Pereira, Architect Whose Works Typify L.A., Dies

Times Staff Writer

William L. Pereira, whose stylish yet efficient architecture dominated the look of Los Angeles for more than 30 years, died of heart failure Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He was 76.

Pereira, architect and planner of dozens of prominent buildings ranging from the striking Malibu campus of Pepperdine University to the functionally designed Los Angeles International Airport to the fluid and friendly Marineland of the Pacific complex on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was, as much as any other one man, responsible for the artistic topography of the city and exurbs.

Pereira was praised by critics for his ability to combine form and function in an optimistic and congenial body of work, and a list of his structures and designs reads like an architectural and planning honor roll of livable and workable Southern California places.

He was not without achievement outside Los Angeles and its environs. For instance, his Transamerica Corp. Building towers above the San Francisco skyline. But it was in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego where Pereira really made his mark.

He was commissioned to design both private and public structures, and his body of work earned him a prominence unsurpassed by any other West Coast institutional designer.

Robinson's Department Store on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena in 1950 was his first major work here--and he was quickly rewarded for that success with a long string of assignments.

The CBS Television City building was his in 1952, and for the next five years, he was supervising architect for construction of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Pereira did Marineland in 1954, drew up the master plan for expansion of Los Angeles International Airport and conceptualized what was to become the city of Irvine in the early 1960s.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art followed in 1964. Then he designed a long list of campus structures at UCLA, USC, Occidental and UC Irvine as well as UC San Diego.

Pereira designed the Los Angeles Times building extension and the Pepperdine campus in the early 1970s, as well as the Transamerica tower, the St. Francis Hotel tower addition in San Francisco and Irvine Towers in Newport Center.

'To Satisfy the Future'

The man was much honored for his aesthetic perceptions, and his Wilshire Boulevard firm, William L. Pereira Associates, was known internationally for the planning that featured exhaustive research into the economic and environmental forces involved in orderly growth.

"To design plans to satisfy the future" was, Pereira said, his idea of regional planning. In other words, bringing thought and style to Los Angeles' helter-skelter growth was what Pereira was about.

William Leonard Pereira was born April 25, 1909, in Chicago, the son of a printing business owner whose great boyhood enthusiasm was architecture. He worked in his teen-age years as a draftsman and architect's assistant, graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in architecture and went to work for a Chicago firm.

Young Pereira helped draft the master plan of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, won a score of industrial design competitions and opened his own firm in 1932, working on several of the fair's buildings.

By age 25, he had designed structures in 26 states, many of them for the movie theater chain of Balaban & Katz. The Midwestern chain of theaters was controlled by Paramount, and Pereira soon moved west, hired by the studio as both architect and art designer.

Special Effects Oscar

Although Pereira maintained an interest in his Chicago-based architectural firm, he did increasingly more work in Los Angeles for the studio, some of it far beyond the calling of a typical architect.

In 1942, he won, with others, an Oscar for special effects on a Cecil B. DeMille spectacular, "Reap the Wild Wind," and produced a George Raft melodrama, "Johnny Angel," in 1945 and Joan Fontaine's "From This Day Forward" in 1946.

Somehow, Pereira found time for his real calling, winning awards for his designs of the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills and for the Pan Pacific Theatre.

He put his brief fling with Hollywood behind him, opted for architecture and joined USC as a professor of architecture in 1949. Charles Luckman, a University of Illinois classmate who had found some success as president of Lever Brothers and was thought of as sort of a boy wonder of the soap business, joined Pereira's firm, and Pereira's productive period in Southern California architecture began.

Pereira and Luckman's company went from an office with a dozen architects and $15 million in business to one with several hundred employees and $500 million worth of work.

Contracts poured in:

The Disneyland Hotel, rocket-launching facilities at Cape Canaveral, U.S. military bases in Spain. But Pereira was not completely happy.

"It was like working in a factory, he said in a 1963 interview. "Everybody was standing in line with projects for us to do. . . . I don't say we were doing inferior work; I just know I wasn't doing my best."

Partnership Ends

Pereira subsequently withdrew from his partnership with Luckman and opened William L. Pereira Associates. Business continued to pour in.

Lockheed hired him to master plan its Saugus facility. Then he went on to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, an $11-million complex that opened in 1965.

He strove for orderly and balanced land development in his master planning of the Irvine Ranch in Orange County, designed the massive Houston Center and then the controversial Transamerica structure in San Francisco. Pereira and his firm also master planned communities in Africa and Taiwan.

In the early 1960s, while at the forefront of the new emphasis on master planned communities, Pereira found himself on the cover of Time magazine, telling of his plans for Irvine and talking of the challenge of bringing order to disorderly Southern California.

"In recent years, we here have become rather expert at abusing our land and our resources," he said. "We carve up our mountains not for the purpose of living, but only to drag our car to our bedroom door. Having learned to rely on the T-square and the triangle in the uses of land, rather than an understanding of land itself, we have come to accept with enthusiasm the unprofessional, unappreciative, unskilled butchery of the land that goes on under the name of planning."

Pereira's role was to try to change that.

The consensus of critics was that he did quite well. Although, as Time pointed out more than 20 years ago, as an architect and designer, he was no Le Corbusier or Niemeyer, Pereira's honors were significant.

At various times, Pereira was architect in residence at the American Academy in Rome, member of the President's National Council on the Arts and chairman of the Governor's Task Force on Transportation.

He received honorary doctorates from the Otis Art Institute, Pasadena's Art Center College of Design and Pepperdine. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

In recent years, though suffering from an orthopedic problem and a battle with cancer, Pereira continued to head his huge firm, defending some controversial projects like the Transamerica building and taking pleasure in others: Cape Canaveral and the Irvine master plan, to name two.

Pereira told a 1972 Times interviewer that he considered himself something more than an architect.

"There are architects who simply build buildings," he said. "But not me. I'm interested in planning in the multidisciplinary sense--anything concerning form and design."

The beauty of planning, he said, is that if one is really lucky, one could see his plans pay off, as with Cape Canaveral.

"At the time (of the master plan) there wasn't even a missile. And in a few years, we went to the moon. Sometimes people leave a record of what they might have done. Look at da Vinci--if da Vinci had a motor, he'd have been flying."

Pereira's joy was in what he did achieve.

"What's been done down here in 20 years," Pereira said in a 1983 interview with The Times in Irvine, "would've taken 300 years in any other period of history."

"We aren't gods, never were," Pereira said of himself and other architect-planners. ". . . We could only try to predict trends and wants that would affect our future. We did a fair job, if I can say so."

He is survived by his wife, Bronya Pereira; two children, William L. Pereira Jr. and Monica Ferraro, and six grandchildren.

There will be no funeral or memorial services, a family spokesman said.

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