Maybeck Returns to Oregon
by B.J. Novitski
Did you ever fantasize about doing an apprenticeship under one of the great master architects? Working with direct guidance from Frank Lloyd Wright or H. H. Richardson? Now that fantasy has become more realizable: the revered California architect Bernard Maybeck has recently returned to life and, surprisingly, returned to Oregon.
In the nineteen-teens, with little notice by architectural historians, Maybeck completed a wealth of design work for the small coastal town of Brookings. Now a revival of that work is underway, offering an unusual opportunity to the state's architectural community.
The revival has its thanks largely to William Buchanan, president of Harbor Construction. A few years ago, while searching through Brookings town records in preparing a land use application, Buchanan found references to Maybeck, whose work he'd studied while in architecture school. Brief references to Brookings in a few coffee table books about the architect led Buchanan to the Environmental Design Archives at the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. There he discovered a vast quantity of largely uncataloged drawings and writings, including what may be the complete product of Maybeck's office during the time (1913-1915) he worked on Brookings.
By poring over these drawings and reading volumes of correspondence, Buchanan has been able to piece together some of his town's early history. The timber baron J. L. Brookings wanted to erect a company town for his employees and hired Maybeck to design it.
In keeping with his work in the Berkeley hills and his philosophy of designing in sympathy with natural forms, Maybeck persuaded Brookings that the town should be carefully laid out with respect to the hilly contours and the unusual south-facing view to the ocean. He designed a town with a civic center and plenty of parks, laced with pedestrian walkways.
Maybeck also designed several buildings for Brookings. Besides the grand houses for the timber company managers, he designed at least 15 prototypes for low-cost worker housing, a workers' hostel, a YMCA, a community hall , a bank, and a school.
A high priority for the Harbor Hills development is a community hall, based on Maybeck's original design.
Bernard Maybeck drawing, courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives at the College of Environmental Design,
University of California, Berkeley
Much of Maybeck's 1914 town plan for Brookings was never built.
Bernard Maybeck drawing, courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives