John Carl Warnecke
- Category : Architect
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX Spirit 1
John Carl Warnecke (February 24, 1919 – April 17, 2010) was an architect based in San Francisco, California, who designed numerous notable monuments and structures in the Modernist, Bauhaus, and other similar styles. He was an early proponent of contextual architecture. Among his more notable buildings and projects are the Hawaii State Capitol building, the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame memorial gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery, and the master plan for Lafayette Square (which includes his designs for the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building and the New Executive Office Building).
Warnecke was born on February 24, 1919, in Oakland, California. His father, Carl I. Warnecke, was a prominent architect in San Francisco. His mother, Margaret Esterling Warnecke, was a descendant of Dutch settlers who came to Sonoma County, California, in the 1870s.
He received his bachelor's degree (cum laude) from Stanford University in 1941. He played football at Stanford, and was a member of the undefeated 1940 Stanford Indians football team (nicknamed the "Wow Boys") that won the 1941 Rose Bowl. A shoulder injury incurred while playing football prevented him from being drafted or serving in the U.S. military during World War II. While studying at Stanford, Warnecke made the acquaintance of John F. Kennedy, who was auditing courses at the university. Warnecke received his masters degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1942, completing the three-year course in a single year. While attending Harvard, he studied with the highly influential architect, Walter Gropius.
Warnecke married the former Grace Cushing in 1945, with whom he had a three sons and a daughter. His oldest son, John C. Warnecke, Jr., died in 2003. This first marriage ended in divorce in 1961, and Warnecke married the former Grace Kennan (daughter of George F. Kennan) in 1969. This second marriage also ended in divorce.
Early architectural career
After graduating from Harvard University, Warnecke worked as a building inspector for the public housing authority in Richmond, California. In 1943, he began work as a draftsman for his father's architectural firm (which specialized in the Beaux-Arts architectural style). He was influenced by the work of architects Bernard Maybeck and William Wurster, leading proponents and practitioners of the "Bay Area school" of architecture.
He established a solo practice in 1950, and incorporated as a firm in 1956. At first, he set a goal of applying Modernist architectural principles to major types of building. But his work soon reflected a desire to harmonize building designs with the environment in which they were set as well as their cultural and historical setting, an architectural theory known as contextualism. Warnecke won national recognition in 1951 for the Mira Vista Elementary School in East Richmond Heights, California (a small residential community which overlooks the northern part of San Francisco Bay). Other schools in the San Francisco Bay are followed, earning him much praise. Warnecke became an internationally recognized architect after submitting a design for a new U.S. embassy in Thailand in 1956 (it was never built). He reorganized his firm in 1958 under the name John Carl Warnecke & Associates, the name it would be best known by. He was named an Associate of the National Academy of Design the same year. He won additional notice for buildings at Stanford University (built in the 1960s) and the University of California, Berkeley (built in the 1960s and early 1970s).
Association with Kennedys
Warnecke's reputation as a world-class architect received a substantial boost when he was asked by the administration of President John F. Kennedy to save the historic buildings surrounding Lafayette Square. The controversy over Lafayette Square can be traced back to 1900, when the United States Congress passed a resolution establishing the U.S. Senate Park Commission (also known as the "McMillan Commission" because it was chaired by Senator James McMillan [R-Mich.]). The Park Commission's proposals, which came to be known as the "McMillan Plan," proposed that all the buildings around Lafayette Square be razed and replaced by tall, Neoclassical buildings clad in white marble for use by executive branch agencies. Little action was taken on these proposals over the next five decades. However, plans were made in the late 1950s to raze all the buildings on the east side of Lafayette Square and replace them with a white modernist office building which would house judicial offices. Opposition to the demolition of the Cutts-Madison House and other buildings on Lafayette Square began forming shortly after the decision to raze the structures was announced. The newly-elected Kennedy administration indicated in February 1961 that it was anxious to retain the existing historic homes on Lafayette Square.
In February 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy lobbied the General Services Administration to stop the demolition and adopt a different design plan. "The wreckers haven't started yet, and until they do it can be saved," she wrote. Mrs. Kennedy enlisted architect Warnecke, who happened to be in town that weekend, to create a design which would incorporate the new buildings with the old. With this project, Warnecke was one of the first architects to receive a commission from the Kennedy administration. Warnecke conceived the basic design over that weekend, and worked closely with Mrs. Kennedy over the next few months to formalize the design proposal. The design was presented to the public and the Commission of Fine Arts (which had approval over any plan) in October 1962, and with Mrs. Kennedy's backing the Commission adopted the revised Warnecke design proposal.
Warnecke's design for the square was based on the architectural theory of contextualism. Not only did Warnecke's design build the first modern buildings on Lafayette Square, but they were the first buildings in the city to utilize contextualism as a design philosophy. Warnecke's design for the Markey National Courts Building was to create tall, flat structures in red brick which would serve as relatively unobtrusive backgrounds to the lighter-colored residential homes like the Cutts-Madison House. The Cutts-Madison House, Cosmos Club building, and Benjamin Ogle Tayloe House were joined, and a courtyard built between them and the National Courts building.
Warnecke continued to contribute to architectural design in Washington, D.C. He opened an office in the District of Columbia in 1962. He was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects the same year.
Warnecke was appointed to an important federal post and received two important commissions from the Kennedy family in 1963. On June 21, 1963, President Kennedy appointed Warnecke to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Warnecke's first important commission from the President was the design for a presidential library. Plans and sites were discussed in May, and on October 19, just 34 days before his assassination, President Kennedy (with Warnecke by his side) chose a site next to next to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. As Warnecke and Kennedy had only discussed general themes for the design, I. M. Pei was selected by the Kennedy family to be the library's actual architect.
