James Herbert Bownell

Architect | 1916-2005

James Herbert Brownell started his career in architecture in 1934 working for Joe Weston (Eugene Weston III’s uncle) and later for Whitney R. Smith (Smith & Williams) among others. The J. Herbert Brownell Architect and Staff Office of his own design opened in 1955. From here the Pearce & Co. Compact Houses (1963) on Agate Street in Pacific Beach were crafted.

Born the son of a J.C. Penney’s clerk on January 21, 1916, James Herbert Brownell would grow up in El Monte, California and practice architecture across seven decades. He built his first home, for his parents, while still in high school.

As a youth, James (later he would favor Herbert, or Herb) held two paper routes simultaneously during the Great Depression to help the family out. As a byproduct of the Great Depression, Mr. Brownell would not waste anything (even space in his designs – as he saw hallways as wasted opportunities) or throw something away. Herb never borrowed from a bank. Instead, he held a reserve of cash in the bank at all times. He lived frugally.

Mr. Brownell started his career in architecture in 1934 working for Joe Weston (Eugene Weston III’s uncle) in El Monte. Following work with the Federal Housing Authority and an apprenticeship with Phil Ellerbrock, with Joe Weston’s encouragement Herb enrolled at Cal. Beyond academic study, young Herb would serve as president of the campus Architectural Association and Delta Sigma Chi architectural fraternity. He graduated at the top of his class in 1940.

As Capt. Brownell, young Herb served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps - from which he received a medical discharge for his allergies after two years. As World War II came to a close, Herb drafted several residential designs in the office of Whitney R. Smith (Smith & Williams). Between April, 30 and June 11th, 1945, the young draftsman drew for Smith's clients - including Nelson, Carlson, Wyatt, Blaisdell, Kurtz, Sumner, Webster, Van Dorn, and Zwell.

Among the many new ideas and technologies to blossom during wartime, plywood would become a motivating force in J. Herbert Brownell’s career. Joining in partnership with a salesman who made a name for himself at the San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition (1939-1940) working for a large lumber firm, Brownell would design and construct small buildings heavily utilizing plywood to demonstrate its effectiveness as a building material. Brownell would incorporate plywood into many of his projects from then on.

After practicing architecture in San Francisco and Washington DC, J. Herbert Brownell hung his own shingle in 1951 in a small Pasadena office. In short order he moved his private architectural practice to 2802 Circle Drive in Bayshores, then onto 1000 Coast Highway in Newport Beach where he would work between 1952-1955. The J. Herbert Brownell Architect and Staff Office of his own design held its open house on Friday June 3, 1955 at 1950 Coast Highway. At this final location, J. Herbert Brownell would produce a great number of residential, commercial and government buildings.

J. Herbert Brownell would travel to Japan and through Europe extensively to educate himself on art and architecture. Beyond his love of fine art and crafts, a fondness for Scandinavian architecture and Danish furnishings became a motivating force in Herbert’s designs. While he did not design and build every cabinet detail, his interior and exterior designs would reflect the spirit of contemporary furniture without finishes (he used stains and waxes on woods at the clients’ requests) and honesty in structure.

Of his design philosophy, Brownell wrote “…the structure should be suited to the physical environment, honestly expressing the use of simple materials, dramatic, warm in feeling and designed to function well for the intended purpose. The job of the architect is the housing of a family so that it may live comfortably, conveniently, economically, and with a certain pride in possession. If the plan of that home fulfills its needs, if its design conforms to its construction and reflects its planning, then it is a good house and will serve its purpose as a good home for the family.”

The Brownell office went through a number of permutations as staff architects and partners changed over the years. He took on his first partner, Kermit P. Dorius (Brownell and Dorius) in 1959. This partnership would change to (Fred) Hodgsdon, Brownell and Dorius in 1960, the same year Herb was elected as President of the Orange County chapter of the AIA. During the 1960s, the firm's size peaked with nine employees (for a time including his brother Harold Brownell) designing larger school and hospital projects.

After a career designing housing tracts, churches, apartment and office complexes, fire stations, schools, clubhouses and custom residences, J. Herbert Brownell died on February 25, 2005.

