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Roy Schmidt, 80; Ran Key Architecture Firm

September 23, 2006|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Roy Schmidt, an architect who fled Hungary during the 1956 uprising and ultimately ran the Los Angeles firm of William L. Pereira and Associates after the founder retired, has died. He was 80.

Schmidt, who returned to Hungary to live a few years ago, died Sept. 15 in Budapest, his friend and former U.S. Foreign Service officer Ernest Nagy said Thursday. No official cause of death was given.

In 1968, Schmidt joined Pereira as project manager for the Transamerica Corp. building, the pyramid-shaped tower in San Francisco that was controversial in its planning and construction phases but has since become an icon of the city and symbol for the insurance company it houses.

Pereira led one of Southern California's most dominant architectural firms during the last half of the 20th century, first partnering with Charles Luckman, then going solo. He created the master plans for such major projects as Los Angeles International Airport and the development of the Irvine Ranch. He also designed many landmark buildings, including CBS Television City, the three original pavilions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Malibu campus of Pepperdine University and the central library at UC San Diego.

As a managing architect for Pereira, Schmidt focused on the production of the firm's designs. He was project manager for Two Transamerica Center, the office building adjacent to the pyramid, and was principal in charge of building Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance and the Avery International building in Pasadena, among others.

According to Pereira's succession plan, Schmidt was named president and chief executive officer in 1981. When Pereira died four years later, Schmidt took on the additional title of chairman, which he held until retiring in 1987.

The remaining partners eventually restructured the firm under its current banner, Johnson Fain. Design partner Scott Johnson called Schmidt the link between Pereira's leadership and today's practice.

While Schmidt was head of the company, it designed and built the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX in a joint venture with Daniel Dworsky, Bonito Sinclair and John Williams. Schmidt also oversaw plans for the MCA/Sheraton tower in Universal City, the corporate headquarters for Lockheed in Calabasas and Fox Plaza in Century City, among others.

Besides architecture, Schmidt had a passion for jazz, and with his wife, Eva, hosted a seemingly endless series of parties at their Los Angeles home for music enthusiasts and Hungarian emigres.

Born May 5, 1926, in Budapest, Schmidt earned bachelor's degrees in civil engineering and architecture from Josef Nador University. Because he opposed the Soviet-backed Communist government, he could not find work in his field, said his friend Nagy, a retired U.S. diplomat who was posted in Budapest.

Schmidt and another friend, Thomas Seres, tried to escape to the West in 1948 but were caught by authorities in Yugoslavia. After the Hungarians revolted against Soviet forces Oct. 23, 1956, Schmidt and Seres tried again amid the turmoil.

"In November of 1956, the borders were relatively unguarded," said Seres, a retired USC business professor. "Two hundred thousand Hungarians came out, and we were among them."

Seres said that without passports or permits, he, Schmidt and Eva crossed an area with hidden minefields, then an icy swamp, until they reached Austria.

Schmidt and his wife made their way to San Diego, where in 1957 he finally landed an architecture job.

"I arrived on Thursday, met an architect at a party on Friday, started to work for him on Monday and have been working ever since," Schmidt told a Times reporter in 1981.

A few years after their arrival, the Schmidts moved to Los Angeles, and Eva had a short acting career, appearing as Eva Six in the Frank Sinatra movie "4 for Texas" and the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello vehicle "Beach Party," both in 1963. After retiring, Schmidt and his wife stayed in Los Angeles for a number of years. They followed their only child, Linda, back to Budapest, where she runs several businesses.

Eva died a few years ago. In addition to his daughter, Schmidt is survived by his sister, Maria Divoff, formerly of Malibu and now of Budapest.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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