Harry Gesner, the dashing, surf-loving architect whose hovering designs celebrated California’s dramatic panorama in homes that straddled canyons, perched over seashores and cantilevered from cliffs, died on June 10 at his dwelling in Malibu, Calif., a whorl of a spot known as the Sandcastle. He was 97.
The trigger was issues of most cancers, mentioned Casey Dolan, his stepson.
Mr. Gesner, who was raised in California, may ski and surf like a professional. He flew his first airplane at 14. The actress June Lockhart was his past love, throughout his senior yr at Santa Monica High School — she went to Westlake, they met water-skiing — however their romance was interrupted by his service in World War II.
As an architect he was largely self-taught, although Frank Lloyd Wright invited him to check at Taliesin West, his property and college in Scottsdale, Ariz. His shiplike homes, which had been typically constructed by Norwegian shipbuilders, had been distinctly, excitingly Californian, with partitions of glass, spherical, sunken dwelling rooms, hearth pits and peaked A-frame roofs. They would outline the Southern California panorama and aesthetic and its freewheeling ethos, as a lot as the homes of John Lautner, one other eclectic modernist, who designed the Chemosphere, in any other case often called the flying saucer home, which floats above the North Hollywood Hills.
Mr. Gesner sketched his most well-known home whereas bobbing on his lengthy board in entrance of its eventual web site in Malibu. Set on the seaside of a secluded cove, the Wave House, constructed for his pal and fellow surfer Gerry Cooper, appears like a winged creature, or a cresting wave. The hand-cut spherical, copper shingles on its vaulted roof are just like the scales of a fish.
The Wave House was in-built 1957, the identical yr the Swedish architect Jorn Utzon gained the competitors to design the Sydney Opera House, and lots of declared, and proceed to keep up, that the Wave House had been his inspiration. Mr. Gesner mentioned the resemblance was coincidental — although he did recall Mr. Utzon calling to go with him on his design, which had been publicized everywhere in the world.
“I do wish people would not insist that something looks like something else, but they do,” he informed Lisa Germany for her e-book “Houses of the Sundown Sea” (2012), a survey of Mr. Gesner’s work. “It’s human nature and a bore. An inspirational concept comes from a collection of parts and pieces of all we experience in the act of everyday living and that wonderful sauce, ‘imagination.’”
Harry Harmer Gesner was born on April 28, 1925, in Oxnard, Calif., west of Los Angeles. His father, Harry M. Gesner, was an inventor, engineer and adventurist who at 16 rode with the Rough Riders, the volunteer cavalry led by Theodore Roosevelt within the Spanish-American War; surfed with Duke Kahanamoku, the early Hawaiian browsing star; and flew his personal biplane. Harry’s mom, Ethel (Harmer) Gesner, was an artist, the daughter of Alexander Harmer, a famous panorama painter of Southern California. A terrific-great-grandfather was José de la Guerra, a rich Spanish navy commander and landowner in Santa Barbara often called El Capitan, and one in all Mr. Gesner’s uncles was Jack Northrop, the plane designer, engineer and industrialist who created the prototype for what would turn into the B-2 stealth bomber.
Mr. Gesner was 19 when he landed on the seaside at Normandy, ducking by means of the waves from the aspect of a touchdown craft. The expertise marked him ceaselessly; he was, he mentioned years later, “rudely changed from a boy to a man after about a minute with the wounded, dying and about to be dead members of my squad.”
He survived D-Day however practically misplaced his legs to frostbite combating alongside the German line. He sketched as he marched, capturing the aqueducts, church buildings and castles of Europe, noting their Gothic particulars.
On his discharge, he spent six months at Yale auditing an structure class taught by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a visiting professor on the time. Wright invited Mr. Gesner to check with him at Taliesin, however Mr. Gesner boarded a freighter as an alternative and headed to Ecuador, the place he excavated pre-Incan artifacts. He then headed to Mexico City, the place he bumped into Errol Flynn at a bar. Flynn requested him to assist take his yacht, Sirocco, again to California, however the departure date stored being delay, so Mr. Gesner went dwelling.
He labored for one more uncle, an architect, as an apprentice to the builders after which started designing his personal homes.
For his dad and mom and an aunt, Mr. Gesner designed homes created from adobe bricks laid at an angle. Nestled into their landscapes, they seemed as in the event that they had been rising out of the bottom. For a developer, he constructed a glassy rhomboid, set on a ridge over the Malibu coast. For a household with a small web site in a canyon, he constructed a home like a bridge — or an aqueduct — that spans two slopes.
For Fred Cole, the swimwear magnate, he designed adouble A-frame bachelor pad with Tahitian touches — for its partitions of glass, Mr. Gesner designed “curtains” created from bamboo and glass beads — and perched it on skinny web site overlooking Sunset Boulevard that engineers had claimed was not possible to construct on.
Mr. Gesner would turn into the go-to architect for a lot of of Hollywood’s well-heeled bachelors. John Scantlin — whose firm invented the Quotron, the primary magnetic-tape-based inventory market system, which changed the previous ticker-tape machines — requested just for a bed room, a lounge, a small kitchen and a moist bar (in addition to a three-car storage and tennis courts). The rest room was a grotto, with the bathroom tucked right into a forest of ferns, and the home was surrounded by a pool, from which one may swim into the grotto.
One undertaking that by no means left the drafting board was a compound for Marlon Brando, to be constructed on the French Polynesian atoll he had purchased after filming “Mutiny on the Bounty” within the early Nineteen Sixties. It was to be powered by windmills and photo voltaic panels and cooled by an enormous aquarium that Brando wished stuffed with sharks and moray eels. Giant palm trunks had been to be flying buttresses for a number of roofs, which had been to be sheathed in pandanus leaves. Brando additionally wished a mini-version of this island fantasy for his property in Beverly Hills. As Mr. Gesner informed Architectural Digest in 2008, it was laborious to maintain the actor targeted.
“He was very bedroom-oriented, and everything evolved from there,” he mentioned. “Suddenly in the middle of a discussion, a beautiful Asian model would walk in and Marlon would disappear for half an hour. I would just sit there and read a book.”
Mr. Gesner used sustainable supplies lengthy earlier than it was trendy. The Sandcastle, which he constructed for himself and his fourth spouse, the actress Nan Martin, on the secluded Malibu cove proper subsequent to the Wave House, was created from lumber salvaged from a highschool that had burned down, and marble from public baths that had been about to be demolished. He used previous phone poles to assist its tower — Ms. Germany, the creator of “Houses of the Sundown Sea,” described the place as resembling “a Dutch windmill, a Spanish lighthouse, a Hobbit’s dwelling.” Mr. Gesner known as it a house for “two creative and very much in love adults, a baby boy and a Labrador retriever.”
In addition to his stepson, Mr. Gesner is survived by his daughter, Tara Tanzer-Cartwright; two sons, Jason and Zen; and 5 grandchildren. His marriages to Audrey Hawthorne, Patti Townsend and Patricia Alexander resulted in divorce. Ms. Martin died in 2010.
In the Nineties, Mr. Gesner transformed his beloved 1959 silver Mercedes 190 SL convertible into an electrical car. He had three patents for a system to show strong waste into gasoline, and in his later years he labored on designs for poured concrete and wooden constructions that had been engineered for excessive climate. “Houses that survive,” he known as them.
“They will withstand the worst elements,” he informed The New York Times in 2012. “Hurricanes, of course. Tornadoes. Tsunamis. Termites and sun spots. Outside of withstanding a volcanic river of molten rock, I think we can solve all of our problems by good design, sensible, practical design that takes into effect all the elements.”