What Stephen Kanner meant to Westwood Village

IN-N-OUT-WW-KANNER.jpgI was struck by a tribute that Westwood restaurateur and community leader Steven Sann wrote about architect Stephen Kanner, who died Friday of cancer at 54. Kanner completed more than a dozen projects in Westwood Village, and Sann's piece shows how one architect can freshen and re-shape a place like Westwood (itself planned in the 1920s) while honoring its past. Here's an excerpt; Sann's whole piece runs after the jump. Also, KCRW producer Frances Anderton, the host of "DnA," has posted an appreciation of Kanner as well.

Kanner also was co-founder of the A+D Museum. Sann:

Though he was a Modernist architect at heart, Steve developed a true love for the original Janss vision for Westwood Village, and an appreciation for the original Mediterranean design aesthetic for the Village as envisioned by brothers Edwin and Harold Janss and their Janss Investment Corporation.

Steve spoke often of "the good bones" of the Village, and his belief that much of the original charm of Westwood Village could be brought back. To make those beliefs real, Steve was hired by numerous Village property owners to restore many original Village buildings, some after they had suffered very insensitive remodels over many decades.

To achieve this with a true sense of authenticity, he became an expert in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style that characterized most of the early Village buildings, and painstakingly taught himself how to replicate the original look and feel of these original Village gems using similar materials including smooth plaster walls, red clay tile roofs, wood framed windows, glazed ceramic tile, and more. Often working without the benefit of original architectural drawings, and sometimes with little more than a newspaper clipping or an original photograph, Steve and his firm lovingly restored many early Village buildings.

The whole thing follows.

Dear Westwood Friends:

I am deeply saddened to share the news that our very good friend, architect Stephen Kanner passed away last Friday. He succumbed to cancer at the very young age of 54.

Steve is survived by many close family members including his mother Judith, an interior decorator, screenwriter and matriarch of the family; his wife Cynthia; his daughters Caroline and Charlotte (just recently 15-year old Caroline had started designing with her father); his sister Catherine, an illustrator, her husband Winston, also an architect, and their daughters.

As many of you know, Steve, along with his late father Charles (who also passed away from cancer in 1998 at the age of 67) were longtime and beloved members of our Westwood Village community. Both Charles and Steve were were honored as Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, and both father and son served as President of the AIA Southern California Chapter.

For many years Kanner Architects was prominently located on Le Conte Avenue directly across from the UCLA campus. The firm relocated to Santa Monica in 2005.

Among his many civic involvements and personal passions, Steve was the co-founder and Chair of the A+D Museum in Los Angeles, which just celebrated the opening of its first permanent location on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile this past April.

In 1988 Steve was appointed by the City Council as a founding member of the Westwood Community Design Review Board on which he served for six years, the last three as Chair. He and his fellow founding DRB members set very high design and architectural standards for Westwood. With a keen eye for detail and an unwavering commitment to quality, Steve tirelessly pressed architects coming before the Westwood DRB to do their best work. He insisted on smooth, hand-applied steel-trowel plaster finishes on buildings, reverse channel lettering in signs, and abundant landscaping in projects.

He also was a founding Board member of the Westwood Village Community Alliance (the former Westwood business improvement district). Among his many pro bono projects for our Westwood community, Steve designed the former Westwood Village Police Community Service Center on Broxton Avenue.

Steve earned his Masters in architecture at the UC Berkeley School of Architecture, and was a third generation architect. His grandfather I. Herman Kanner, AIA founded the firm in 1946. (Some of you may remember the elegant Chandler's Shoe Stores...an early client of Herman Kanner.)

Though he was a Modernist architect at heart, Steve developed a true love for the original Janss vision for Westwood Village, and an appreciation for the original Mediterranean design aesthetic for the Village as envisioned by brothers Edwin and Harold Janss and their Janss Investment Corporation.

Steve spoke often of "the good bones" of the Village, and his belief that much of the original charm of Westwood Village could be brought back. To make those beliefs real, Steve was hired by numerous Village property owners to restore many original Village buildings, some after they had suffered very insensitive remodels over many decades.

