Albert C. Martin Jr.
Title: Partner emeritus
Born: Los Angeles, 1913
Education: Bachelor of Architecture, USC
Career Turning Point: Construction of Arco Plaza
Most Admired Person: His father
Personal: Married, five children
J. Edward Martin
Born: Los Angeles, 1916
Education: B.S. in Architectural Engineering, University of Illinois
Career Turning Point: When his father chose his career for him
When it comes to shaping Los Angeles, few architectural firms have had as much of an impact as AC Martin Partners.
Since 1906, when A.C. Martin founded the firm, three generations of Martins have been at the forefront of shaping the city’s architectural legacy. From downtown’s Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway (1918), to the May Company department store on the Miracle Mile (1940), to Arco Plaza in downtown’s financial core (1972), AC Martin Partners has changed the face of Los Angeles.
Brothers Albert C. Martin, Jr., 84, and J. Edward Martin, 81, constituted the firm’s second generation, and quite possibly its most important. The two sons of founder A.C. Martin were partners for 60 years, and stood at the helm of the architectural firm for much of the post-World War II building boom.
While Albert was leading the design side of projects, Edward focused on the engineering side, becoming an expert in making buildings earthquake-resistant.
Now retired, Albert and Edward stand on the sidelines as their own sons, David Martin and Christopher Martin, respectively, lead the firm. They have kept the firm in the family because, as Edward put it, “the best place to get great architects is to breed them.”
For the first time in their professional careers, the two brothers will appear together publicly at the Los Angeles Central Library on March 22, when they address the local chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.
Question: If you had one day to take an architectural tour of L.A., which buildings would you visit?
Edward: Our most recent building, the Sanwa Bank building, built in 1988-90, is an outstanding building that expresses current technology, current art and architecture. David Martin (Albert’s son) is the partner responsible for that design. Everything about it is up to date.
Albert: My mind goes to what’s the most exciting environment that I might find. California Plaza is an exciting environment. It’s improving, also, because it is becoming a center for cultural arts. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Music Center, Disney Hall will be there, and the cathedral as well. I think it’s one of the most exciting environments that we have. There is no question that Arco Plaza created a place that is important in the city.
Q: Why is Arco Plaza so important?
Edward: Without Arco Plaza, nothing would have had much meaning. All other buildings tended to take their cue from Arco. It’s not as artistic as the Sanwa building, but it was the precursor for Sanwa. Arco was pure, unornamented, whereas Sanwa is more beautiful.
Albert: When we designed the Security Pacific headquarters building in downtown, which is now occupied by Arco, we very purposely changed the orientation of the building to be 45 degrees from the pattern of the streets. We did that with full knowledge of the impact on the balance of the community. Fortunately, as the property to the east of it was developed, that building was also rotated so that the space between the two buildings has an order complementing one to the other. That has had a beneficial effect because the human environment around those buildings is very pleasant. And people love that area.
Q: The Getty Center, one of the biggest architectural projects in town, recently opened. What is your impression of that?
Albert: I haven’t been there yet, but I am very aware of it. I think that it will always be analyzed for its reflection of compatibility of one element to another. That is, the process of building a complex grouping of buildings and having compatibility to the point where aesthetically, one really complements the other.
Edward: I’m not anxious to go see it because, as I view it, the architect had a client with some money and he got to design some beautiful buildings. It is presented to the community as something in and of itself, though, which it can’t be.
Q: Los Angeles is known as a transitory city. Fads come and go, and architecture is no exception. How has Los Angeles changed architecturally?
Edward: Spring Street has had a complete remake. Everyone that was in big buildings was on Spring Street: Security Pacific, Bank of America, Title Insurance & Trust
Albert: Yes, they were all there. It was an interesting transition because Spring Street couldn’t go anyplace because of the underlying law that you couldn’t build anything with more square footage than 13 times the area of the land, and they all had wall-to-wall buildings occupying the land 13 stories high and no parking. So when the push came for expansion, which it finally did 30 years after the Depression, they all had to move because the corporations were growing. So they all relocated, buying more land and creating open spaces between buildings, and that’s how open space came to exist. A lot has been gained because the space between the buildings is as important as the buildings themselves. And on Spring Street, there just wasn’t any open space.
Q: Why is City Hall a special building?
Albert: Our father was one of the original designers. City Hall really is unique. It speaks for more than just a building. It speaks of a spirit, a place identifying Los Angeles and the center of government. So you can’t tear down City Hall. We know that you could build a new City Hall for the same money (as retrofitting it), but that’s not the point. The point is keeping that identity as the center of government.
Q: What about St. Vibiana’s, which was slated for demolition?
Albert: It was condemned to be torn down because it’s such a structural disaster, even though the Conservancy is saying that it should be rebuilt. From a practical point of view, rebuilding it just doesn’t make sense. As an architectural monument it is not, and never was, a good piece of architecture.
Q: How do you compare your work to what your sons are doing today?
Edward: Our firm has always tried to build buildings for our clients. Al and I never built buildings for us, and our sons never build buildings for themselves. If you look at architecture from the point of view of how you serve your client, you get an entirely different view of architecture.
Q: Have clients changed over the years?
Edward: No, the clients’ needs have changed. Clients don’t build buildings for themselves, either, they do it for their customers just like Disney. What’s Disneyland? It’s an entertainment center.
Q: What was the biggest influence on your architectural career?
Albert: We were greatly influenced by the (modern, unornamented German architectural style) Bauhaus, when it comes down to it. We were shunning the expressions that emanated from the Roman and the French schools. Hence the Arco building. Arco is the perfect example of reaching toward the Bauhaus. Arco Tower is Bauhaus, true and just as clear as can be.