Donald Hardison, Prominent Bay Area Architect, 1916-2012

Donald Hardison of El Cerrito – a prominent architect whose firm designed a large number of parks, homes and public buildings, including UC Berkeley's Student Union complex along with Zellerbach Hall, died at home on Sept. 17.

Donald Hardison of El Cerrito, who left impressive architectural legacy in the East Bay, died at home at age 96 on Sept. 17.

Much of his remarkable contribution is described in an El Cerrito Patch article by David Weinstein published Nov. 13, 2010.

The obituary below was provided by his family. It is followed a biography that he had compiled.

Donald Leigh Hardison, FAIA

March 23, 1916 – September 17, 2012

El Cerrito, California

Donald Hardison, prominent Bay Area architect, passed away September 17, 2012, in his home at the age of 96, after a period of declining health.

Don was born in Fillmore, California, the eldest of four brothers who grew up on a citrus ranch. He graduated from Cal Berkeley School of Architecture in 1938. During World War II, he worked as a naval architect at Mare Island and Richmond’s Kaiser Shipyards.

He started his own architectural practice in Richmond in 1946, which later became Hardison & Komatsu Architects and continues today as the Oakland firm HKIT Architects, noted for designing schools, churches, and multi-family, student, and senior housing throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California.

Among his most noteworthy projects were Easter Hill Village in Richmond, California, and the UC Berkeley Student Union Complex including Zellerbach Hall.

During his 40 years of architectural practice, he served on state and local commissions, became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), was president of the local and state AIA chapters, and became AIA Chancellor of the College of Fellows.

He also furthered the work of the Richmond Art Center, the Richmond Museum of History, and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. After his retirement in 1987, he worked to restore the SS Red Oak Victory ship in Richmond and remained active in the Richmond Art Center, Rotary Club of Richmond, Cal Alumni, the Richmond Museum of History, and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

He is survived by his wife Betty of 70 years; daughter Jan Brown and husband Byron of Richmond; son Steve Hardison and his wife Lois of Calistoga; brother Jim Hardison of Carson City, Nevada; and grandchildren Chaitra Hardison, Matthew Brown, and Jennifer Finigan.

Friends and acquaintances are invited to a celebration of life at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, Oct. 12 at 2pm. Private burial at Sunset View Cemetery, El Cerrito. Memorial donations, if desired, may be made to the Richmond Art Center or the SS. Red Oak Victory or charity of choice.


A biography prepared by Don Hardison:


Born March 23, 1916, of Leigh and Myrtle Hardison in Fillmore, CA, Don was raised on a citrus ranch, where he, and three younger brothers, enjoyed a great childhood in the rural countryside.  At age 14, in a mechanical drawing class, he first expressed an interest in becoming an architect.  After graduation from Fillmore High School in ’34, despite the depths of the Great Depression, his parents made the sacrifice necessary to enter him at the University of California, Berkeley.  On campus, in the “Ark”, architectural instruction was intense but he found time to play alto sax in the Cal Band that included the Pasadena Rose Bowl Game and parade in ’38; he graduated in ’38 with an AB in Architecture from the College of Letters and Science, and also enjoyed a 13,000-mile auto tour around the country, with his Dad, that would excite a life-long interest in cities, urban design and history.

While both were employed at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, Don met Betty Decker, and some months later in June ’42; they were married at the First Presbyterian Church, Vallejo. By then, Don was working at the Kaiser Shipyard No. 1, Richmond, and they moved into a just-completed apartment in Atchison Village, Richmond’s first war-time housing.  Soon, Betty was also employed at Kaiser as the secretary in Don’s office, and later with the Office of Employee Services. Son, Stephen, was born in late ’45, and Don & Betty purchased their first home in Richmond in ’47, where daughter, Jan, was born in ’49.  Their El Cerrito home of Don’s design in ’56 is where they continue to reside.


While attending UC Berkeley, ’34-’38, he worked one summer as a surveyor’s assistant and two as an intern in the office of Roy C. Wilson, Architect, Santa Paula, CA.  Upon receiving his AB in Architecture, he joined a union in order to be a carpenter’s helper on the large Wyvernwood project in Los Angeles, designed by Witmer and Watson, Architects, who then offered him his first paying draftsman job in their offices.  In ’40, he returned to the Bay Area, taking a position at Contractors, Pacific Air Bases, Alameda, checking plans prepared by Louis Kahn.  In ’41 he accepted a Jr. Naval Architect P-1 position at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, drafting modifications to Navy destroyers and cruisers, including war-damaged repair work, after Pearl Harbor in December ‘41.  In ’42 at the strong urging of a supervisor at Kaiser Shipyard No. 1, Richmond, he took a drafting position involved in the building of Liberty Ships. With the completion of Kaiser Shipyard No. 3 and start of C-4 Troopship production, he was named supervisor of its Production Drafting Department, with a staff that grew to 70, preparing production drawings to guide shipfitters in assemblying prefabricated sub-sections, erected on the vessels in drydocks. Don remained with Kaiser through its C-4 contract at the end of ’45.

Then, Don and two other Cal graduates in that department decided to try working on their own, forming Hardison, Rhoda and Moist, Designers, which out of a small storefront office in Richmond, offered designs not requiring an architect’s license. Their work included a conceptual layout for the Richmond Art Center that was incorporated in the proposed Richmond Civic Center (under design by Pfleuger & Pfleuger); an architectural scheme for modernizing store fronts between 11th and 12th Streets on Macdonad Avenue for a retail store conference sponsored by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce; and Gorden’s Drive In, a first for the East Bay, and which was published in the Architectural Record in ’46.


In 1948, Don was licensed to practice architecture, after which he founded the firm of Donald L. Hardison, Architect, Richmond, with a secretary as the only staff.  Soon, draftsmen were added, as the firm was designing several residences throughout California, the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond and other churches; two Wilson and Kratzer mortuaries; Uptown Bowl; dental and medical offices; the Richmond Memorial Youth Center-YMCA & YWCA, which received a Three-Chapter AIA Award of Merit in ’53.  During this time, Don invited his Cal classmate, S. Richard Komatsu, then working in San Francisco, to assist on weekends. There followed the Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church; The Independent newspaper offices; and the firm’s first public work, the CC County Building, Richmond in ’50, which received recognitions for the design of its innovative courtrooms and aluminum-glass curtain walls.  In the mid-50’s, after Harry Clausen and Rich Komatsu had joined the firm, it became Hardison & Associates. Projects completed or in progress included additional medical and dental offices and a pharmacy; Petaluma Inn; Bayo Vista, a 250-unit low-rent family housing project, Rodeo; and the 100-unit Hacienda, senior housing, Richmond.

The partnership expanded, first as Hardison, Clausen and Komatsu, then Hardison and Komatsu, as its projects included a 3-tower, senior housing project, Santa Cruz; The Arbors, Richmond, which won the AIA-Sunset Award of Merit in ’68; Crescent Park, a non-profit family housing complex, winning the AIA/Sunset award in ’78; Several schools, including Grant Elementary School and Downer and Juan Crespi Junior High Schools; recreation buildings and parks; a child care center; water treatment plants, including the Sobrante Filter Plant and Administration Offices, Turlock Irrigation District; Adminstration Offices of Bethlehem Steel Plant, Pinole; remodeling the Ford Plant, Richmond, (originally designed by Lewis Kahn) to suit various University of California needs; Standard Oil (now Chevron) Refinery Cafeteria and Technical Center, Richmond; restaurants; retail shops, business offices, two Mechanic Banks, and numerous Safeway and Lucky stores.


In 1950, the firm of Donald L. Hardison Architect was chosen by the Richmond Housing Authority to design the city’s first post-war PHA public housing.  From several sites available, Don recommended a quarry site, known as “Easter Hill” for its former sunrise services and the source of fill for Kaiser Shipyard 2.  As the design proceeded, he invited Vernon DeMars, of the faculty at the College of Enironmental Design, University of California, Berkeley, to join in a special joint venture, identified as Donald L. Hardison & Vernon Demars, to collaborate on the design of the 300-unit project, named Easter Hill Village.  It became nationally recognized for innovative design, variety of exteriors and special features for tenants.  Lawrence Halprin, the project's landscape architect, conceived its unique landscaping plan, utilizing quarry boulders.  In ’57, Easter Hill Village was chosen as “One of the Ten Buildings in America’s Future”  for the AIA’s Centennial Exhibit, National Gallery, Washington, DC.  Later it was exhibited abroad and in Russia, was the subject of a book describing its social qualities by Claire C. Cooper and received Special Commendation from the Public Housing Administration in ’64. Unfortunately, it was domolished in ’04.

In ‘57, the U.C. Regents invited Don and Vernon to participate in a six-firm design competition for the Berkeley Student Center, to include buildings that became known as the Student Union, Dining Commons, Eschelman Hall and Zellerback Auditorium overlooking two plazas.  Upon winning the competition, Don and Vernon formed, with their respective partners, a joint-venture identified as Hardison & Demars, Architects.  Over the next 12 years, the teams designed and administered the projects, largely from Don’s office.  It received the Progressive Architecture Design Award in ’58; the First Honor Award of the Community Facilities Administration in ’64; the Certificate of Excellence, CA Governor’s Award in ’66; and favorable articles in numerous professional journals.

