REST IN PEACE: Architect Norm Applebaum (1939-2020)

Norm (left) and photographer Julius Shulman (right) in November 1983

On March 25, 2020 Norman 'Norm' Martin Applebaum left this world. His legacy, while tied to his built projects for many, will be held with many San Diegans who had the pleasure to meet Norm, play music with him, or simply engage in wonderful conversation about appreciating the art in the everyday.

By Keith York
Norm (left) and photographer Julius Shulman (right) in November 1983

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that friend and an architect's architect Norm Applebaum has passed away. Instrumental in supporting me for many years, it was these last few years with Norm working on my two exhibitions Julius Shulman: Modern San Diego and Julius Shulman: Modern La Jolla that I will cherish most.

Beyond his built projects, Norm’s legacy will be with those of us he touched through his creativity and generous spirit. From clients and collaborators to family, friends, neighbors and those he met during his wide travels and regional excursions.

Norm studied with Calvin Straub, FAIA at Arizona State University, where in 1968 he earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree. While in the area, Norm studied with sculptor and organic architect Paolo Soleri prior to moving to San Diego.

Julius, Fern and Norm - 1982

Upon arriving in San Diego, the young architect worked for Don Goldman when his firm’s office was in The Design Center on 5th Avenue – at its zenith as a design hub with architects, landscape architects, photographers, publishers, and the best ‘modern’ retail store in the County, this environment would serve as a great introduction to our region.

Shortly thereafter, Norm went to work for architect Homer Delawie. Eventually, Norm opened his own office. Working mostly as a solo practitioner, his friendships with photographer Julius Shulman, architect Cliff May as well as his mentor Cal Straub were daily reminders of his pursuit to craft singular, artistic statements with each of his private home commissions. Norm was licensed in 1972 and joined the San Diego Chapter of the AIA in 1974.

Norm’s ‘masterworks’ were inspired by architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Harwell Hamilton Harris, Bernard Maybeck and John Lautner. Norm once offered, “When I was a kid, at 19 years of age, the influence of architect John Lautner took hold of me. Today, I am part of that continuing process of California architecture - Lautner’s ‘real architecture’ - that continues to speak to me and is evident in all of my work.”

Appleby Residence (1982). Photograph by Julius Shulman.

"Mr. Wright always said that architecture is the mother art," Applebaum offered. "I do believe it. I practice as an artist. All my homes are done artistically. I don't do any development or tract work or spec work. All my individual custom homes are art."

When in need, Norm did hire others to support the art. Whether it was architect Bill Cody’s daughter Cathy Cody or draftsperson Barbara Carlton, he shared in the wonder of designing spaces and absorbed the curiosities and skills of those around him.

Ms. Carlton, who has also worked for architect Leonard Veitzer, share the following, "In the spring of 1988, Norm needed a draftsman for what I think was the first time… [for] the working drawings for the Matherons’ first house. I’ve always considered having the opportunity to translate Norm’s models into working drawings one of the great strokes of good fortune in my life. I learned a tremendous amount from Norm about residential design, about the architect’s ultimate tools of light, space, and perception; about the rigors of designing in model form, and what’s possible with this painstaking method that no CADD program can attain. I did not, I’m sorry to say, become a better model builder as a result. Norm could do things with cardboard and balsa wood that I couldn’t begin to approach… Norm was unfailingly kind and generous to me always, and very, very patient. It was an honor to work for him, and I was honored that after a gap of twenty-four years, in 2014 he asked me to work for him again.”

Norm completed 30 private residences, 40 residence remodels and 4 commercial projects covered in multiple books and dozens of publications. He was the recipient of the 2018 Robert Mosher Lifetime Achievement Award.

Matheron Residence

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