Charles Kanner; Modernist L.A. Architect


Charles G. Kanner, the award-winning Los Angeles modernist architect whose projects include the innovative Harvard Apartments in Koreatown, the Village Center in Westwood, the Montana Collection in Santa Monica, his own Seacliff fourplex in Malibu and scores of courthouses, offices and mini-malls, has died. He was 67.

Kanner, a fellow and former president of the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a redevelopment advisor to Mayors Tom Bradley and Richard Riordan, died Sunday at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica of pancreatic cancer.

The middle generation of a three-generation Los Angeles architectural family, Kanner operated Kanner Associates with his son, Stephen. His father, Herman, who opened his architectural office in 1946, died in the early 1950s.

“Chuck” Kanner founded the current boutique firm in 1974, and dropped it during an economic downturn to join Charles Luckman Associates in 1976 as senior vice president and director of planning and design. He lasted one year before opting for his own smaller firm, but in that time headed site selection for the expanded Los Angeles Central Library and led development of two major office towers.


Kanner’s small shop has completed more than 130 public and private projects for both well-heeled and down-at-the-heels clientele, some without fee, and earned a score of awards from the American Institute of Architects and others. Along with new complexes, Kanner and his son have renovated historic structures such as the 1929 Holmby Building near their Westwood Village office. Outside Los Angeles, Kanner has designed urban centers in Beijing and Shanghai.

The veteran architect called his style “modernism out of the internationalist school” and took his inspiration from the German Bauhaus school and from 1920s and 1930s architects Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright. With the help of his wife, screenwriter and interior designer Judith Lorber Kanner, he decorated his homes in Malibu and Mandeville Canyon with furniture by such architects as Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Eliel Saarinen. The art was created by him, his son and his daughter, artist Catherine Kanner.

“When you talk about what’s going on in L.A., the Kanner name comes up,” Michael Hrizek, president of the American Institute of Architects, told The Times in 1995. “There’s a freshness and sense of humor to their work, extremely intelligent designs that have subtle edges to them. They like to embrace the 1950s and ‘60s aesthetic of optimism and play, and blend them with the best of the modernist tradition. Their plans make tremendous sense. I’d consider them among the best firms at work here.”

Born in St. Louis, Kanner grew up in Los Angeles and studied architecture at USC. He served in the Air Force, supervising the redesign of Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, Ariz., to accommodate jet airplanes.

But he returned to Los Angeles, telling The Times in 1995 that he couldn’t imagine living or working anywhere else: “You don’t have to travel to see the world; it’s here in a population of Anglos, Asians, Latinos, African Americans, all these nodes of cultural diversity. You have the tradition of the Spanish missions and you have the deconstructivism of Frank Gehry. . . . You have the mid-Wilshire single-family stucco houses, the Spanish bungalow style on South Olympic, and the elegant Hancock Park. You have Century City, Warner Ranch and Ventura Boulevard.”

More than 100 photographs of the Kanner firm’s work are included in a professional book “Pop Architecture: Kanner Architects” due out in two weeks from Images Publications of Australia. Edited by Frances Anderton of Santa Monica, the book pre-sold 8,000 copies at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Kanner is survived by a brother, Paul, and three grandchildren, all of Los Angeles.

The memorial service will be private. Memorial donations may be sent to the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica.