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Kenneth Cardwell


Kenneth H. Cardwell

Professor of Architecture, Emeritus

UC Berkeley

1920 - 2010


On January 11, 2010, Professor Emeritus Kenneth Cardwell unexpectedly died at Piedmont Gardens, Oakland, in the apartment he shared with his wife of 63 years, Mary Sullivan Cardwell. He was 89 years old.


Kenneth Harvey Cardwell was born on February 15, 1920, in Los Angeles to Stephen William Cardwell and Beatrice Viola Duperraul Cardwell. Ken was a fifth generation Californian, a true Californio. His great-great-grandfather on his father’s side was Agustín V. Zamorano, who served briefly as governor of Alta California and brought the first printing press to California. Henry Dalton, Kenneth’s great-grandfather, married Agustín’s daughter, María de Guadalupe Zamorano. Their daughter, Soyla Carolina Dalton, married William Cardwell, Kenneth’s grandfather. Ken Cardwell was proud of his connection to early California history.


Cardwell was brought up in Manhattan Beach, California. He attended Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California, graduating in June 1937. He graduated with an A.A. degree from Occidental College in 1939. He continued his education at the small School of Architecture at the University of California (UC), then under the deanship of Warren Perry. The school was located in the wooden building now called North Gate Hall (the Old Ark), designed by campus architect John Galen Howard. At the time Cardwell was accepted to the school it was firmly entrenched in the French École des Beaux Arts system. By the early 1940s students found the School of Architecture antiquated, and even UC President Robert Gordon Sproul tried to move the program in a modernist direction by forcing Perry to accept avant-garde teachers and up-to-date curriculum.


In 1940, while he was an architecture student, Cardwell met Bernard Maybeck, who was then 78 years old. While walking in the Berkeley hills, Cardwell saw old houses that “seemed amazingly fresh and attractive in their use of materials and their placement in the hillside landscape.” The meeting with Maybeck was a crucial turning point for Cardwell, who would spend the bulk of his academic career studying Maybeck’s architecture.


With the outbreak of World War II, Cardwell left the architecture school and in 1941 enlisted in the Army Air Corps, was trained as a pilot, and shipped out with the 35th Fighter Squadron to the South Pacific. Stationed in New Guinea, he flew missions against the Japanese. One night on a plane to Los Angeles in the 1980s he told me stories about the war. He was a spellbinding raconteur. His children were so impressed by their father’s adventures that they helped him record and publish them: Kenneth H. Cardwell, How Father Won the War (Berkeley: DWS Press, 2008). By the time he was discharged in 1945, First Lieutenant Cardwell had been awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and with his comrades, a Presidential Unit Citation.


In 1945, Cardwell returned to complete his education in the architecture school. While still a student he married Mary Elinor Sullivan in 1946. He resumed his friendship with Bernard Maybeck, taking the old architect on trips through Berkeley neighborhoods in his Buick convertible. Cardwell would point out a house on their trips and ask whether Maybeck remembered designing it; and if so, the house would be added to the catalogue of Maybeck’s work that Cardwell was assembling. In 1947, the Cardwells bought what Ken thought was one of Maybeck’s houses. The house was built in North Berkeley in 1912 for Professor Isaac Flagg. Maybeck came to visit one day and confirmed he was, in fact, the architect of the house. The Cardwells lived in the house at 1210 Shattuck Avenue for 62 years.


Cardwell received a B.A. degree in architecture in 1947 and went into private practice in the Bay Area. While still a student, he worked for Thomson and Wilson Architects in San Francisco (1946-1948). He worked for Michael Goodman in 1949. In that office, Cardwell had a major part in the design of the Hillel Foundation building in Berkeley. Between 1949 and 1950 he worked in the office of Leonard M. Tivol in San Francisco, supervising the construction of residences. Cardwell became a licensed architect in the State of California in 1949. He joined the Berkeley office of Winfield Scott Wellington, with whom he worked between 1950 and 1952. Cardwell and Wellington worked with Walter Heil, director of the de Young Museum, and Dr. Jiro Harada, curator of the National Museum of Tokyo, on a major museum show at the de Young, “The Great Ancient Arts of Japan,” commemorating the signing of the peace treaty with Japan in 1951. Cardwell was appointed to the state board of architectural examiners in the same year.


