Don Earl

Don Earl April 25, 2014 Bim Oliver: The first question I want to ask you is about your education. Your education in architecture, in particular. And was there any that was specific to what might be call “modern design.” Don Earl: My education included high school, the University of Utah for five years, Riverside College in Riverside, California, and the community college here in Salt Lake. And lots of other buildings. My education included lots of other buildings.
Roberts Supply

Roberts Supply

Bim Oliver: So, did you get a degree in architecture? Don Earl: I didn’t get my degree. I was working on my Masters in 1975, just taking Masters classes. I didn’t get my degree, but I qualified to get my architecture certificate. Bim Oliver: So how did that work? If you didn’t have a degree but qualified to get an architecture certificate? Don Earl: Depending on how much experience you have, that qualifies for so many years for schooling. Actually, I got better schooling that way, because it was on-the-job training. I worked for an architect – Ray Underwood – and we did residential designs. This was in Holladay, Utah. Ray wasn’t an architect either, but he had worked for the Seabees [name for the US Navy Construction Battalion] and that’s how he got his training and his architecture certificate. A lot of architects don’t have the experience that I have with the actual building. I worked for a company by the name of Ashton, Evans, and Brazier, which later turned out to be Montmorency, Hayes, and Talbot – and Nelson. We had a lower office, in which we were doing the International Airport. And we did it up at the upper office up on the University campus. So there I got involved with the Medical Center with the University and supervised the construction on that. That was back in 1965, roughly. The Medical Center for the University cost 20 million dollars. Bim Oliver: At that time.
Italian Village

