Homer Delawie, 1927-2009
By Ann Jarmusch
Homer at the 2003 People In Preservation event where he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award. Photo Sandé Lollis
SOHO members and others are still mourning the loss of a great friend and pioneering preservationist, Homer T. Delawie. The architect who served on SOHO's first board of directors and received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, died at age 81 in San Diego on June 26, 2009.
Homer helped achieve SOHO's first goal: saving the ornate 1887 Sherman-Gilbert House. He "lent professional, political and moral support" to the cause, according to Kathleen Flanigan's history of SOHO's first 20 years. Decades later, he would see four of the simple Modernist houses he designed - three in San Diego, one in the county's Mt. Helix area - designated historic.
He worked with San Diego's leading Modernist Lloyd Ruocco before starting his own firm in 1961. In addition to running a successful practice until his semi-retirement in 1997, he served on the Historical Resources Board for eight years and also chaired the city of San Diego's Planning Commission.
"He was very brave and strong under very trying circumstances," said Angeles Leira, a former San Diego city planner and staff liaison to the HRB.
At Homer's outdoor memorial at a Balboa Park plaza he designed, Leira said, "Often, my recommendations for designation [of Modernist architecture] fell on deaf ears until Homer talked, and in very quiet, succinct ways expressed the value of the building to Modern design. Magically, the board would unanimously designate the building."
Once, when HRB members visited a modern building nominated for designation, Leira said, "I saw Homer undeterred by a high fence and jumping it before I could say, Stop!... His stamina and will to continue his work were amazing."
Keith York, former SOHO Modernism Committee member and founder of www.modernsandiego.com, recalled serving on the committee with Homer, who was "the only architect of his era volunteering for SOHO in this capacity. His role, alongside other much younger preservationists, demonstrated his civic pride, his desire to preserve important local works of architecture," not necessarily his own.
Several of Homer's buildings were open for tours during SOHO's first and second Modernism Weekends in 2003 and 2004. His last public act of preservation advocacy may have occurred in late 2008, when he joined other SOHO members in successfully urging the San Diego City Council not to gut the Mills Act.
Homer "was one of the kindest men I've ever known," said SOHO member Elizabeth Courtiér. "He listened to clients and gave them places that made them happy and fulfilled."
Homer's role, alongside other much younger preservationists, demonstrated his civic pride, his desire to preserve important local works of architecture not necessarily his own.
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