Donald Kubly dies at 93; former Art Center College of Design president


Donald R. Kubly, a former president of Art Center College of Design who presided over its move from Los Angeles to a custom-built campus in the Pasadena foothills, died of natural causes Thursday at his home near the school. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son, David.

Called “one of Art Center’s most influential leaders” by its current president, Lorne M. Buchman, Kubly was associated with the prestigious design school for five decades, beginning as an undergraduate in the late 1930s. In 1969, after a career in advertising, he became the college’s second president and served for 16 years, until his retirement in 1985.

During Kubly’s tenure, Art Center’s enrollment nearly doubled, from 700 to more than 1,200 full-time students. Kubly also expanded its course offerings, creating programs in environmental design, film, fine art and computer graphics. He opened a campus in Vevey, Switzerland, in the 1970s that operated for about 10 years.


When the school outgrew its Los Angeles campus, Kubly launched an $8-million campaign to acquire a 175-acre site in the San Rafael hills above the Rose Bowl. The new campus opened in 1976 and quickly won the attention of the architecture world with its main building, a modernist steel-and-glass structure that spans a ravine. Designed by Craig Ellwood Associates, it was designated a Pasadena historic landmark in 2005.

Although the construction of the Pasadena campus was Kubly’s most visible achievement, colleagues say he remained focused on the reason for the school’s renown: its ability to prepare students to move into the mainstream of professional art design. It is particularly famous for its automotive design program, whose graduates have become head designers for the leading automakers in the United States, Japan and Europe.

“I remember him celebrating the quality and professionalism of the students and the culture the students would leave the school with, which was very professionally driven. Don was always focused on the quality of the students,” said Agustin Garza, who met Kubly as a student at Art Center in the late 1970s and later taught graphic design there.

The son of a cabinetmaker, Kubly was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, 1917, and grew up in Alhambra. After graduating from Alhambra High School, he studied at Pasadena Junior College (now Pasadena City College) and helped support himself with a job building floats for the Rose Parade.

In 1938 he won a scholarship to Art Center School, which was then located on 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles. He interrupted his studies when World War II began and served in the Army Air Forces for four years, flying bombing missions over North Africa.

Returning to Art Center after the war, he met Sally Eager, a fellow student, and married her in 1947.


After graduating from Art Center in 1949, he was hired by the N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency in Philadelphia. He provided creative leadership for a number of major campaigns for clients such as United Airlines, AT&T and Plymouth cars, eventually earning three gold medals from the New York Art Directors Club.

He was Ayer’s senior art director when he left in 1963 to teach at Art Center, which by then was located on 3rd Street in the mid-Wilshire area. He was promoted to assistant to Edward A. “Tink” Adams, the school’s founding director, in 1965, the year Art Center School was renamed Art Center College of Design.

In the mid-1960s, Kubly and his wife, an illustrator, built a house in Pasadena that was designed by Ellwood, the Case Study architect who would later win the commission to develop the new campus.

One of Kubly’s sons, Jon, died in 1990. Besides his wife, he is survived by sons David of San Clemente and Rod of Glendale and seven grandchildren.

A public memorial to be held at Art Center is being planned. For details, call the school at (626) 396-2338 or email