Jon Jerde, the pioneering local shopping and entertainment-center architect whose fascination with people and placemaking transformed the Southern California landscape, died yesterday at the age of 75. While he began his career building strip malls, Jerde went on to design San Diego’s colorful Horton Plaza and Los Angeles’ Universal CityWalk-pivotal projects that synergized commerce and public life and was seen as a ‘gateway drug’ to today’s insatiable taste for open-air, downtown-oriented development.
But many years before creating these ‘experiential’ meccas to mass consumerism, a much younger Jon Jerde joined his recently divorced mom to rent a garage apartment in the blue-collar waterfront community of Long Beach. It was at the original Pike Amusement Park where he got his first taste for communal gathering spots and places alive with the pulse of human activity. He would gaze out from the pier, enthralled by how it was brimming with life.“For Jerde, the place he absolutely loved was the Long Beach Pier, where the crowds gathered,” mentions KCRW’s Frances Anderton, who edited You Are Here, a monograph about Jerde’s work.
He later took a traveling fellowship while at the School of Architecture at USC and became captivated by European café culture and how the historic cores in these cities were able to successfully draw crowds in to shop, dine, stroll, and people watch. For Jerde, the gathering spaces between buildings were far more important than the buildings themselves.
For Jerde, the place he absolutely loved was the Long Beach Pier, where the crowds gathered.
His work did not come without criticism. Jerde was full of contradictions; he championed for vibrant, people-oriented places while still designing the Mall of America. One of his most iconic projects-Universal CityWalk- is a highly contrived, faux-urbanist street full of shrines to consumerism that most architect critics would never approve of for many reasons. But millions enthusiastically still visit the destination decades after inception. While his critics based their disdain in the philosophy that privately-owned destinations are fundamentally anti-urban, Jerde embraced the idea of commerce as a medium for civic experience.
And with a Pike remodel, Civic Center overhaul, and Downtown renaissance currently afoot, one can only hope that these changes will bring back to Long Beach the ‘urban glue’ that initially tickled Jerde’s imagination and shaped his career.
To honor Jon Jerde’s memory, contributions can be made to the UCLA Foundation to support the work of Dr. David Reuben of the UCLA Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care Program, mark as tribute to Jon A. Jerde in the memo line, and send to UCLA Health Sciences Development, Attn: Jenn Brown, 10945 Le Conte Avenue, Ste 3132, Los Angeles, CA 90095; or to Ancient Egypt Research Associates, Inc.. 26 Lincoln Street. Boston, MA 02135; or to Jon Adams Jerde, FAIA, Endowment at USC School of Architecture, University Park Campus, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0291.