Franklin Israel; Innovative L.A. Architect


Franklin D. Israel, a highly respected modern architect known for placing his individual stamp on the innovative Southern California design tradition made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler and Frank Gehry, died Monday. He was 50.

Israel, who had AIDS and Kaposi’s sarcoma for six years, died of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said Richard Weinstein, former dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning as well as Israel’s friend and fellow UCLA professor.

“Everything that is best in Los Angeles came out through his buildings and gave us a cultural presence,” said Weinstein, who first worked with Israel in New York City urban planning under Mayor John Lindsay. “It was not necessary to explain his architecture because it gave so much delight to the eye--even though it carried many wry, edgy and even angry meanings.”


Gehry, a mentor of Israel’s who influenced and admired the younger designer, said: “Frank Israel was a brilliance in our lives. He made beautiful spaces. I loved him and will think of him a lot.”

Gehry, Israel told The Times in February, “opened my eyes to the city’s aesthetics. From looking around, I grew to understand what was special about it.”

Thomas Hines, architectural historian and UCLA professor of history and architecture, recently wrote of Israel: “Three factors helped in his rapid L.A. acclimatization: the region’s rich architectural traditions, the film culture of Hollywood and the presence of Frank Gehry as a mentor and model for dealing with the contemporary city in architectural terms.”

Israel, whom Gehry often described as “a very talented guy,” was recently honored with a retrospective one-man show of his work, “Out of Order: Franklin D. Israel,” at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. Richard Koshalek, museum director, said Israel was selected to represent the best of his generation in the free-form tradition of Los Angeles design.

As different from the usual display of models, photographs and drawings as Israel was from other architects, the exhibit organized by Koshalek and curator Elizabeth A.T. Smith focused on a gallery of tilting, “folded” white plaster planes blurring lines between vertical walls and horizontal ceilings. Israel said he was partly inspired to create the unusual display by a piece of crumpled Xerox paper.

The youthful architect was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in Elizabeth, N.J. At the University of Pennsylvania, Israel soon switched from a philosophy major to study architecture with Louis Kahn and build models part time in Kahn’s studio.


Israel did postgraduate study at Yale University and received a master’s in architecture at Columbia University.

In 1973, he won the Rome Prize in Architecture for two years of study at the American Academy in the Italian capital. In 1990, Israel was named to the academy’s board of trustees and a year later appointed head of the jury that awards the prize to promising architects.

After working for a time in Iran and another two years in New York, Israel sought greater design freedom in Westwood and Hollywood. He began a 20-year teaching stint at the UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and last month was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Israel also became a proud and productive member of Local 847 of the Set Designers and Model Makers of the Motion Picture and Television and Amusement Industries. He designed sets at Paramount and worked with French film director Roger Vadim, meeting industry notables such as Robert Altman and Joel Grey, who later hired him to design homes.

“Film and architecture share the same wonderful mix of the mythical and the commonplace,” Israel said in a 1988 interview. “They differ in the physical density of their medium and in the varied ways they try to control their audience.”

Israel later set up his Franklin D. Israel Design Associates in Beverly Hills and began to design vast homes around the world, as well as recent, larger projects such as the UCLA Southern Regional Library and UC Riverside arts school.


Israel’s other work includes the Michael and Cecilia Dan residence in Malibu, Weisman Pavilion galleries in Los Angeles, Virgin Records headquarters in Beverly Hills, and the Goldberg & Bean residence and Propaganda Films production studio in Hollywood.

The architect is survived by his companion, Tomas Hasse of Los Angeles; his mother, Zelda Israel of Tamarac, Fla., and his sister, Roslyn Steinberg of Short Hills, N.J.