In 1949, as a new graduate, Cardwell began his teaching career at the University of California as a part-time lecturer in the School of Architecture, teaching freshman design and descriptive geometry in Professor Harold Stump’s classes. He was promoted to full-time lecturer in architectural design and descriptive geometry in 1952. The new dean of the School of Architecture, William Wurster, appointed Cardwell an assistant professor in 1953. He worked with Wurster on a new course for freshmen that introduced social concerns to architecture, “making use of professors of other disciplines…to provide students of architecture a better understanding of the role of design in society’s complex conditions.”


Dean Wurster also appointed Cardwell curator of architectural archives and art objects. Cardwell’s interest in Bernard Maybeck was attractive to Wurster. Cardwell was given the job as curator although he was not a professional curator or librarian, which meant that his collection would be outside the library and deprived of staff and library funding. As the teaching of architectural history became more important in the architecture curriculum, the half-time graduate appointment assigned to the archives was reassigned to architectural history, robbing the archives of the help that was needed. Even the name of the collection was challenged. The Bancroft Library included the University Archives and objected to any new “archive.” The collection’s name was changed to the more ambiguous Architectural Documents Collection.


Cardwell pushed ahead with his mission, to gain acclaim for local architects and to preserve the environmental heritage of the San Francisco Bay Area. He had been meeting with Maybeck for years, so he offered to store Maybeck’s files in the new fire-resistant library addition. Maybeck accepted and eventually gave his drawings and office files to the documents collection upon his death in 1957. No one in northern California was collecting architectural records at the time, so Cardwell began to acquire outstanding collections that would have been destroyed. He remained archivist until 1967. The fine work he did in collecting, preserving, and cataloguing the architectural records of such famous architects as Maybeck, Julia Morgan, John Galen Howard, Willis Polk, and Henry and Charles Greene formed the basis for the College of Environmental Design Archives, one of the outstanding architectural collections in the United States.


From the beginning of his academic career Cardwell had wanted to establish a lasting place for Bernard Maybeck in the history of Bay Area architecture by writing a biography and catalogue of his work. After years of investigation of individual buildings and assembling archival materials, Cardwell published Bernard R. Maybeck: Artisan, Architect, Artist (Salt Lake City: Peregrine-Smith) in 1977. The book is a complete study of Maybeck’s artistic development and design philosophy as seen by a fellow architect. Cardwell intentionally resists comparisons with Maybeck’s contemporaries: “I have avoided contrasts and comparisons to contemporary architects with whom Maybeck had no contacts…I have tried to give emphasis to only those architectural details and experiences which broaden the knowledge of the man and his work.” This is an internal history of how an architect-craftsman grapples with the formal problems presented by each new project. It is an exhaustive and exemplary work seriously addressing one of the formative personalities in Bay Area architecture, establishing Maybeck’s place as one of the nation’s great regional architects. With publication of his book Cardwell was promoted to professor of architecture in 1978. For his important contribution to architectural preservation and restoration and the publication of the Maybeck book the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) made Cardwell an AIA fellow.


Cardwell developed a curriculum in preservation and Bay Area architectural history. In 1960, he became a principal in the firm of Kolbeck, Cardwell and Christopherson. Together they designed, built, and remodeled buildings through the Bay Area until 1966. But Cardwell’s interest turned ever more toward preservation. He directed work on the preservation of the historic South Hall of the University of California between 1960 and 1966. He was historic resources officer, East Bay Chapter AIA, and a member of the State Historic Building Code Commission, 1975-1980. He was the historic preservation officer for the East Bay chapter of the AIA and the chapter president in 1970. Cardwell was active in numerous historic preservation projects and prepared scores of reports on historic buildings throughout the state. Throughout his teaching career, Cardwell conscientiously served both his department and University.


After his retirement in 1982, Cardwell worked as a consultant in historic preservation in planning and architecture, actively participating in education and community service. He and his wife Mary were compiling an architectural survey of Inverness, their beloved second home. Ken served as president of the Berkeley Historical Society (1997-1999). He leaves behind many friends in the society, which is honoring him by preparing an oral history of his interviews with Paul Grunland that will be completed in early 2011.


Ken Cardwell is survived by his wife Mary, five children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.



       S. Tobriner