USC to get papers of Modernist architecture’s unsung hero


To the cognoscenti, Edward H. Fickett was the award-winning architect behind the Port of Los Angeles, La Costa Resort & Spa, Edwards Air Force Base and tens of thousands of airy, affordable tract homes throughout Southern California.

To Better Homes & Gardens, he was the “ Frank Lloyd Wright of the ‘50s” -- a visionary who designed mansions for the likes of Joan Crawford and Groucho Marx, and more modest accommodations for regular folks.

But to Joycie Fickett, he was Eddie, the handsome, life-of-the-party husband who greeted her each morning with an original love song and breakfast in bed.

“We laughed every day of our lives together,” she said. “He was so romantic.”

Since the architect’s death 11 years ago at the age of 83, Joycie Fickett has kept her husband’s memory alive by jealously guarding his vast body of work in his old Fairfax-area office. The work space contains blueprints, renderings, Julius Shulman photos of Fickett homes and marketing brochures for his many master-planned communities.

Despite multiple honors during his prolific career, Edward Fickett never achieved the widespread recognition of such Modernists as Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, not to mention Wright.

Joycie Fickett is working to change that, however. She recently agreed to cede the collection to USC, her husband’s undergraduate alma mater, where he founded the architectural guild.

“He really is kind of an unsung hero,” said Claude Zachary, the university archivist and manuscript librarian at USC. “We’re privileged to have an opportunity to bring this incredible material in and preserve it and make it available . . . and hopefully get Mr. Fickett’s name much better known.”

The deal, which was disclosed this month, comes not a moment too soon for the woman who has devoted her life to tending the Edward Fickett flame. Joycie Fickett has been ordered to vacate her husband’s old office by the end of the month.

At 65, the former Joycie Helen Steinberg still has the slender figure and raven hair that drew the eye of clothing designer Emilio Pucci, who employed her as a model after she finished medical school in the 1960s.

The Ficketts met in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles, when Joycie chaired a tennis tournament. Edward had offered use of his court in Trousdale Estates. He asked for her card, but she didn’t have one. Edward gave her his after extracting a promise that she would call. She never did.

When the pair stumbled upon each other more than a year later, Edward exclaimed, “You’re the lady who didn’t call me.”

On their first date, they played tennis and dined at Trader Vic’s. “We started talking and never stopped,” Joycie said.

Born in 1916, Edward Fickett was a fourth-generation Angeleno whose father and grandfather were in construction and development.

After Fickett completed his first year of architecture study at USC, his father told him money was too tight for him to continue.

That summer, Fickett worked with his father on a house for actress Irene Dunne.

One day, Fickett found Dunne crying at her kitchen table, which was covered with architectural plans. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “I hired the best architects in Europe and the United States, but neither understands what I want,” she replied.

Fickett turned the plans over and drew on the blank side as Dunne shared her ideas. They worked for four hours, and she was delighted with the results.

Soon after, the dean of the USC architecture school told Fickett that an anonymous donor had offered to pay his school and living expenses until graduation. Years later, Fickett learned the angel was Dunne.

Eventually, Edward Fickett homes would be known for their many innovative features, such as floor-to-ceiling windows, vaulted ceilings, open kitchens connected to dining rooms, sliding closet doors, plentiful wood, brick and glass and landscaping that went all around the house -- “to bring the outside in.”

Joycie Fickett said her husband was the first architect to mix colors -- peach, pink, turquoise or light green -- into concrete, providing a cheery exterior without the cost of painting.

Despite these many innovations, Edward Fickett never sought the limelight, Joycie Fickett said. He died of pneumonia on May 21, 1999.

“He will rest in peace,” she said, “knowing his architectural archives will be housed at his beloved USC.”