To achieve this with a true sense of authenticity, he became an expert in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style that characterized most of the early Village buildings, and painstakingly taught himself how to replicate the original look and feel of these original Village gems using similar materials including smooth plaster walls, red clay tile roofs, wood framed windows, glazed ceramic tile, and more. Often working without the benefit of original architectural drawings, and sometimes with little more than a newspaper clipping or an original photograph, Steve and his firm lovingly restored many early Village buildings.

Steve has left behind a very significant body of work in Westwood Village - more than a dozen projects - that leaves an indelible imprint upon the built environment in the Village as one of his many enduring legacies.

Among his many notable restoration projects in the Village: the stunning renovation of the original 1932 El Paseo building on the southwest corner of Broxton and Weyburn avenues (longtime home to Mario's Italian restaurant, now California Pizza Kitchen) for owners Four Star Investments (Jerry Felsenthal and Ron Simms). Working in tandem with Pasadena architect John Cataldo, Steve brought back many of the original elements of this classic courtyard building, including the original fountain, the open-air patio, original ceramic Spanish tile, stenciled wooden timbers, original wrought iron, and hand painted frescoes. Today the restored El Paseo building is widely recognized as one of the most beautifully restored and lovingly preserved original buildings in the Village (and notably, it commands some of the highest commercial rents today in the Village. The lesson: historic preservation and restoration in Westwood Village is a wise investment. Other Village property owners would do well to follow this example!)

In the 1980s Steve also was hired by Pine Realty (Peter and Helen Bing) to restore Gordon Kaufmann's landmark 1929 Holmby Building and Clocktower on Westwood Boulevard, between Le Conte and Weyburn avenues. This monumentally scaled, block-long building, designed to look like five separate buildings, and with its signature tower and four-sided clock, took more than 18 months to restore, as various tenants moved out or were relocated elsewhere in the building. When the project neared completion, the four clock faces were repaired and restored, and beautifully back lit in a lovely blue hue. (Steve once recounted to me the adventure of climbing inside the tower and examining the condition of the structure and clock works, ascending creaky wooden ladders to the top of the tower. "Scary" was his recollection.) Sadly the current ownership of this building has allowed this landmark building to once again fall into disrepair and neglect.

Among his other restoration projects in the Village: the original 1932 Bullock's Westwood building (now home to Bebe and UCLA Extension) as well as the restoration of the original 1931 Desmond's Westwood (later home to At-Ease and Copeland's Sports, now home to CVS Pharmacy), both originally designed by another famous father-and-son architectural team, John and Donald Parkinson (architects of Los Angeles City Hall, among many other projects).

Steve also designed the remodel of the former 1936 Charthouse restaurant building (previously Westwood House restaurant) into the Westwood Brewing Company.

Among new projects in the Village, Steve was commissioned to design what he called the "Little Dome Building" for Paramount Securities (brothers Elliot and Michael Lewis), which is now home to Citibank on Westwood Boulevard. At the time, the Lewises also owned the original 1929 Janss Dome Building located across the street, and they wanted Steve to design a building that would echo and respect that original Village landmark.

Steve also refaced a building with the "traditional Village look" on the 1000 block of Westwood Boulevard for Four Corners Investments (brothers Ben and Joseph Yadegar), which housed Europe Bound travel outfitters and more recently Sigal Gevojanyan Salon (currently home to a temporary art exhibition).

He also transformed the former Mann Westwood Four-plex Theatre on Gayley Avenue (which itself was a conversion of a former Safeway Supermarket) into the Whole Foods Market with a design that embraced the Village's traditional Mediterranean aesthetic.

He was hired by owners William and Maria Herskovic to design their new location for Bel-Air Camera on the northeast corner of Gayley and Kinross avenues (a conversion of a former Wells Fargo Bank branch). Painted in Westwood and UCLA's traditional blue-and-gold color palette, this project reflected Steve's playful architectural instincts, with a giant camera perched on the corner with a roll of film, to beckon would be customers (this, just before the dawn of digital photography) and a camera "shutter" along the sidewalk (replacing a former bank vault depository).

