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Stephen Kanner dies at 54; architect co-founded L.A.'s Architecture and Design Museum

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Stephen Kanner, a third-generation Los Angeles architect known for playful yet functional modern designs who co-founded the city's Architecture and Design Museum, has died. He was 54.


FOR THE RECORD:
Stephen Kanner: The obituary of architect Stephen Kanner in Wednesday's LATExtra section said he was honored by the Los Angeles Conservancy for his restoration of the 1932 Bullock's Westwood, on Westwood Boulevard. Kanner was honored for his redesign of a second Bullock's in Westwood, which was originally built in 1955 on Weyburn Avenue. —


Kanner, who also restored landmark buildings in Westwood Village, died of cancer Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his wife, Cynthia.

Two of his more prominent public buildings were tributes to 1950s jet-age architecture — the In-N-Out Burger on Gayley Avenue in Westwood that riffed on the company's boomerang-shaped logo and a gas station at Slauson and La Brea avenues with a swooping canopy inspired by the nearby freeway.

"Both projects were quintessential L.A. because they respond to our car culture," Kanner said in a 2006 interview with the Curbed L.A. blog.

More than 150 public and private projects have been completed citywide by Kanner Architects, including municipal courthouses, single-family homes, offices and schools.

The firm joined L.A.'s architectural elite by designing such award-winning buildings as the Harvard Apartments in Koreatown, The Times reported in 1995.

"The client asked us to give him a building that was more than just a box," Kanner said of the apartments in 1993 in The Times. "What we gave him was a ham-and-Swiss-cheese sandwich of white-bread Modernism with a filling of L.A. funk."

He was the third Kanner to lead the firm, founded in 1946 by his grandfather, I. Herman Kanner. Stephen became president of the company after his father, modernist architect Charles "Chuck" Kanner, died at 67 in 1998.

Inspired by a museum he saw in Helsinki, Finland, Kanner co-founded the A+D Museum in 2001 to promote architecture and design through exhibits, outreach and education. After inhabiting a series of temporary spaces, the museum opened in April in a permanent location on Wilshire Boulevard across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

"He was the spirit and the force behind the museum and really kept the vision strong," said Tibbie Dunbar, the museum's executive director. "He was my partner in so many ways in the day-to-day running of this museum. It is an enormous loss."

In a 2002 Times interview, Kanner said "the museum is not just about models and sketches" but "about taking people through the process.... It's not a museum with a capital M; it's more grass-roots, more humble."

The city's heritage also was important to him, Kanner told The Times in 1998, and it was reflected in more than a dozen projects he completed in Westwood Village. He was a founding member of the Westwood Design Review Board and chaired the group for three years.

His restoration of the original 1932 Bullock's Westwood, which now houses UCLA Extension and a boutique, was honored by the Los Angeles Conservancy, said Steven Sann, chairman of the Westwood Community Council.

"He was a modernist at heart who became a self-taught expert in Spanish-colonial revival," Sann said, "so that he could restore these buildings."

Stephen Herman Kanner was born in 1955 in Chandler, Ariz., while his father was in the Air Force, and grew up in Mandeville Canyon. His mother, Judith, is an interior designer who later worked with her son on projects.

At UC Berkeley, Kanner earned his undergraduate and master's degrees in architecture in a combined program in 1980.

By 1983, he had joined Kanner Architects after his father landed a contract to design the East Los Angeles courthouse. Chuck Kanner had run the family business since 1953, when Herman — known for his commercial buildings with clean lines — had died at 51.

Stephen's more recent work included the conversion of a defunct commercial building into Sunset Vine Tower, a luxury apartment building in Hollywood; the Metro Hollywood Transit Village at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue that includes colorfully cubed apartments; and a low-income housing complex at 26th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Several years ago, Kanner designed and built his home that juts out of a Pacific Palisades hillside and brims with a witty nautical theme.

Los Angeles was "a great place to practice architecture," Kanner had told Curbed L.A., "because compared to other cities, there's a higher percentage of clients with an open mind."

His daughters, Caroline, 15, and Charlotte, 9, have both said they want to run Kanner Architects when they are old enough.

In addition to his daughters and his wife of 18 years, Cynthia; Kanner is survived by his mother, Judith; and his sister, Catherine, an artist.

A memorial service and retrospective exhibition are being planned for September.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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