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Richard Wilhelm Sundeleaf

Richard Wilhelm Sundeleaf, Architect [1900-1987]

Architect Richard W. Sundeleaf [†] was born in Portland, Oregon in 1900. He was trained at the University of Oregon School of Architecture, then in dynamic transition from traditional Beaux Arts philosophy to the contemporary innovations of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Bahaus and Arts and Crafts movements. He received his architecture degree in 1923.

Subscribing to what he considered best in both historic/traditional design and the new modernism, he entered the Portland architectural scene in 1923 when he was employed by the prestigious firm of A.E. Doyle. He remained with Doyle only 12 months, leaving the firm after Doyle himself suggested that he should abandon architecture. With no intention of following Doyle's advice, Sundeleaf went to work in 1925 for Sutton and Whitney, a Doyle competitor, but stayed with them only two years. He felt his architectural philosophy would be best served by self-employment. His foresight was on target, for his career took wing only after he established his own practice in 1927.

Sundeleaf's first commercial commission—and the job which would catapult him into prominence—came in 1928 from Jantzen Knitting Mills, long established and growing as a swimwear manufacturer. He designed an administration building far different from the basic utilitarian concept of his peers. Richly ornamented, the building was a Romanesque structure, in Willamina brick, sculpted by local artist Gabriel Lavare with classical shells, sea monsters and the famous "Diving Girl" that became the Jantzen trademark. The ornamentation was, however, subdued with architectural emphasis on the corporate entity represented within. The building's interior was spacious, functional, modern. Jantzen was highly pleased with the architect and employed him for multinational corporate designs as their reputation continued to expand. Sundeleaf gained international recognition through his extensive design for Jantzen. Their London building by Sundeleaf was based on the Portland design, which in 1932 was named by the American Institute of Architects as the "outstanding commercial building in Oregon."

The acclaim which followed his work for Jantzen opened the door to numerous local residential commissions from prominent Portland-area residents. Most of his residences were designed for clients in the affluent Portland suburb of Lake Oswego where he made his home.

Sundeleaf's residential designs spanned the years from approximately 1927 to 1984; however, unlike the experience of many of his colleagues, Sundeleaf's most prolific period of residential design was during the Depression of the 1930s (Sundeleaf Job List n.d.). Between 1930 and 1940 he designed some thirty-three residences in the Lake Oswego area alone. Of these, eighteen dwellings have retained sufficient physical integrity for inclusion in the 1989 City of Lake Oswego Historic Resource Inventory. All the houses are designated as local landmarks, a testimony to the fine design and craftsmanship inherent in Sundeleaf's work. Testimony too, to the significant contribution Sundeleaf made to the character of this lakeside community.

Only two of the eighteen residences were designed in something other than the Arts and Crafts style. These include the Harry Coleman House designed in the Mediterranean style, and the Colonel Alfred Kelly House designed in an eclectic transitional mode. As a group, the remaining buildings represent a fine collection of Sundeleaf's work in the Arts and Crafts tradition. The Arts and Crafts style found its roots in Edwardian England in the English vernacular house, emphasizing the integration of site and structure, form and utility; the use of material and craftsmanship indigenous to the environment; design suitable to the time and place rather than restricted by the traditional/historic; minimal ornamentation; functional simplicity; and economy of line. The philosophy flowered throughout England and was welcomed by America in the early century. Sundeleaf proved an apt student of the tradition, no doubt influenced by Portland architect Wade Pipes, who is credited with adapting the principles of Arts and Crafts architecture to the region.

After 1940 Sundeleaf residential designs shifted away from the romantic, picturesque qualities of the Arts and Crafts style toward a more modern idiom. Of the half dozen dwellings he designed in Lake Oswego between 1940 and 1950 only one, the W. R. Lake Residence, carries forward the Arts and Crafts philosophy embodied in his designs of the 30s.

As in his commercial/industrial work, Sundeleaf's residential architecture was always planned with recognition of the tastes and economy of his clients. Throughout his career his designs conveyed his far reaching eclectic philosophy. Although his work of the 30s is overwhelmingly influenced by the Arts and Crafts tradition, he designed as well in the Mediterranean style, Classical, Northwest Regional, and in non-academic designs depending on the site and the taste of the client. Throughout his career he held the populist view that architecture is a service profession and should coordinate as much as possible with the client's wishes.

† Jane Morrison, Koler/Morrison Consultants, Dr. Walter Black House, Clackamas County, Oregon, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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