Italian Village

Don Earl: And now Primary Children’s Hospital is probably running about 150 million. In some of the buildings that we did, we had a colonel in the Army – Henderson. I worked with Colonel Henderson. We did the state prison and all of the schools for Jordan School District. Like I say, we did the International Airport, and we filled fifteen feet of fill out there. I used to go out and meet with the principal people with United Airlines. Bim Oliver: When were you working on the airport? Don Earl: I was working for Ashton, Evans, and Brazier around 1954. Around that time, as I recall. Our office did a lot of different buildings. The Veterans Hospital. We did the Salt Lake Clinic. Zions Bank. And Walker Bank. Buildings like this. The round bank on Seventh East and Fourth South. Bim Oliver: If you don’t mind my interrupting, you said “our office.” But my sense is that there’s always a lead architect. You may have people collaborating with you, but you’re the lead architect. Were you the lead on that bank at Seventh East and Fourth South? Don Earl: No, I wasn’t the lead on that. Like I say, we all did certain parts of different buildings. The Walker Bank building downtown. I got involved with the construction part of it, as well as the designing of it, doing drafting work. I was probably the lowest-paid drafter in the office. My boss, Bud Brazier, would throw me the keys to his Lincoln and tell me to go out and pick up the executives from United Airlines, for example. It was a good experience – on-the-job training. Bim Oliver: Now that firm – Ashton, Evans, and Brazier – eventually turned into Montmorency… Don Earl: Hayes and Talbot. [ed. now MHTN] Bim Oliver: So then, after you left that second firm, where did you go? Don Earl: I opened up my own practice out on 3425 South 2300 East. I didn’t have a license then, so what the architectural department allowed designers to build up to and including a fourplex building. When I did commercial buildings, I would just consult with other – For example, Dave Hayes did some of my designing work and perspective drawings for a casino over in Fallon, Nevada and the Italian Village Restaurant on 38th South State Street, as I recall the address. So Dave Hayes did some of the drawings for me. He was one of the principals at Montmorency, Hayes, and Talbot. Bim Oliver: So what year did you go out on your own. Anthony Earl [Don Earl’s son]: On the original prints, when I was going through the archives, some of the earliest work was dated ’59, ’60, ’61. Don Earl: I ended up doing a lot of pre-stressed concrete span deck. In this book [holds up a book of photos], I’ll show you a house at 4646 South Jupiter Drive. Two floors of pre-stressed concrete span deck. In that building, I clear-spanned 40 feet with 12 and 15-foot cantilevers. The core deck is eight feet wide with 40 feet or 46 feet – whatever it was – and it has holes going horizontally through it. Then we’d run plumbing, heating, and electrical in those cores and pour lightweight concrete over the top of that. The footings on that house are larger than some of the temple footings. For example, they’re five foot four inches wide and 16 and 18 inches deep with number five and six bar – reinforcing steel – going around in a racetrack configuration on the footings. Because it was a heavy building. That building – we built that building only about twelve years ago, fifteen years ago. I built it for $435,000, and they put it on the market for 4.2 million. Anthony Earl: You can see it when you drive along Wasatch Boulevard. It’s the last house up on Mount Olympus, on Jupiter Drive. Don Earl: A triple gable. Bim Oliver: When you were designing – since you didn’t go to school in architecture, per se –what influences were affecting your design? Don Earl: Oh no. I took some design classes at the university and the community college. But the thing that affected my design was cost, function, and the aesthetics. Those were the things that you work with. Where I excelled – Because I had to answer so many questions for contractors, I thought, “Gee, I may as well take out a contractor’s license.” So I did. I took out a contractor’s license. I had an unlimited contractor’s license for a time, and built several houses up in the Cove [Olympus Cove]. I built probably over 500 homes. And of those 500 homes, 150, 200 were custom-built houses. I did some very interesting things. Because I had control of the money, I decided where we should put the money. Bim Oliver: When you say, “I had control of the money,” this was because you were the contractor on the project, is that right?Unknown 03 Don Earl: Yes. Bim Oliver: If you’d simply been the architect, that control would have gone to someone else. Don Earl: Architects and contractors can’t have – there’s a conflict of interest there. You can’t be the architect and the contractor too. And I worked with the owner. I had some very happy owners. Out of, maybe, 500 homes that I built, I had, maybe, six real scoundrels. Anthony Earl: His mother mentioned that Frank Lloyd Wright came out to the university and saw some of Don’s prints and said that Don was ten years ahead in his floor plan design. And so some of the homes that you built, Dad, were definitely inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. You had waterfalls underneath the stairs. You had volcanoes in the living room. Don Earl: Flat roofs also. Bim Oliver: Can I ask you a question about Olympus Cove in particular? I don’t know how many homes there are up in Olympus Cove, but can you guess how many of those homes you were involved with as a designer? Don Earl: I can almost remember the addresses. I probably built about 20 or more house in Mount Olympus Cove area. I used pre-stressed concrete span deck on some of them for the larger spans and for over garage areas. When I put a four-car garage in, Dennis Madsen said, “What are we going to do with that space underneath there?” And I said, “You can put in a swimming pool or anything.” And he said, “That’s a good idea.” So we took a little Cat in there after the house was built and only ran into one rock – probably a 30 or 40-ton rock – so we left it there. Then I drilled a one-inch hole into the rock back to a one-inch waterline and shot a stream of water out into the pool. I could do these interesting things, because I worked with good clients. Frank Lloyd Wright – I’ve gone through a couple of his houses. He does things a lot differently. I borrowed some designs of his where he used to use mitered corner windows glued together. But his idea of hallways was 28-inch, 30-inch hallways. He didn’t want to waste space on halls. The hallways that I designed and worked with were four and five-foot wide halls. Architects have different ideas and thoughts. Bim Oliver: That’s a very wide hallway – four and five feet. What was your thinking that? Maybe more generally about inside space. Don Earl: Four-foot wide hallways I designed for a boy with cerebral palsy. We designed them with pocket doors, so he could go right up and open the doors. The five-foot wide hallways I did for Human Ali [sp?]. He owned Massey’s Jewelry Company. He said, “Don, I hate hallways.” And I said, “We can make them four or five feet.” I didn’t like to go six feet. Joseph Young and I designed a medical center and there we did six and seven-foot wide hallways to accommodate wheelchairs and medical equipment.
Frank Shamy