Partial List of San Diego Projects

Freeman, Alfred E. Residence (1959)
Camino de La Costa, La Jolla

Hermann Residence

Hermann, Mr. & Mrs. Robert C. Residence
La Jolla Rancho Road, La Jolla

Pearce & Co. Compact Houses (1962). Photo by Richard Fish.

Pearce & Co. Compact Houses
1200 Block of Agate Street, Pacific Beach

Partial List of Other Projects

Alecks, R.V. Residence
Van Nuys

Anthony Residence (1959)
478 Via Lido Soud

Armstrong, D. Residence (1960)
Location not known

Armstrong, J. Residence
Location not known

Armstrong, Ramsey C. Residence (1960)
2021 Bayadere Terrace, Newport Beach

Atherton, William Residence (1947)
Lemon Heights

Ayres Residence (1957)
331 Via Lido Soud

Bagnoli Residence (1960)
12012 Skyline Drive, Santa Ana

Barnes, Edward (1955)
1945 Bayside Drive, Corona Del Mar

Baycrest Model Home/Development
Irvine Avenue & 20th Street

Benton Residence
Irvine Cove

Berkson Residence
Location not known

Brownell Office (1954-55)

Brownell Office (1954-55)
1950 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Brownell Residence #1 (1950)
Bay Shores, Newport Beach

Brownell Residence 1 (1950)

Brownell Residence #2 (February, 1956)
708 St. James Road, Newport beach

Brownell Residence #3 (June, 1962)
2741 Ocean Blvd, Corona Del Mar

Brownell Residence #4 (August, 1970)
1700 Paloma Drive, Newport Beach

Brownell Residence #5 (March, 1973)
177 Crescent Bay Drive, Laguna Beach

Carney, Jack (1965)
41 Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach

C & G Tool Co. (1955)
1975 Placentia Avenue, Costa Mesa

Clark Residence (1951)
Tustin

Conklin Residence (1960)
4531 Camden Drive, Cameo Shores

Corona Del Mar Elementary
Location not known

Corona Del Mar Intermediate School
Pacific View Drive

Crawford Residence
1927 Tahuma Terrace, Irvine Terrace

Davis, Henry C. Residence (1954)
2021 Bayside, Drive Corona Del Mar

Dawson Residence
2001 Cliff Drive

Dr. Donald B. Duncan Residence (1959)

Duncan, Dr. Donald B. Residence (1959)
4501 Perham Road, Cameo Shores

Edwards, James Residence (1953)
3900 Channel Place, Newport Island

Ebell Club of Fullerton
313 Laguna Road

Eisenlohr Residence
Location not known

Ellis Residence
406 Emerald Bay

Elks Lodge 1767 Building
Via Oporto, Newport Beach

Emerald Bay House (1957)
Laguna Beach

Emison Residence
Location not known

Eoff, Asel Residence (1958)
519 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach

Estabrook, Jeffrey Residence
Location not known

Falk Residence (1960)
9757 Rangeview Drive, Cowan Heights

Featherstone Residence
Location not known

Fire Station Sub #6 (1957)
Dover & Irvine, Harbor Highlands

Fire Station (1953)
475 32nd Street, Newport Beach

Fire Station, Orange Sub #2 (1959)
Location not known

Fire Station, Newport Sub #1 (1961)
Location not known

Foster, John Residence (1961)
2444 Riviera Drive, Irvine Cove

Fox, Robert Residence Remodel (1958)
135 Via Zurich, Lido Isle

Gardner, Robert A. Residence (1954)
320 Evening Canyon Road

Graham, Eugene B. Residence
811 Kings Road, Newport Harbor

Hakes Residence (1957)
1933 Galatea Terrace, Irvine Terrace

Hamilton Residence (1960)
707 Whitley, Whittier

Hamilton, L.A. Residence (1954)
277 Morning Canyon Road, Newport Beach

Hanna, Kathleen & Dunbacher, Robert Residence (1951)
Shore Cliffs

Harbor House Restaurant (1953)
Harbor Island Road Subdivision – 5 lots

Harbor View School
Location not known

Harris, W.B. “Bud” Residence (1955)
209 Driftwood Road, Newport Beach

Hayward, William C. Residence (1959)
Tustin

Hightower Residence (1959)
206 Morning Canyon, Shore Cliffs

Hoag Hospital (1966)
Emergency Center

Hoag Hospital Pediatrics Pavillion (1968)
1111 Baker Street, Costa Mesa

Hoag Residence
Location not known

Holmes Residence
2016 Tustin Avenue

Horsley, Fred R. Residence (1953)
1410 SE Kings Road, Newport Heights

Horsley, Fred R. Residence (1956)
801 Kings Road, Newport Heights

Irvine Company Offfices (1959)
13042 Myford Road, Tustin

Myford Irvine Residence (1959)

