Frank Israel in Paris. Photo Courtesy of Barbara Callas.

We lost Franklin David Israel early in the morning, Monday, June 10th. He turned 50 last fall, and had battled AIDS for twelve years with resolve and courage that became so engrained, so matter-of-fact, that one often took his survival for granted, even as he faced his condition openly. He worked at his office on Robertson through the last week of his life.

During a memorial service at UCLA, Milena Lancovici-Murdoch spoke for many when she told of Frank’s impact on her life as a designer. Like Frank, she had been drawn from far away by the potential and excitement of building in L.A., and, like quite a few others, she found much of that promise delivered in Frank’s UCLA studios and later working in his office. She described her time with Frank as an “oasis,” generously drawing out her vowels. It was still easy to imagine Frank sitting in the kitchen at his office with Steven, Barbara or Annie, recounting her “O-as-is” in his deep baritone – how much too kind she was – and chuckling warmly.

Frank lived to build, could probably tally the months and years that design added to his life. The contribution that his buildings make to the city, and that his life made to those fortunate enough to share in it, will take a much longer accounting. Architecture transported Frank, and he included many of us on his rides: excursions through the least likely sides of Los Angeles, deep into the “gentlemen’s culture” of the profession that he knew so well, far afield in his increasingly sculptural and expressive work.

Frank challenged his students and his peers to reimagine the city more courageously. “Malls, malls, malls” he bellowed early in the studio we taught together last fall, “I don’t want to see any more malls.” Then he laughed, and sat down with each student to tease out of them what they most wanted to explore through design. He made gamblers out of the most prudish students, and helped many become both daring and refined, responsible and urbane architects.

Never one to shy from public engagement, Frank spoke out on the state of the city and the profession. In his introduction to his MOCA retrospective this spring, he openly criticized the Getty Foundation for lifting their collection out of urban context, and he chastised the patrons of L.A. architecture for their conservative taste, their failure to support world-recognized designers at home.

Architects and urbanists in Los Angeles have lost more than a colleague, more than a “star” on the West Coast scene. Frank was an eloquent designer, committed educator and a public advocate of the building arts in a city with more than its share of the first, too few of the second, and almost none of the last. Pursuing architecture as both an abstract discipline and a civic profession, Frank brought the two approaches together seamlessly. He did so by educating all involved in the process, learning other’s needs and desires as he simultaneously taught them the possibilities of his field.

Israel Callas Shortridge Architects carries on with projects underway in the Pacific Palisades, San Francisco and Florida. Thomas Haase, Frank’s companion, and Kamal Kozah were with Frank over the weekend he passed away.

It is too soon. Frank’s strength and grace both resound in the architecture, advice, encouragement and love he spread through the city.

Back to Summer 1997 Newsletter: Summer Reading