In 2000 Steve was hired by Madison Marquette to oversee the conversion of Welton Becket's 1955 Mid-Century Modern design for the landmark Bullock's Westwood building from a single tenant building into a multi-tenant facility, and from an internally circulating structure to an externally circulating building in order to house four separate tenants: EXPO Design Center,Ralphs Fresh Fare, Best Buy, and Longs Drugs. Steve's sensitive work on that enormous 225,000 square-foot department store building won a Los Angeles Conservancy Historic Preservation Award in 2002 and honors from the Los Angeles Business Council for Best Renovated Retail Project that same year.

One of Steve's proudest projects in the Village and his personal favorite was his playful design for the IN-N-OUT Burger on Gayley Avenue, the only drive-through restaurant in the Village and a tribute to Southern California's car culture, which won a National AIA Honor Award in 2002. This was a conversion of a former Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through and a tired and dreary Sizzler steakhouse. Designed with IN-N-OUT's signature palm trees popping through a round opening in the roof, this was Steve's three-dimensional homage to the classic IN-N-OUT boomerang logo, and embraced the company's vivid ketchup red and mustard yellow colors. Steve once described this as "building as signage". This contemporary version of the "programmatic architecture" made popular in Southern California in the the 1930s, 40s and 50s remains a modern and enduring Village landmark (and achieved status as the third best performing unit in the entire IN-N-OUT chain).

Steve also designed three beautiful but unbuilt projects in the Village: a mixed use retail and office project for Paramount Securities (brothers Elliot and Michael Lewis) for the southeast corner of Westwood Boulevard and Kinross Avenue (site of Urban Outfitters, The Stand, Glitterati, and other storefronts) and a mixed use retail and office project for Four Corners Investments (brothers Ben and Joseph Yadegar) for the northeast corner of Gayley and Weyburn avenues (site of Tomodachi Sushi and those many assorted food shacks along Gayley Avenue).

Steve and Charles Kanner also were the designers for the Arba Group's (developer Ira Smedra's) ill-fated "Village Center Westwood" project, an enormous mixed-use proposal of movie theaters, an IMAX theater, a Ralphs Grocery Store, retail, restaurants, and senior housing, that was proposed for the present day site of Casden Properties' Palazzo Westwood Village. While the Westwood community was overwhelmingly opposed to Smedra's proposal (largely due to its overly intense development and highly controversial proposal to permanently close Glendon Avenue and convert it to a below-street-level sunken "pedestrian mall"), most members of the Westwood community found the architecture to be quite beautiful and attractive (which embraced the Village's traditional Mediterranean style, complete with signature towers, and with a touch of what Steve Kanner described as "World's Fair architectural flair"). In fact, many people said the architecture was the ONLY redeeming feature of the proposed project.

There is one final "unbuilt" project designed by Steve Kanner for Westwood Village, which was recently approved by the Westwood Design Review Board: a one-story commercial building at the southeast corner of Gayley and Le Conte avenues (former site of the Shell gas station), immediately north of his IN-N-OUT Burger. Designed for property owner Steve Cruise, this project reportedly is intended for possible tenant Famima. (You can see renderings of this project approved by the DRB at: http://la.curbed.com/archives/2010/03/waiting_for_kanner_architects_in_westwood_meet_philanthropy_realtors.php )

This is a summary of ONLY his work in the Village. Steve Kanner, Charles Kanner, and Kanner Architects have assembled an impressive body of commercial and residential work throughout Southern California and around the world. For more information, please visit www.kannerarch.com

I deeply regret having to pass along this most unfortunate news to you, and I am sure you join me in expressing heartfelt sympathies and condolences to his family over this profound loss.

All of us who knew Steve and worked with him in Westwood Village can take some measure of comfort in knowing that we had the extraordinary good fortune to know him, to appreciate his remarkable talents, and to experience his genuine warmth and friendship for so many years.


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LA Times writers revisit their '92 riots observations
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