In a 1996 San Diego Union Tribune interview, Frederick (“Fred”) Liebhardt described his design philosophy: "I like to think that things have a use. They should be useful and handsome in their usefulness. To put up (buildings) just to be handsome is not a good idea."
Frederick Liebhardt was born in Fresno on May 28, 1924 and grew up in San Marino and Pasadena, California. Prior to World War II, Liebhardt attended the Curtis Wright technical school and worked briefly in aircraft engineering.
Frederick married Marianne (“Mimi”) at the beginning of World War II and signed up with the Navy through their V12 program despite serious illness before his entry. Fred attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Notre Dame while in the Navy. Later in the war, Fred went to Norman, OK then off to Florida to fly PBY airplanes. Mr. Liebhardt neared death with encephalitis but was saved by an intern offering him antibiotics. Fred completed his wartime service in 1945 near San Luis Obispo in flight training.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune – Fred’s inspiration to become an architect came from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. "If that doesn't impress you, you're not impressible. It's probably the best piece of architecture of any type, any size, any anything, in the last 100 years [Fred Liebhardt]."
Following the war, Fred was accepted at USC and at the University of Denver. Mimi’s aunt Bertha Jackson Bond (wife of David Bond who worked on Wright's Biltmore Hotel in Scottsdale) interviewed him when he was in the employ of Harwell Hamilton Harris (and would later oversee construction of Harris’s Lek House in La Jolla). Bertha thought highly of Fred’s drawings. With this optimism, Fred wrote Frank Lloyd Wright asking to work at Taliesin. He was turned down.
In 1945, while living at his parent’s Colorado estate “Roseacre” and beginning his formal architecture education at the College of Architecture and Planning, University of Denver, Fred attended a local lecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. After Fred’s instructor showed Mr. Wright his drawings, he asked Fred and Mimi to visit Taliesin. According to Mrs. Liebhardt, “Come be with me before they ruin you” Wright stated. Soon thereafter the first of their two children, Alanna was born in 1946.
In 1947 they left Colorado to join the Taliesin fellowship of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation where Fred acquired the architectural orientation that he pursued throughout his career. At Taliesin, wife Mimi acquired early skills in interior design that would propel her through her own career.
Both Mimi and Fred were at Taliesin (Spring Green, WI) and Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ) between 1948-49. The couple spent less than a year between the two sites. In an unusual move, Mr. Wright sent Fred straight to the drafting room rather than the norm of employing fellows in less-distinguished roles early on. Mimi worked on the library and ‘old theater’ interiors; helped with tea and cake service at 3PM; and even cleaned up the model of the Guggenheim museum as interest in the project resurrected. Telling FLW she didn’t understand what the Guggenheim meant – he replied “you will understand it when it is done.”
According to Mrs. Liebhardt, over the years Frank Lloyd Wright regretted only a few of his apprentices leaving his employ – Rowan Maiden (known for his Nepenthe Restaurant in Big Sur), John Lautner, and Fred Liebhardt (blaming wife Mimi for his departure). The Liebhardts would continue to visit Frank Lloyd Wright through the 1950s.
Fred and Mimi returned to a small house in Pasadena, from which they visited La Jolla and Santa Barbara looking for a place to settle. Despite Fred’s opinion that San Diego was lacking in strong architecture, they decided to move to La Jolla. Soon after arriving in San Diego Fred worked for Lloyd Ruocco where he likely worked on the Holmgren Residence. Following this brief stint, Fred worked out of the Point Loma home of fellow Taliesin apprentice Loch Crane.
In the early 1950s Mr. Liebhardt worked in the office of architect Lloyd Ruocco while he began an informal practice of his own. In 1951 following the completion of his own (and first) residence, Fred worked on his own designs from a studio built on his La Jolla property. Later Liebhardt & Weston would memorialize Lloyd Ruocco’s IGGP building with their design of IGGP II at Scripps Institute of Oceanography.
According to Robert Des Lauriers, “Fred and I met after he left Tallisen West and came to San Diego. We both worked for a drafting firm, George Mueller (who later became a licensed architect), we specialized in tract homes and commercial projects. Speed drafting was our speciality. And we were good at it. The architecture was not especially great, but we could put it together fast. Jim Bird also worked with us during the summer while he was still playing football at USC. Fred’s dad passed away around this period. His Dad made his money in Uranium in Colorado. Fred and I used to drive his dad’s convertible Rolls Royce up and down La Mesa Boulevard.”
Fred opened his office on Herschel with Fred Norris. Following work with Norris, Liebhardt worked with Henry Hester. Hester and Liebhardt designed homes in Pacific Beach during their brief time together and after that Liebhardt opened his own office in La Jolla.
In 1956 Eugene “Gene” Weston III had moved to La Jolla, designing and building spec houses, then in 1958 asked Fred for a job. Having met Fred years earlier while visiting a friend at Taliesin West, Weston worked as an employee for Fred and then joined in partnership in 1960.
After working in architecture for five decades, does Liebhardt have a favorite project? -- "I asked Mr. Wright that question once, and he gave me the definitive answer, I think, which was: the last one he'd done." With that answer, "you confess that you're in love with what you do and that you think everything you do is better than anything you did before.” – San Diego Union Tribune 2/4/96.
Mr. Liebhardt’s work embodied the organic principles advocated by Frank Lloyd Wright and encompassed a wide variety of project types from single family residences and hotels to projects for research and education and the master planning of zoos, aquaria, wild animal parks, theme parks and other outdoor recreation facilities. He was licensed to practice architecture in New York, California, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Utah. Fred Liebhardt retired in 1991.
Over the years, the architecture firm changed its name. Between 1950-1960 the firm was solely owned and run by Frederick Liebhardt. Soon after moving to La Jolla, Eugene Weston III joined the partnership of Liebhardt and Weston (1960-1965), which later changed to Liebhardt, Weston and Associates (1965-1967). Don Goldman, a noted designer in his own right later became a partner in Liebhardt, Weston and Goldman (1967-1976). When Goldman left the firm, the partnership change back to Liebhardt, Weston and Associates (1976-1990). Following Mr. Weston’s retirement, Bob Botton joined Fred as partner in Liebhardt, Botton and Associates (1990-1991). Between 1974-1984 a number of animal-oriented projects were designed by the Animal People Environments a joint venture of Liebhardt, Weston and Associates, Charles Faust, Dr. James Dolan and Barry Upson.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune profile “Unlike some Wright disciples, Liebhardt is no die-hard clone of the master. Said architect [J. Spencer] Lake, "One of the strengths of his work is you can't `type' it. There's no classic Liebhardt look, and that's a tribute to his ability to suit a design to its purpose."