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Elsie Krummeck Crawford; Artistic Industrial Designer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elsie Krummeck Crawford, an industrial designer who created everything from toys to lamps to the triangular planters originally used at Los Angeles International Airport in 1960, has died. She was 86.

The nationally known designer died Saturday in Los Angeles. She had suffered Parkinson’s disease, said her son, attorney Michael S. Gruen of New York.

Recent exhibits of Crawford’s designs included last year’s Pacific Design Center show, “L.A. Modern & Beyond,” and a 1994 show at New York’s Pratt Institute, “Goddess in the Details--Product Design by Women.” Her lamps, knock-down furniture and other designs are in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and have been displayed at the Pasadena Art Museum.

Born Elsie Krummeck in New York City, she attended the Parsons School of Design and began her career creating exhibits for such events as the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

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With architect Victor Gruen, whom she later married, she formed the Gruen & Krummeck architectural firm. They specialized in creating specialty shops in New York, including Mark Lederer, Barton’s Bonbonniere and the Custom Shop.

Department store magnate Joseph Magnin, a client, sponsored their move to Los Angeles in 1940. The Gruens dissolved their marriage and their firm in the 1950s.

She subsequently married architect Neil Crawford and concentrated on designing furniture, planters and other objects to complement his buildings. Among other things, she created murals and fountains, outdoor sculpture and street furniture for shopping centers and civic areas.

Her concrete and fiberglass seating and tree-planting sculptures, including the planters for the airport parking lots, were manufactured in the early 1960s by Architectural Pottery of Los Angeles. They are still in use in many commercial and industrial areas.

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Crawford called them “structural pavers” and said they could provide “flexible landscaping.”

“One day they can decorate a shopping center parking lot,” she told The Times in 1962, “and the next day be moved aside for a Boy Scout jamboree or a boat show.”

Crawford’s designs ran the gamut of consumer imagination--toys, fabrics, wallpaper, lanterns, a 35-foot dragon for a San Diego department store to entertain children while their parents shopped. She also designed paper bags that doubled as Halloween masks, 6-foot sheet metal mannequins for department stores, and white concrete picnic tables with circular seats.

Crawford, who designed greeting cards for her family and friends, often encouraged them to try watercolor, and hung their efforts in her home. But she personally eschewed mere painting or sculpting. “I don’t derive much pleasure from art for art’s sake,” she told The Times. “I can appreciate it, but I don’t enjoy doing it. I consider commercial art just as artistic. I have never wanted to do anything that wasn’t useful--and commercial art is useful.”

Besides her son, she is survived by a daughter, Peggy Gruen of Belchertown, Mass.


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