Frank Shamy

Bim Oliver: Are there four or five buildings – homes or other types of buildings – that you designed that you would point to to say, “If you want to see my work and you want to see what I was doing, that’s most representative of me as an architect,” which ones would you point to? Don Earl: I did one for Jonathan Horne – he’s an orthopedic surgeon. He and Joyce and I used to meet early in the morning. He would come from Cottonwood Hospital. I had an office on 3425 South 2300 East. If you want to see one of my old offices, it’s directly across the street – west – from Olympus High School. I did thirteen condominiums in there. In the front one, I used a prow, a point, and three stories of glass 3/8-inch thick and glued the corners together. On the South Visitors Center, we used the same kind of system, only there we used twenty-foot-high glass – 3/8-inch-thick glass – and the glass stiffeners were glued together. So they were hung like big clamps and the clamps were glued. So those twenty-foot pieces of glass would shift off the top of the sill for expansion and contraction. That’s in the South Visitors Center in Temple Square. Bim Oliver: Are there other buildings about which you would say, “If I were to put my signature on this building, that would be the one I would do it on.” Don Earl: The interior design of it [the condominium on 2300 East] wasn’t that good. It was a straight stair. I’ve done other designs that are scissor stairs. And that’s the better concept. But that office space was three stories high and was designed for a bachelor. I had a shower in there with three or four shower heads, spraying up from the bottom and down from the sides. I could do some of those things for me. I elevated the toilets to urinal height in several houses and offices that I did. Anthony Earl: Can I interject? Dad lost his hand when he was a little boy and went blind in 1980. His architecture changed at that point. He designed a house in Holladay for Mom on Albright Drive. He started using a lot more passive solar light and solar orientation to the south to bring in light, because that helped Dad see some of the contrast that he’d lost with losing his eyesight – the blacks and whites and bright lights. So the homes in Holladay that were built after he was blind – some of the designs that were built after – are more oriented toward someone who doesn’t have that sense of sight, who thinks of different things: the little vestibules that act as air locks for entryways so you can keep the temperature just in that little vestibule and have another door that leads into the home; a lot of the glass to the south to bring in the hot sun in the wintertime; and cantilevers over the eaves just enough to keep out the hot summer sun, as well. There are several on Albright: 4357, 4359, and 4361. They’re really the kind of work that he was doing after he lost his sight and realized, “Maybe this wasn’t the best design for somebody who now doesn’t have sight. I stand on the property and say, ‘Where is the mountain?’” He designed the picture frame windows just for the mountain in that room, instead of “four feet over – window – four feet over – window.” It doesn’t matter where it’s oriented. It’s a lot more thought-provoking as to what’s going on outside. Bim Oliver: As you vision has diminished, how has the process of designing changed for you? Because it’s a visual process. How have you accommodated the loss of vision in the design process? Don Earl: You build according to your experience. I’ve been blind for 33 years, and I’ve done almost as many houses and buildings with bad eyesight as I did with good eyesight. Bim Oliver: How has that process changed for you? Do you still do it the same way? Don Earl: Oh no. I had six drafters working for me at one time. I’d have them sketch with a black Sharpie pen to the dimensions that I gave them. Then I could see what it was.   Then I’d turn it over to a couple of other drafters to do the drawing. At that time, we were not using Autocad. We were using parallel edges – T-squares and parallel edges. That’s what we did when we were doing the Medical Center for the University, the International Airport, Salt Lake Clinic, and Kennecott Copper Research. The list goes on. We did all of those with parallel edges.
Century Marine

