Ward Wyatt Deems, FAIA (1929-2009)
Architect Ward Wyatt Deems, FAIA passed away in 2009, at the age of 79 years in Bend, Oregon. Mr. Deems was born on the 16th of November, 1929 in Hollywood, California. Raised in Alhambra and Pasadena/Altadena, Ward graduated from Pasadena High School in 1947, and then Pasadena Community College in 1949. While still in high school he put himself on the path toward architecture – working in carpentry, framing, home building, and soon thereafter as draftsman with architects in Monrovia and Claremont while attending junior college.
Ward benefited most significantly from the guidance of USC School of Architecture faculty Calvin Straub, Conrad Buff, Donald Hensman, A. Quincy Jones, Gregory Ain, Garret Eckbo, Emmett Wimple, Harry Burge, and Verne Annis. He graduated alongside his classmate William Sperry Lewis in 1953 with a Bachelor of Architecture degree. While attending USC he designed and constructed a home in Altadena for a client with USC classmate Jack Causey.
Following his graduation from USC, Deems worked as design assistant at Jay Dewey Harnish Architects in Ontario (1953-54). In 1955, he earned his California Architect license.
Between 1954-1959, Mr. Deems was employed by the Los Angeles firm of Albert C. Martin and Associates (partners Albert C. Martin, Jr. and J. Edward Martin). USC classmate William Sperry ‘Bill’ Lewis, having also recently graduated, joined the firm shortly thereafter.
According to Mr. Deems, “My employment with AC MA provided me with an extraordinary opportunity to participate as lead architectural designer on several important projects (Rose Hills Memorial Park facilities, Whittier, CA; Orthopaedic Hospital, Los Angeles, CA.), followed by the position of Director of Business Development… The Martin firm was going through a period of growth while awaiting the two younger Martin sons, (David and Chris Martin, also from USC), to mature into the firm. Thus, several young graduates from USC were employed by the Martins and advanced into leadership positions of planning, design, practice and management… I was privileged to work directly with both of the Martin partners (Albert C. Martin, Jr., FAIA and J. Edward Martin, CE/SE) and thereby accelerated my education and experience as a practicing architect. I was appointed an Associate of the Firm in 1958. At the Martin office I met and became friends with William Sperry Lewis, Jr. (Bill) who was a lead designer on several Martin projects, including the Mission Valley Shopping Center project in San Diego… During 1958-59, I explored the potential of opening an office in San Diego since the possibility of becoming an owner-partner at the Martin firm was slim to none…I advised the Martins that I had decided to practice in San Diego. The Martins stated that they wished to retain me as a part of their expanding operation and suggested that they join in opening a San Diego office as they had previously begun this concept in other cities...”
Ward Deems was appointed an Associate of the Firm in 1958 while Bill Lewis served as lead designer on several projects. During the years 1958-59, Deems explored the potential of opening an office in San Diego - then a cheaper, slower-paced city surviving on tourism and military spending. When Ward advised the Martins of his plan to move south they saw in this an opportunity to expand their operation. Together they decided to open a San Diego office.
In April 1959, a corporate agreement was signed to launch Deems-Martin Associates. At the time, Bill Lewis was completing the design of the May Company store in Mission Valley and agreed to join Deems in launching the new company. With financial and brand support from the AC Martin firm, they opened their office in the El Cortez Building – Ward being responsible for public relations and business development functions. Bill Lewis focused on design and project management. The first successful project being the Crabtree Office Building at 301 A Street. This steel screen ensconced project was designed by employee Robert Jones (who would later join in partnership with Henry Hester). Within a few years, Bill became a co-owner and the firm became Deems Lewis Martin & Associates.
In 1961, the firm Deems Lewis & Partners worked its way through their first San Diego recession. Embracing the citywide motto “Try San Diego First” they and other firms worked to keep clients from heading to Los Angeles to have their projects designed. The firm watched San Diego grow larger and more sophisticated. One important milestone was the shift of retail from downtown to Mission Valley as Walker Scott and Marston's folded – in part because of their design for Mission Valley shopping center.
“In 1967 Bill and I realized that the joint arrangement with the Martin brothers was not truly workable over time and, after prolonged negotiations and payments to acquire their shares of the corporate stock, the firm became Deems/Lewis & Partners. Subsequently the firm name became Deems Lewis McKinley Architects with the addition of John C. McKinley, AIA as a corporate owner,” Ward Deems added.
As the firm changed its name from Deems-Martin Associates to Deems Lewis Martin & Associates, then to Deems Lewis & Partners and subsequently to Deems Lewis McKinley Architects, andgrew rapidly in its first few decades, many strong architects cut their teeth in the drafting room. Among these were Robert E. Jones (1960-61), Edward Malone, Donald Goldman (1962-64), Walt Conwell, Jerry Shonkweiler, John Stevenson, James A. Purcell, John McKinley, Neil Larson, Jack Carpenter and several others.
Between the years 1959-1986, Deems served the new firm as Senior Principal; President, Chairman of the Board; Principal-in Charge and designer of selected projects. His responsibilities ranged from business development-public relations and business management for the firm to assignments as Principal-In-Charge of selected projects while partner Bill Lewis concentrated exclusively on project management and project design. During the firm’s operations in San Diego it successfully sought a wide variety of design commissions for commercial, institutional and educational projects. In the beginning years the young firm’s association with the Martin firm enabled it to thrive.
Of the firm’s operational philosophy, Ward Deems offered, “Our firm’s commitment to its clients centered upon each project being assigned one of the firm’s two principals to oversee and/or plan and design the projects to their completion. A Team concept was instituted which included responsibility for all elements of planning and design including structural, mechanical, electrical, civil engineering, landscape architecture, interior design and graphics design. In addition to my personal design work, it was my approach to allow other employed designers the freedom to create the projects, subject to partner critique and comments from a peer Jury system.”
Ward Deems received his Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows in 1973. His involvement with the AIA included Secretary of the Pasadena Chapter AIA, President of the AIA San Diego Chapter (1963) and President of the AIA California Council (1975), along with serving on several Statewide and National AIA Committees. These activities resulted in meeting a number of prominent architects and firms around the country which led them to several successful joint venture projects.
Mr. Deems served as President of the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIASD), President of the California Council of the AIA (AIACC) along with numerous local and national committees and volunteer efforts. In 1973, Ward Deems was inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) for his community and national contributions and for his enduring influence on the profession.
Partial List of San Diego Projects by the Firm(s)
Armand Hammer Research
Office Building (1963)
Christ The King Lutheran Church (ca. 1959)
Church of Jesus
Christ Latter Day Saints
Deems, Ward Residence
Deems, Ward Residence
El Cortez Convention
- San Diego Federal Building (1972)
Medical Center (1964)
LKRD Medical Office
Center (ca. 1960)
Office San Diego County Department of Welfare (ca. 1963-1969)
Orr, Dr. & Mrs.
Robert J. Residence (1960)
Rubin, Seltzer & Soloman
San Diego Convention
National Bank (1964)
Torrey Pines High
U.S. Customs Station
U.S. Navy Anti-Submarine
Warfare School Mess Hall (1967)
U.S. Navy Enlisted
Men’s Barracks (1964)
U.S. Post Office