Albert C. Martin Jr., 92; Architect Helped Shape Los Angeles Skyline

Times Staff Writer

Albert C. Martin Jr., who was part of a three-generation Los Angeles architectural firm that has been at the center of the city's commercial and cultural development for a century, has died. He was 92.

Martin, who had been in declining health in the last year, died Thursday at his home in San Luis Obispo after suffering a stroke a week earlier, said his son, David.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of what is now called AC Martin Partners Inc.

Launched by Martin's father, Albert C. Martin Sr., the family architectural firm has had a profound effect on shaping the Los Angeles skyline.

Among the landmarks designed by the senior Martin early in the 20th century are the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway (1917), the St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church on Figueroa Street (1923) and the May Co. department store on Wilshire Boulevard (1939).

The senior Martin also collaborated with John C. Austin, John and Donald Parkinson and Austin Whittlesey in the design of Los Angeles City Hall (1928).

Six decades later, Albert Martin Jr. served as chairman of the board of directors of Project Restore, a citywide nonprofit group that helped raise funds for the restoration of City Hall's Main Street lobby, the reinstallation of the Lindbergh Beacon and other significant parts of the rehabilitation of the 27-story building that were completed in 2002.

AC Martin Partners Inc. also was the architect/engineer for the city's seismic rehabilitation of City Hall, a downtown landmark that Martin viewed as "a symbol equal in civic consciousness to the Statue of Liberty."

A Los Angeles native who grew up in the Mid-Wilshire district, Martin joined his father's firm in 1936 after graduating cum laude from the USC School of Architecture. He and his brother J. Edward Martin, a structural engineer, took over management of the firm after World War II.

With architect Albert's design talent and Edward's engineering skills, they continued the family tradition of creating landmark buildings in Los Angeles -- most notably the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power building on Hope Street (1965).

In his 1970 book "The Architecture of Four Ecologies," architecture critic Reyner Banham glowingly called it "the only public building in the whole city that genuinely graces the scene, lifts the spirit and sits in firm control of the whole basis of human existence in Los Angeles."

Other notable buildings designed by the firm during Martin's tenure include One Space Park, the TRW science research park in Redondo Beach (1968), Union Bank Square on Figueroa Street (1967), Arco Plaza on South Flower Street (1973), St. Basil's Roman Catholic Church on Wilshire Boulevard (1969) and Security Pacific Plaza on South Flower Street (1975).

So great was the firm's effect that a 1979 article in The Times credited it for "more than 50 percent of all the major buildings erected in downtown Los Angeles since World War II."

Noted Los Angeles architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who met both Martin and his father in 1936, said the Water and Power building is "the classic example of Al Martin Jr.'s work and one of the most successful buildings in Los Angeles."

"He created a building not for Al Martin Jr.; he created a building for the Water and Power Department, and the result comes out," Shulman told The Times on Monday.

"It's one of the favorite buildings of people in downtown Los Angeles. Younger architects especially have great respect and appreciation for Albert Martin Jr," he said.

As an architect, Shulman said, Martin "did not pursue the egotistic avant-garde, postmodern tradition of architecture. Al Martin Jr. was selling architecture; he wasn't selling Al Martin Jr. He was contemplating what his clients needed. That's why he achieved such a wonderful clientele."

Architectural projects only partially defined Martin, who was also known for his many civic contributions.

"He was a model for architects everywhere of how it was possible for architects to exercise leadership as citizens -- that if we wanted our lives and our city to be better and better, then we had to exercise whatever influence we could in that direction, and he continually did that," said Robert Harris, professor emeritus in the School of Architecture at USC.

Harris recalled that when he became dean of the School of Architecture in 1981, "Al Martin was one of the first real supporters and great alumni of the school whom I met, and he became -- as for a huge number of people in the city -- a mentor."

At the time, Harris said, Martin had been selected by Mayor Tom Bradley as chairman of Los Angeles 200, the city's Bicentennial Committee, "and that was one of about 20 or 30 other major events I can remember him taking leadership in."

Martin and his brother began slowly turning control of the firm over to their sons between 1984 and 1990.

Since the mid-1990s, David Martin has been the firm's design partner and Christopher C. Martin, the son of J. Edward, has been its chief executive.

David Martin said that for him and his siblings, knowing that his father and the family firm "created great landmarks was just part of our lives."

"Architecture was just part of our dinner conversation," he said.

"One of the things with all my brothers and sisters, because it was an architectural family, there was a lot about craftsmanship and a lot about the arts that was very much a part of our lives. Next to the family room was a shop, so if you had a vision about something you'd just go out there and build it.

"I'd say it was an environment of encouragement, and that was wonderful."

Over the years, Martin and his firm won more than 100 architecture, engineering and planning awards.

A fellow of the American Institute of Architects, Martin was honored by the USC School of Architecture as its distinguished alumnus of 1990.

A lifelong sailing enthusiast, he raced at least five trans-Pacific races to Hawaii.

In addition to his son, David, Martin is survived by his wife, Dorothy; son, Charles; daughters Mary Marquardt and Claire Martin; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Basil's Catholic Church, 3611 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

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