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Obituaries

Robert Langdon Jr., 86; Designed 1st Getty Museum

August 25, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Robert E. Langdon Jr., who with his late partner, Ernest C. Wilson Jr., designed the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, has died. He was 86.

Langdon died in Pasadena on Aug. 13 of natural causes.

The architectural firm of Langdon & Wilson helped shape commercial construction in Los Angeles and Orange counties throughout the second half of the 20th century. It also designed corporate and industrial complexes, resorts, schools, museums and healthcare facilities in 12 states and Mexico

Langdon and close friend and business partner Wilson, who died in 1992, met as students at the USC School of Architecture. Langdon worked on campus expansion projects after World War II, while Navy veteran Wilson completed his degree. Both observed firsthand the postwar building boom in Los Angeles.

They joined forces in 1949, operating their fledgling business from a single drafting table in Langdon's home, and officially became the Langdon & Wilson architectural firm in 1951.

They incorporated with the firm Claud Beelman & Associates from 1953 to 1961 to gain experience designing major office structures, and then spun off for good into Langdon & Wilson.

With offices in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, the firm later changed its name to Langdon, Wilson & Mumper for a third partner, Hans Mumper, and grew to 125 employees.

Today, the firm is known as Langdon Wilson Architects.

Langdon headed the Los Angeles office, supervising design and construction of 27 major office buildings along Wilshire Boulevard, and such major complexes as the 2-million-square-foot Hughes Aircraft-Electro Optical Systems plant in El Segundo.

He also oversaw design of the nation's first all-reflective glass building, the CNA Tower, completed in 1972 at 6th Street and Commonwealth Avenue, which reflects adjacent Lafayette Park and the Gothic-style First Congregational Church across the street.

Langdon worked closely with oil billionaire Getty, who lived in London, on designing the first of two Southern California museums bearing the late art connoisseur's name.

The original Getty Museum, according to Getty's wishes and Langdon's efforts, mimics the Villa de Papyri in Herculaneum, a southern Italian seaside community destroyed along with Pompeii by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.

The museum is currently closed for renovation, but eventually will house Getty's collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. The remainder of his art is displayed in the far larger Getty Center designed by Richard Meier.

"Without a doubt," Langdon told The Times in 1981 when asked to name the firm's toughest project, "the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu."

Construction, he said, required 33 permits and included such special complexities as the 25-by-125-foot reflecting pool.

"The pool is exactly 17 7/8 inches deep," he said. "If it had been one-eighth of an inch deeper, it would have required a chain-link fence around it and a lifeguard."

Wilson headed the Newport Beach operation, designing bank skyscrapers in San Diego, office towers in Orange County and the master planning of such sprawling developments as Irvine Spectrum and the Koll Center Financial Plaza in Newport Beach. He also designed the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, one of the firm's highest-profile complexes.

If specific credit has been hard to pinpoint for each of the firm's myriad projects, that was the intent by design of the original partners.

"We have a mutual operation," Langdon told The Times in 1964. "We both sell and design. The first man to reach a problem solves it, and it's our cardinal rule that we both abide by the other's decision when a decision must be made separately."

The firm amassed dozens of awards, including eight from the American Institute of Architects, and lifetime achievement awards for Langdon and Wilson from the Construction Industries Committee of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Industry Award from Los Angeles Beautiful.

Born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Langdon attended Yale University before enrolling at USC. During his long career, he served as president of the Pasadena Chapter of American Institute of Architects, director of the organization's California Council and national president of the architectural fraternity SCARAB.

Architecture was his vocation, and watercolor painting, sculpting and digital drawings were his avocations.

Langdon is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Jacqueline Hughes; a son, Robert III; a daughter, Jan Handtmann; and three grandchildren.

A celebration of Langdon's life is planned for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 16 at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena. The family has asked that memorial donations be sent to the Huntington Memorial Hospital Respiratory Department, 100 W. California Blvd., Pasadena 91105.

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