Kennedy grave site
President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and Warnecke was chosen by Mrs. Kennedy to design the president's tomb just six days later on November 28. Ironically, the President and Warnecke had visited the site which was to become Kennedy's tomb in March 1963, and the President had admired the peaceful atmosphere of the place. On November 24, Mrs. Kennedy told friends that she wanted an eternal flame at the gravesite.
Warnecke visited the grave with Mrs. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy on Wednesday, November 28, to discuss themes and plans for the grave. He immediately concluded that the permanent grave must be simple and must incorporate the eternal flame. A few days later, Warnecke agreed that, although it was not required, he would submit the design for the permanent Kennedy grave site to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
The grave design process was placed under tight secrecy. An extensive research project was conducted in which hundreds of famous tombs (such as the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and Grant's Tomb) as well as all existing presidential burial sites. Warnecke discussed design concepts with more than 40 architects, sculptors, painters, landscape architects, stonemasons, calligraphers, and liturgical experts—including the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, architectural model maker Theodore Conrad, and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Noguchi counseled Warnecke to add a large sculptural cross to the site and to eliminate the eternal flame (which he felt was kitschy). Warnecke consulted with Mrs. Kennedy about the design of the grave many times over the following year. Hundreds of architectural drawings and models were produced to explore design ideas. On April 6, 1964, Warnecke sent a memorandum to Mrs. Kennedy in which he outlined his desire to retain the eternal flame as the centerpiece of the burial site and to keep the site's design as simple as possible. In the course of the research and conceptualization effort, Warnecke considered the appropriateness of structures or memorials at the site (such as crosses, shafts, pavilions, etc.), the history of Arlington National Cemetery, the vista, and how to handle ceremonies at the site. By August 1964, Warnecke and his assistants had written a 76-page research report which concluded that the gravesite was not a memorial nor monument, but a grave. "This particular hillside, this flame, this man and this point in history must be synthesized in one statement that has distinctive character of its own. We must avoid adding elements that in later decades might become superficial and detract from the deeds of the man," Warnecke wrote for some time in the spring and summer of 1964, the design process appeared to slow as Warnecke and his associates struggled to design the actual graves. But in the summer of 1964 Sargent Shriver, President Kennedy's brother-in-law, forcefully told Warnecke that "There must be something there when we get there." This spurred the design effort forward. In the late summer and early fall, Warnecke considered massive headstones, a sarcophagus, a sunken tomb, a raised tomb, and sculpture to mark the graves. Very late in the design process, two abstract sculptures were designed but ultimately rejected.
The final design was unveiled publicly at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., on November 13, 1964. The final design had won the approval of the Kennedy family, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission. Two overarching design concerns guided the design of the site. First, Warnecke intended the grave itself to reflect the early New England tradition of a simple headstone set flat in the ground surrounded by grass. Second, the site was designed to reflect President Kennedy's Christian faith.
As initially envisioned by Warnecke, the site would be accessed by a circular granite walkway which led to an elliptical marble plaza. The downslope side of the elliptical plaza would be enclosed by a low wall inscribed with quotes from Kennedy's speeches. Marble steps led up from the plaza to a rectangular terrace which enclosed a rectangular plot of grass in which the graves would reside. A retaining wall formed the rear of the burial site. The eternal flame would be placed in the center of the grassy plot in a flat, triangular bronze sculpture intended to resemble a votive candle or brazier. The original design won near-universal praise. The U.S. Department of Defense formally hired Warnecke to design the approaches (although this was a fait accompli).
Prior to construction, which formally began in the spring of 1965, several design changes were made to the Kennedy grave site. The retaining wall behind the grave was removed, and the hill landscaped to allow an unobstructed view of Arlington House. Concerned that the grass on the burial plot would wither in Washington's hot summers, in the fall of 1966 the decision was made to replace the grass with rough-hewn reddish-gold granite fieldstone set in a flagstone pattern. The burial plot, originally designed to be raised some height above the surrounding terrace, was lowered so that it was just three to four inches above the fieldstones. The bronze brazier shape for the eternal flame was also replaced. Instead, a 5 feet (1.5 m) wide beige circular fieldstone (found on Cape Cod in 1965) was set nearly flush with the earth and used as a bracket for the flame.
The permanent John F. Kennedy grave site opened with little announcement or fanfare at 7:00 AM on March 15, 1967, in a driving rain. The ceremony, which took 20 minutes, was attended by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, and members of the Kennedy family.
According to Warnecke (and others), during the design work on the Kennedy gravesite he became romantically involved with Jacqueline Kennedy. At one point, the couple contemplated marriage. They ended their involvement in December 1966.
Warnecke's term on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts ended in July 1967, and he was not reappointed after President Johnson expressed his desire to have his own preferred architects on the board.
Later career, retirement, and death
Warnecke opened an office in New York City in 1967, hiring noted architects Eugene Kohn in 1967 and Sheldon Fox in 1972. By 1977, his company, John Carl Warnecke & Associates, was the largest architectural firm in the United States. But in his late 50s, Warnecke began reducing his active involvement in his architectural practice. Warnecke purposely downsized his firm as he approached retirement, not wishing for his firm to continue after his death.
He retired in the 1980s and began growing grapes at a vineyard in California's Alexander Valley. Warnecke reportedly spent some time writing about architecture. He also devoted efforts to establishing the Warnecke Institute of Design, Art and Architecture, a think tank which looked at the effect worldwide trends (such as global warming and resource scarcity) will have on architecture. Warnecke also worked on his memoirs, which he completed shortly before he died.
John Carl Warnecke died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 91 at his home in Healdsburg, California, on April 17, 2010. He was survived by his second wife, his daughter, and his two sons.