Century Marine

Anthony Earl: He remodeled the Ferrari shop for Steve Harris. That’s Dad’s design. The new showroom. Bim Oliver: Where is that? Don Earl: On Eighth South and Main. When I did that one, I had three other architects from Scottsdale, Arizona and from New York consulting with me, because they had to get their input in. The three basic colors are red, yellow, and blue. So the Ferrari red is the one that gets the attention – kind of a persimmon color. And the yellow is the tan part, the main body of the building. The blue part is just accentuating colors. I built a house out in North Canyon in Bountiful for Wally Lloyd that’s about two blocks from a Frank Lloyd Wright house that he did for Mr. Stromberg [ed. Stromquist]. That was with bad eyesight. Wally would call me and say, “Don, I want you to think about color.” He described different shades of blue. I’d say, “Try different colors.” That’s the only color consulting I did. Other than that, I don’t make decisions on light fixtures or fans and things like that anymore. I let the owners do that – which they did anyway, but I had input. Bim Oliver: Are there buildings that you look at that were built between World War II and, say, 1975 and say, “That’s a significant building.” Not necessarily designed by you but designed by your peers. Don Earl: The International Airport. That’s the old design of concourses. Miles and miles and miles of concourses. Whereas when we designed that, we had a couple of architects in the office who came up with different designs like a round building and we’d take pie sections out of it. People would go in one main concourse and that would be for one flight. We’d have two or three of them. The planes would be out farther and then they’d take these sections out. That design has been kind of abolished. Now there are miles and miles of concourses. We designed that and built that. We built the one concourse, which was put in large enough to expand to two levels of concourses on the south concourse and the north concourse. I was in charge of the north concourse wing with a couple of other architects. And we did the south concourse, too. We all interchanged. I think the International Airport is a fairly good design for that particular time period. And the Medical Center for the University. That was built in three particular sections. Roger Jackson used to come over to my office. He designed a parabolic curve for sun control, so that the hot west sun would come in and not penetrate into the glass façade of the hospital. So that screen – Roger Jackson can take credit for that, because he built concrete shapes over at my place and then showed them to the main people. And then we did that screen. Bim Oliver: Any other buildings that come to mind from that period? Don Earl: I can think of a lot of them that didn’t materialize. Bim Oliver: Can you name some? Don Earl: The prison in Sugarhouse Park had four or eight-foot-thick rock walls in a circular fashion. There was an interior courtyard. All those rock walls. It’s easy to look back and say, “They should have left that” and then put some pre-stressed concrete or glue-lam beams spanning that courtyard and they’d have a beautiful building. But that’s gone. A lot of things have missed out that way. Joseph Young and I designed a 140, 180-bed care center out on 50th South Highland Drive. Bim Oliver: What year would that have been approximately?
Paul Meier

Paul Meier

Don Earl: That was about ten years ago. We did it on the telephone, because we knew that there are certain design principles called “space,” “closure,” and so on. He and I could communicate. We designed it. I paid him to do the architectural work on the Autocad. He did a good job. He is one of the better architects around in certain things. His designs are different than mine. I liked to use a lot of glass and always have. He didn’t like to use as much glass. Bim Oliver: Tell me about your affection for glass. What is glass to you as an architectural material? Don Earl: It brings the outside in. That’s an old Frank Lloyd Wright concept. It’s called “intrinsic,” bringing the outside in the house. But then you have to control it. The best light is on the southeast corner. Bim Oliver: What do you mean by “the best light”? Don Earl: The sun comes up in the east and circulates around to the south. You can control the south sun. You can control some of the east sun in Salt Lake, because Mount Olympus stands so high. The west sun – it comes right in on deck. The north is for north light. Now the glass for the South Visitors Center is to the north, because it opens up that area looking out to the Salt Lake Temple. You get a little bit of west sun coming in, so the expansion and contraction coefficient of this glass is such that you’d normally have to put expansion joints in, but these were put in with glue and large clamps supporting all the glass in the South Visitors Center. It floated off the sill, which was about four feet high, three and a half feet high. They’ve done a lot of different things since I was in there. They’ve expanded out. Fetzer and Fetzer Architects – John, Henry, and Emil – they did the design work on that. I was just the project representative for the church while they built that. And then Zwick Construction – Craig Zwick – built that particular building. Christiansen Brothers built the – I remodeled the administration building, worked around the General Authority. On all four corners of that building, the original design was such that they didn’t have to do very much structural design to satisfy the seismic designs for a building that size. That’s a well-designed building. The four corners project out, and all four corners is a Quorum of the Twelve. At that particular time, President Kimball was in one corner. I’m telling you about structure and cost and things like that, but I’m not telling you about some of the spiritual things that took place. At that time, I worked with President Kimball – Spencer W. Kimball – and Marion G. Romney and Eldon Tanner. They were the First Presidency. I used to sit across the desk from them, and even though Emil Fetzer was the church architect, Wally McPhee was my boss in the Temple Construction Department. I’d go back over from time to time to my office on the 11th floor and report to Wally. Very interesting guy. About 6 foot 4 or 5. Red hair off to the side. A lot of animation. And so the interrogating would go something like this: I’d say, “Wally, I made these changes.” And he would say, “Are you the church architect, Don?” “No, sir.” “Well, what are you? Are you an inspector?” “No, sir, I’m not.” “What are you?” “I am the church representative.” “Very good, Don, very good.” I really enjoyed working with Wally McPhee, Lon Prince, and Joy Thomas. Bim Oliver: I want to come back to your design ideas. It sounds like, when you went out on your own, that you were designing mostly homes and that they were mostly custom homes, built for specific clients. How were the clients responding to your design ideas? Did they hire you specifically because they’d seen your work and liked it? Don Earl: That’s how it all came – just referral work. They’d see my designs and liked them.