During the 60’s, another architectural collaboration was put in place.  The Richmond Redevelopment Agency, having demolished thousands of war-housing units on the south side of the city, scheduled their replacement with moderate-rate-houses for sale.  It chose Barrett Construction Company as developer, which in turn, invited Don and partners from their Richmond office to collaborate with Vernon Demars in designing its project.  The resulting joint venture, identified as Donald L. Hardison and Vernon DeMars, Architects, designed hundreds of single-family houses, row-houses, duplexes and triplexes. Plaza Homes and Potrero Homes were well received by the community and buyers, with Plaza Homes receiving the AIA/Sunset Special Award in ’69 and House & Home First Honor Award in ’70.


In 1968, Hardison & Komatsu, Architects, relocated its Richmond offices to Jackson Square, San Francisco, where work included Richmond High School, a facility with a central mall and “open” classrooms, carpeted to control sound; at the Hastings College of the Law, conversion of the historic “Empire Hotel” to student housing in ’73; and Residence Hall, Sonoma State College.  Later, in recognition of the skills brought to the firm by George Ivelich and Bob Tucker, the partnership became Hardison, Komatsu, Ivelich and Tucker also identified as HKIT.  Continuing design challenges included Chenate Lodge, senior housing, Santa Rosa; restoration and additions to a Carneige Library to serve the Richmond Museum of History; San Rafael Presbyterian Church; Francis of Assisi Community housing, S.F.; All Hollows Elderly housing, S.F.; numerous Satelite Senior Homes, Alameda County; Bayside Elementary School, Sausalito; Campo Lindo High School Additions, Moraga; Walnut Creek Filter Plant, the American River Treatment Plant; and the Fontaine Pumping Plant, which won the CA Governor’s Certificate of Excellence Award in ’66; and a variety of other work.  Since Don’s retiremet in 1987, Hardison, Komatsu, Ivelich & Tucker, with offices now in Oakland and San Francisco, continues a very active practice designing a broad spectrum of distinguished work.


In 1948, upon becoming licensed, Don joined the East Bay Chapter, American Instituet of Architects; served as its president in ’54, and president of the AIA California Council, ’65-66; served its State School Committee, which drafted a widely used district-architect agreement form; nationally, he served on the committess for Schools & Education Facilities Committee and Housing Committee, chairing each; appointed as an UIA (International Union of Architects) Observer at its Commission for Educational Facilities, Mexico in ’63; made an associate member of the Architectural Institute of Mexico in ’63; elevated to Fellow in the College of Fellows by the national AIA in ’66; design panel, U.S. Regional National Office of Housing and Urban Development in ’67-68; appointed by Governor Reagan to State Housing and Community Development Commission ’69-71, establishing new standards for housing and energy; design award jury, SF Bay Area Council, ’71-73; elected to National Board, AIA ’79-81, serving on the AIA Practice & Design Commission, Ethics Committee and Foundation Board; elected to Executive Committee, College of Fellows in ’81, becoming Chancellor, College of Fellows in ’85, the first to hold that office from California. Today, Don proudly continues as an AIA Member Emeritus.


AIA California Council Distinguished Service Award in ’84; City of Richmond, Community Service Award, Kaiser Shipyards, in ’90; AIA East Bay Chapter Medal in ’98; AIA California Council Achievement Award in ’01.


Member, Richmond Chamber of Commerce from ’45 to date, the Chamber Board ’63-80; Member, Rotary Club of Richmond from ’46 to date, President ’86-87; Richmond Planning Commission ’53-55, during completion of city’s first master plan; President, Richmond Festival of the Arts in ’59; President, Community Chest of West Contra Costa County in ‘60; Board, American Red Cross, WCCC Chapter ’62-64; Elder and Committees of the Presbyterian Church; National Panel, National Arbitration Aassociation in ’63; Board, Richmond Art Center ’65-70; Board, Richmond Museum Association ’93-03; Museum Restoration Committee, S.S. Red Oak Victory from ’99-to 2004; City of Richmond Historic Preservation Award 2009.

Denise Sangster September 22, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Don was such a nice man... We lost a good one and he will be missed. Condolences to the family...
Susan Martinez September 22, 2012 at 05:00 AM
My husband and I were privileged to meet Don and Betty when we purchased our Hardison-designed home 2 years ago, and fortunate to have him as a neighbor as well. Our home was one of his earliest projects and one of the few personal residences he designed, and Don and Betty even attended the walk-through when we received the keys from the previous owners --a wonderful day for us. He remembered every detail of the home, even where he got the marble for our fireplace. He was extremely helpful when we had some upgrades done to the home, and nearly all of it remains just as he designed it. Our condolences to Betty and his family.
Jane Bartke September 24, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Don will always be remembered as a true gentleman, who gave freely of himself to his family, city, and community. He will be greatly missed. It was my honor to have known him for many years.


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