Pereira Architectural Collection in USC Chronicle

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Pereira drawings related to a development project in New York

As part of its From the USC Libraries series, the USC Chronicle recently featured the William Pereira collection, which preserves building plans, drawings, a wealth of other materials related to the influential mid-century architect. Best known for his Transamerica Building in San Francisco and the innovative Geisel Library at UCSD, Pereira taught at the USC School of Architecture. He also designed more than a dozen buildings on the USC campus, along with the master plan for the city of Doha in Qatar, celebrity homes, the Disney Hotel in Anaheim, and countless other projects.

Here's Dan Knapp's article:

Pereira Collection Builds Prestige of USC Libraries

Each fall, more than 100 freshmen enroll at the USC School of Architecture in hopes of becoming the next Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, Pierre Koenig or Edward Fickett.

While these students hope to build the buildings of tomorrow, they study the work of the past for perspective and inspiration. One of the USC Libraries’ recently acquired collections gives students access to the original plans, designs and correspondence of one of Southern California’s foremost architects: William Pereira.

Johnson Fain, a leading architecture, urban design/planning, and interiors firm based in downtown Los Angeles, entrusted more than 400 plans and drawings by Pereira to the USC Libraries so that historically significant artifacts could be properly preserved for posterity.

“As an architect, Bill was a big thinker, very conceptual, and practicing in a time of great change in California and beyond,” said Scott Johnson, design partner at Johnson Fain. “His work was very much a reflection of burgeoning industries in aerospace, recreation, and media. Housing, transportation, and large-scale master planning were critical concerns of his day.”

While Pereira is perhaps best known for his iconic Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco and his revolutionary Geisel Library at UC San Diego, his prolific legacy of design work also includes celebrity homes, hotels (including Santa Barbara’s Biltmore Hotel and Anaheim’s Disneyland Hotel), and the corporate offices for such companies as CBS, Hilton Hotels, Union Oil and Firestone Tire.

Included in the William Pereira collection—housed in the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library—are the plans for numerous high-profile projects designed by Pereira and his firm William L. Pereira & Associates (which became Johnson Fain after his death).

“Among the leading figures of twentieth century modern architecture in Southern California, few had as deep and lasting an impact as William Pereira, said USC architecture professor Diane Ghirardo, an expert in architectural and art history. “His projects were uncommonly well designed and detailed.”

Pereira and his staff—which at one point consisted of more than 300 architects—also designed for local, state and national governments, including projects at the Los Angeles Zoo, the Armed Services headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, and design or expansion plans in Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Santa Monica, Saigon, and St. Thomas. He also designed the master plan for the city of Doha, Qatar.

His master plan for the development of Irvine, Calif., brought him national recognition on the cover of Time in September 1963. 

Pereira was meticulous about documenting and archiving his work.  He maintained oversized leather-bound project books on the development of each design from its inception to the final drawings.

“One can easily track the trajectory of ideas leading to a building and see where an idea in one place reappears in another,” said Johnson.

His Time cover was not the first time Pereira was thrust in the national spotlight. For several years, he served as an art director and production designer in Hollywood where he was lauded with an Academy Award for his work on the 1942 film Reap the Wild Wind.

Johnson stated that many respected architects—including Gehry—cut their professional teeth working with Pereira.

“Many of the professors in the USC School of Architecture of the recent period as well as a large number of practitioners in the area worked at some point in his office which was large both in size and scope,” he said.

Pereira was also a respected educator who taught architecture at USC beginning in 1949.  He played an integral role in the development of the university, designing more than a dozen buildings on USC campuses, including Bing Theatre; Ramo, Olin, Powell, and Vivian Halls; the Raubenheimer Music Building; and the original wing of the Loker Hydrocarbon Institute.

“It is entirely appropriate, after his distinguished teaching career at USC, for his papers to find their home in the university libraries,” said Ghirardo. “This extraordinary resource is a gold mine for those interested in studying the cultural history of Southern California at the middle of the last century.”

Many of the master plans that resulted in the university’s expansion during the 1960s and the creation of the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island are included in the Pereira Collection.

“My partner and I hope that the legibility of all this is helpful to scholars at USC and elsewhere as they attempt to review this historic period and characterize the meaningful contributions,” added Johnson, author of the book The Big Idea, Criticality & Practice in Contemporary Architecture (Balcony Press, 2006).

Jon Soffa, USC’s university architect and executive director of capital construction development, sees a profound benefit in having these plans on campus, not only to students, but to the university as well.

“The University of Southern California values the rich architectural heritage of both the university and its surrounding community,” Soffa said. “Having original and accurate records of campus buildings provides both the historical background and technical information needed for the stewardship of these valuable assets in meeting the needs of the university.”

For more information on the William Pereira Collection, contact University Archivist Claude Zachary at (213) 740-2587 or


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