I remodeled a round house built out of brick. The architect was a Jewish architect by the name of Harry Glick. He worked for the government but built a round house made out of brick.Unknown 04

Bim Oliver: Where is that located? Don Earl: I can take you up there. It’s right up there by Lois Lane and probably Wasatch Boulevard. That round house was easy to do. All architects like to do round houses. Not very smart. Bim Oliver: Explain what you just said to me. You said, “All architects like to do round houses, but they’re not very smart.” Don Earl: Too much wasted space. Have you seen the temple in San Diego? The last temple that I worked on was the Jordan River Temple. It’s a six-endowment-room temple. It’s the only temple that still has an escalator in it. The escalators in the temples in Provo and Ogden – they took those out. The Jordan River Temple and the Provo Temple are probably the busiest temples in the church. We built the Jordan River Temple for $10.4 million. Bim Oliver: When was that? Don Earl: That was when I lost my eyesight – 1979 and 1980. I’ve very familiar with that one. I used to attend there. President Hague was the twelfth member of the Quorum of the Twelve. In one of the rooms in the Administration Building, we used an elliptical design for the counters. That’s where the Quorum of the Twelve sits. We didn’t have any windows in there. We vaulted the ceilings. We covered the ceiling and the walls with six-pound lead to stop radiation bombardment. You can do the same thing with this affordable house that I’m talking about. You can do it with a new type of material. Bim Oliver: What kinds of things were you doing that might be called innovative? It sounds like you were doing a lot with glass, for example. Don Earl: Well, I used a lot of glass. Windows are for light, view, and ventilation. A lot of the houses that I did on the Wasatch Front had a beautiful view, but they had a sun problem. For one of the ones that I did in Olympus Cove, we put in a big fireplace area. People would walk into that house over a suspended walkway. That was the house that I built out of pre-stressed concrete – span deck. That building probably had more concrete than twenty of the houses up in the Cove. We used a brick façade. Bim Oliver: Why did you decide to finish in brick? Was that the client’s choice? Don Earl: Yes. Bim Oliver: But the house is built out of concrete, correct? Don Earl: Well, concrete has a good “C factor,” a good conductance factor. For example, if you put your ear down on that counter, you could hear me scratching my arm or you might hear my watch. That sound travels by conduction. The other sound travels by radiation. I designed a lot of restaurants on my own. That’s probably one of the things that I did the most of in my earlier days when I was doing residential design. Pete Harman had Harman’s Restaurant at 3900 South. Bim Oliver: So you designed the original Harman’s [ed. the original Kentucky Fried Chicken]? Don Earl: I didn’t design it. Ray Underwood did that one and one over on South Temple. I was working for him at the time. But we also did the World Motel. O.C. Tanner tore that 214-room motel down for his parking lot. Bim Oliver: So that would have been on State Street? Don Earl: Between State and Main, about 1700, 1800 South. World Motel.
Bennetts Variety

Bennetts Variety

You know who Eero Saarinen is? He did the elliptical arch in St. Louis. Ray Underwood and his son (who I worked for) did elliptical arches – one going into the swimming pool, the other by the restaurant. Anyway, that was torn down. The arch was an exposed structural system, because, if you covered it, the wind would blow on that, and we’d have to triple the amount of structural steel on it. When I was hired by the church, they hired me in the engineering department first, then they transferred me to the meetinghouse department. I built a model, and they gave me free run in designing a chapel and a meetinghouse. Then I want into the temple as a special project with Wally McPhee. Now the LDS church are very conservative people. There are three or four meetinghouses. Out in Farmington, there’s a three-ward meetinghouse in which they widened the halls, made a three-ward meetinghouse out of it, and used solar panels. I don’t know how well it’s working, but I think all of that meetinghouse is supplied by electrical panels – solar-voltaic. The temple over in Rome also has solar-voltaic panels, but they set those panels on the ground. When I was up at church headquarters, there were 19 temples. Now there are about 147. With the temples that are already under construction, there will be about 170 temples within 19 years. END

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