Irvine, Myford Residence (1959)
411 Avocado Street, Corona Del Mar

Ivey Residence #1 (1958)
1821 Tahuna Terrace, Irvine Terrace

Ivey Residence #2
1801 Sabrina

Jackson, D.W. (1954)
221 Driftwood Road, Newport Beach

Johnson, S.B. Residence (1959)
100 Via Florence, Lido Isle

Johnson, E.F. Residence (1958)
Pinecrest “above Boat Car”

Jones, F. Residence (1960)
1171 St. John Place

Kendall Residence
Location not known

Kephart, Dean Residence
Aldean Street, Newport Beach

Kinner Residence (1958)
Location not known

Koch, Eugene Residence (1953)
2341 Kings Road, Newport Heights

Kress Residence (1957)
828 Emerald Bay, Laguna Beach

Lewis, Howard B. Residence (1955)
329 Via Lido Soud

Lewis, Roy Residence
Location not known

Lido Clubhouse Remodel (1955)
Location not known

Lombardo Residence (1958)
530 Arroyo Drive, South Pasadena

Long Residence (1958)
2020 Anchor Way, Baycrest

Longley House (1955)

Longley, Dr. J.R. (1955)
238 Morning Canyon, Shore Cliffs Corona Del Mar

Loughbridge, Paul Residence (1952)
2691 Bayshore Drive

Lougher Residence
Location not known

Marina Shores Development 136 homes (1957)
Bolsa Avenue

Massachusetts Mutual

Massachusetts Mutual Insurance (1959)
610 E. 17th Street, Santa Ana

Mather Residence (1956)
204 Hazel, Corona Del Mar

McCray Residence
1236 Somerset Lane, Westcliff

McGavren, L.B. Residence (1954)
506 Ocean Blvd, Newport Beach

Meachem Residence
1033 Flamingo Road, Laguna

Mitchell, Kenneth C. Residence (1956)
215 Carnation, Corona Del Mar

Moore, Roger Residence (1960)
236 Agate Street

Nahas, A.S. Residence (1955)
2115 Bayside Drive, Corona Del Mar

Newport Beach Ebell Club (1956)
515 W. Balboa Blvd, Newport Beach

Newport Heights Subdivision
Aldean Place, West of Irvine Avenue

Noble Residence
Location not known

Perley Residence (1959)
1210 W. Ocean Front

Pollack House (1959). Photographer not known.

Pollack, John P. Residence (1959)
2441 Riviera Drive, Irvine Cove

Private Residence (1965)
617 Orchid, Corona Del Mar

Rankin Residence (1954)
1885 S.E. La Cuesta Drive

Ray Residence
Location not known

Redhill Tennis Club
Location not known

Richardson Residence
2215 Cliff Drive

Rojas Residence
2219 Cliff Drive

Scott, Eugene F. Residence (1955)
2214 22nd Street, Costa Mesa

Smoke-Lyster House (1974)
611 Allview Place, Laguna Beach

Stukey Residence
Location not known

Stultz, H.S. Residence
Tustin

Tancredi Building (1959)
Location not known

Taylor, Harry (1952)
Costa Mesa

Watson, John Stuart Residence (1954)
425 Vista Vaya, Costa Mesa

West Cliff Subdivision Development
Newport Harbor

Willis, Dr. Residence (1959)
2209 Private Road, Newport Beach

Wiltsie, Dave Western Den Shop (1966)
763 North Main, Bishop, CA

Wiltsie Residence (1959)
Bishop, CA

Witmer Residence (1959)
2007 Bayside Drive, Corona Del Mar

Woodward Residence
Tustin