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Retiring Architect Ready to Design a New Life


Architect Louis M. Naidorf's retirement after commencement this weekend from Burbank's Woodbury University ended a lifetime of drawing, teaching and managing that shaped the Los Angeles skyline and influenced generations of architects.

During his architectural career that began in 1950, Naidorf gained acclaim for his designs--such as the famed Capitol Records building--that fused aestheticism and functionalism.

It was a design philosophy he continued to champion as dean of Woodbury's Architecture and Design School, where he spent the last 10 years of his career.

"Buildings are only part of the setting that helps us to play out our lives," said Naidorf, 71, sitting in his university office on a recent morning. "Our role as architects is to create a building that is part of the anecdotal events that will add to people's lives."

In addition to the Capitol Records headquarters, Naidorf's creations include the Beverly Center, the Beverly Hilton Hotel, President Gerald R. Ford's residence in Rancho Mirage, Exxon headquarters in New York, the Hallmark Factory in Kansas City and the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas.

Naidorf has also taught architecture classes at UCLA, USC, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, as well as Woodbury.

"Even though Lou has gained a great deal of recognition, his influence on architecture goes beyond the recognition he has received," said Dan Dworsky, chairman of Dworsky Associates of Los Angeles and an American Institute of Architects fellow.

Dworsky said his friend of 49 years is equally adept at architecture and academics.

"His designs are forceful and modernist--the Capitol Records building is an example of that," Dworsky said. "And he brought [Woodbury] to a level of respect that makes it one of the finest architectural schools in Southern California."

A Time for New People, New Ideas

Naidorf's decision to "take time to sit in the garden" with his wife, Patricia Allen-Naidorf, at their new home in Santa Rosa seemed to be the next logical step in a prolific career.

"I am in no way weary of Woodbury, but it is time to move on," he said. "It's healthy for the school to bring in new people with new ideas. It's like a relay race: You have to pass the baton on to the next person."

Still, the decision was bittersweet for his Woodbury colleagues, who awarded Naidorf an honorary doctorate at Saturday's graduation ceremony.

"He has the ability to allow and encourage people to do things, to explore things while at the same time steer and direct the program, but not in a heavy-handed way," said Peter Di Sabatino, a Woodbury architecture professor and practicing architect. "It's a tough line to walk: to be very present, yet not overbearing."

Mary Collins, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said she will miss Naidorf's calming presence.

"He has the ability to break in with humor at just the right time to defuse tensions and let everyone know not to take themselves too seriously," she said.

A native Angeleno, Naidorf earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from UC Berkeley and was certified by the American Institute of Architects in 1950.

"When I came into the profession, it was a time when lots of young architects were trying to find their way," Naidorf recalled. "The Great Depression and World War II had left a gap in architecture. There wasn't the degree of wonderfully built work that is here today."

One of Naidorf's first designs was the Capitol Records building on Vine Street in Hollywood, which he sketched as a 24-year-old at the former Welton Becket Associates, now Ellerbe Becket Associates.

He Inadvertently Created a Symbol

Through the years, a myth has persisted that the circular building was designed to look like a stack of records with a needle at the top as a gimmick.

Not true, Naidorf said.

"I had been in the firm for three years when I was given the assignment," he recalled. "It was a secret project in the office. I didn't know who the client was. All I was told was that they wanted an office building filled with lots of individual offices."

Naidorf said he thought a circle would work well because everyone would have a view. He used his master's thesis, which coincidentally was a circular office building, as his inspiration.

"The client saw the design and he was angry," Naidorf said. "He thought I had been told it was a record company, and that, being a kid, thought it would be fun to make it look like a stack of records.

"He said he wouldn't dream of going ahead with it because people would laugh," Naidorf added. "He insisted on a rectangular building."

At the suggestion of Naidorf's bosses, the client took the model to his insurance company, which was underwriting the project. The client came back a week later and told Naidorf to proceed with the round building.

"That was 47 years ago and it still looks just as fresh," Naidorf said.

Even though he is retiring, Naidorf said he may still work on a few projects.

"I have had a passion for architecture since I was 8 years old, although I didn't know it was called architecture at the time," he said. "And it remains as alluring as ever."

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