for architects and designers in the U.S. He is considered an architect's architect by his peers, yet is not a superstar.

Myers, 53, fell for Los Angeles when he was invited by the late dean Harvey Perloff to become a visiting professor at the UCLA School of Architecture and Urban Planning in the late 1970s.

"I loved the city's energy," he said, "and its capacity for change, and its potential to become one of the great metropolises of the world."

In 1979-80, he led the All Stars team that competed for, but did not win, the development of California Plaza on Bunker Hill. Titled "A Grand Avenue," the Myers-led entry combined the talents of a galaxy of fine designers, including Frank Gehry, Charles Moore, Cesar Pelli, Ricardo Legoretta and the Urban Innovations Group.

After the California Plaza disappointment, Myers, whose practice was centered in Toronto until he relocated here in 1986, prepared plans for the expansion of the downtown Central Library and for the Pasadena Civic Center. Currently, he is designing the proposed $27-million Cerritos Community Center, the master plan for UCLA's west and northwest campuses, and a house in Beverly Hills for film producer Ivan Reitman. Barton Myers Associates has recently been chosen as architect for the expansion of Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario, and is a finalist, with James Stirling and Moshe Safdie, for the proposed Toronto Ballet Opera House.

In mid-1987 Myers submitted a series of innovative proposals for the development of the properties along 1st Street between Hill and Hope streets, including the planned expansion of the Music Center--now to be the Disney Hall. Myers' notion, which was rejected, was to place the new concert hall over Grand Avenue, at the top of the Civic Mall, linking it to the open plaza between the Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum.

Hailed by county officials as "a superb solution to the urban design and land-use challenges of the site," Myers' design was disliked by the Music Center's Performing Arts Council as "difficult to market for fund raising."

The first major building Myers realized in Los Angeles was the theme tower of the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester. The theme tower, at 6701 Center Drive West, is the flagship of a fleet of buildings projected for the 69-acre triangular site at Sepulveda Boulevard and the San Diego Freeway.

Ambitious, a Leader

"Working with Barton was a very positive experience," said Bill McGregor, president of Tooley West Inc., the Howard Hughes Center's managing developers. "He is a good team leader, yet he can take direction from a client. Although an obviously ambitious man, in the best sense, his ego never made him deaf to our concerns."

Myers is a sixth-generation Virginian. The family home on Brandon Avenue in Norfolk, Va., built in 1791, now belongs to the Norfolk Museum. The house was constructed by Moses Myers, "probably a Sephardic Jew transplanted to Amsterdam from Spain," said Myers' wife, Vicki. The family lost the house in the Depression, a few years before Barton Myers was born.

Vicki George was the girl next door.

"I was 15 when I met Barton," she said. "He was a cadet at (the U.S. Naval Academy at) Annapolis, training to be a Navy pilot. When, after graduation, he was posted to England, we decided to get married." Summing up her three decades of marriage to "a great guy, very talented and very obsessed," Vicki pronounced it "an undiluted joy. It's been a tremendous adventure."

Friends describe Vicki as "Barton's rock."

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