Edward Frank, who was among the first Southern California retailers to feature contemporary Scandinavian furniture as well as designs by such architects as Charles and Ray Eames and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at his store, Frank Bros. in Long Beach, has died. He was 87.
An internationally recognized name in home furnishings, Frank died Monday of pneumonia at Los Alamitos Medical Center, according to his nephew, Ron Frank. He had been a resident of Seal Beach.
Along with the retail outlet, Frank Bros. operated an import division called Moreddie that Edward Frank oversaw. His brother, Maurice, directed the retail business.
To keep up with international trends, Edward Frank went on buying trips to Scandinavia starting in the 1940s and later to Milan, as well as to the showrooms of such California designers as the Eameses. Although the Franks were committed to contemporary furniture by architects, most of the inventory consisted of mass-produced contemporary designs made in Scandinavia.
Frank’s passion for the field and his sophisticated tastes made Frank Bros. a magnet for architects, interior decorators and magazine editors. In the 1950s he was invited by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine, to furnish model houses designed for the Case Study Program that Entenza directed, to promote Modernist architecture.
Frank’s high school friend, Edward Killingsworth, an architect involved in the Case Study Program, remodeled the Frank Bros. store on Long Beach Boulevard in 1961. Frank also commissioned him to build him a private residence, Case Study House No. 25, on Naples Island in Long Beach.
Frank decorated the house sparsely, making two chrome-and-leather “Barcelona” chairs by Mies van der Rohe the centerpiece. In his view, furniture was like costly jewelry: One good piece made all the difference.
At their store, the Frank brothers introduced new lines by exhibiting them in special displays, providing information about the designer and manufacturer.
“The Frank brothers were curators, not just businessmen,” said Peter Longhrey of Los Angeles Modern Auctions. “What they decided was good taste became what people came to think of as modern design.”
By looking at Frank Bros. ads in old issues of Arts & Architecture magazine, Longhrey said, a younger generation is getting an education in Modernism. The ads included photographs and referred to each piece of furniture by the name the designer gave it, whether it was easy to grasp or not. “The ‘LTR’ chair by Eames, for example, was not the most marketable name” for the chair, Longhrey said.
Although the Franks moved among the sophisticates in the furniture industry, they catered primarily to customers who were not particularly wealthy. They allowed shoppers to pay in installments on a layaway plan.
“The idea was to carry a complete collection of the best, from Eames and Mies van der Rohe down to the least expensive furniture possible,” said Ron Frank. “The philosophy was that you don’t have to pay more for good design. That was a legacy of Edward and Maurice Frank.”
Born in Alberta, Canada, Frank moved to Long Beach with his parents when he was 2 years old. He went into the family business after high school, and in 1938 he and Maurice took it over. They decided then to specialize in contemporary design.
Frank moved to New York City about 1978 after Maurice died, and Ron Frank took over the retail business, which he sold in 1982. Edward Frank worked for a few years in New York City for Dux, a Scandinavian import furniture business. He returned to Long Beach in the late 1980s and became a consultant for furniture manufacturers until he retired at about 83.
Frank’s survivors include his three sisters, Bernice Friedland, Sylvia Miller and Goldeen Fellman, all of Seal Beach, and many nieces and nephews.
Contributions in his name can be made to Temple Beth Shalom, 3635 Elm Ave., Long Beach, CA 90807.