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Homer Delawie: One of San Diego's influential architects

He designed a newly expanded Reuben H. Fleet & Science Center, as well as the large fountain just north of it. He designed SeaWorld's Penguin Encounter and the Shark Encounter, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts. His name is Homer Delawie, and he designed a lot of what makes San Diego distinctive.

At his Point Loma home, Delawie took an irregularly shaped lot and forged a design with angles and glass in every direction that fill the hillside space with light.

Delawie, who grew up in Santa Barbara, was the first graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to become an architect. That was in 1951.

After working a couple of years in Northern California building schools, Delawie came to San Diego after being hired by Lloyd Ruocco, who designed the Civic Theatre.

One of Delawie's first jobs was to build the headquarters building for Channel 10. Ruocco offered Delawie a partnership, and Delawie worked there for the next several years before he struck out on his own.

Delawie began his own architectural practice when John Kennedy was still president. He recalls that it was a much simpler time, when it was still possible to make a deal with a handshake.

"We didn't have all the adversary things we have now," Delawie said. "Most of my clients were friends."

Delawie designed homes overlooking Mission Valley, Mission Hills and Point Loma. He regrets to say that some of his best work has been torn down to make way for larger houses.

"It (the 1960s) was an exciting time. We took care of the environment, but we didn't have all the requirements they have today," he continued.

Delawie's earlier house designs tended to be more rectangular than his later projects. The Randolph Residence, overlooking the North Shore of Mission Bay, appears to be a project in transition from the earlier period to one with much more complex designs. The H-shaped plan, with its two-story entrance hall, features children's bedrooms on the ground, and the living room, kitchen and master bedroom on the upper levels. All feature spectacular views of the coast.

Delawie would design and build three homes for his own family. The latest is a Point Loma residence to accommodate his extended family. He and wife Ettie each had three children from previous marriages.

"We used to kid that we were like the Brady bunch. Mr. Brady was supposed to be an architect but he never had plans in his hand, or took work home with him," Delawie said.

From 1969 to 1982, Delawie served as a city planning commissioner, and it gave him entry to many civic projects. In the 1970s, Delawie was called upon by the city to develop a fountain on the eastern end of the Prado in Balboa Park that would shoot 80 feet into the air and create a place for children to play during the warm days of the year.

Years later, Delawie's team was called into service again when it was asked to design the expansion of the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater & Science Center.

"I got to know Jeff Kirsch (the center's executive director) at a KPBS auction," Delawie said.

Kirsch said the Space Theater expansion simply wouldn't have happened without Delawie.

"Homer and Mike Wilkes had an openness to what we were saying, and it translated into a wonderful building," Kirsch said.

Kirsch said what he likes best about the expansion is that it looks as if it was originally built that way.

The science center expansion included the addition of a 40-foot entry rotunda and a three-story addition to house a variety of new exhibits, a caf?, store, two motion-based simulation theaters and other features.

"The spaces are also extremely usable by the staff. I'm a pleased client," Kirsch said.

The Delawie team also designed the 180,000-square-foot James R. Mills Building that serves as headquarters for the Metropolitan Transit Development Board. With a distinctive clock tower that can be seen from almost anywhere downtown, the building also features a trolley stop out front.

Delawie and company designed the Shark Exhibit and later the Shark Encounter at the SeaWorld here and in Orlando. The key feature of the Shark Exhibit was a 400,000-gallon, solar-heated tank. The venue also contained two restaurant kiosks, a dining terrace, a gift shop and restrooms.

Delawie said with construction defect litigation taking hold, he wasn't able to design all the projects he wanted, but in the late 1970s Delawie's firm won the right to design the San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts.

Designed for kids from fourth to 12th grades, the School for Creative and Performing Arts features a 500-seat proscenium theater with a stage loft and orchestra pit, a 200-seat black box theater, six dance studios and photography labs.

Another major school designed by Delawie's team was the Scripps Ranch High School.

"Scripps Ranch was unique in that it was built in an industrial park," Delawie said. The high school was built out of 1,000-square-foot modules that could be used for everything from classrooms to offices, he said.

Delawie said he isn't sure what should be done with the old police station next to Seaport Village, but remarked, "It's a grand old building that I would like to see retained."

Delawie is retired, but his firm, which is now Architects Delawie, Wilkes, Rodrigues & Barker, continues. Recent projects include a 420,000-square-foot casino complex for the Pechanga Tribe, and a 245,000-square-foot residence and dining complex at San Diego State University. The firm also has completed designs for Qualcomm, AT&T and Hewlett Packard.

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