Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid for the Victor Cusack papers, 1932-2002 0000125
0000125  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (115.13 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Custodial History note
  • Preferred Citation note
  • Biographical/Historical note
  • Scope and Content note
  • Related Archival Materials note

  • Title: Victor Cusack papers
    Identifier/Call Number: 0000125
    Contributing Institution: Architecture and Design Collection, Art, Design & Architecture Museum
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 9.0 Linear feet (6 boxes and 1 flat file drawer)
    Date (inclusive): 1932-2002
    Abstract: Victor Cusack is an American architect who worked in the offices of William Pereira, Pereira and Luckman, and Charles Luckman Associates. The papers contain biographical material about Victor Cusack, including his unfinished memoir about being with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin and photographs taken at Taliesin during his time there. Also included are reports, printed materials, and drawings for assorted designs by himself, for William Pereira, Pereira and Luckman, and Charles Luckman, as well as for Herzka & Knowles. Projects at Pereira for which Cusack had design responsibility include the California Federal Savings and Loan Building in Los Angeles, the Lockheed Corporation headquarters in Calabasas, the west terminal for the Los Angeles International Airport, and several master plans and reports for other projects,including campus planning for UC Santa Barbara.
    creator: Charles Luckman Associates.
    creator: Cusack, Victor A., b. 1915
    creator: Luckman, Charles
    creator: Pereira and Luckman, Architects, Engineers and Planners.
    creator: Pereira, William L., 1909-1985

    Access

    Partially processed collection, open for use by qualified researchers.

    Custodial History note

    Gift of Victor Cusack, 1999 and 2010.

    Preferred Citation note

    Victor Cusack papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Biographical/Historical note

    Victor Aubrey Cusack was born December 13, 1915 in Ramsey, Bergin County, New Jersey and grew up in Yonkers, Westchester County, New York, where he was raised from early childhood by his maternal grandparents. He graduated from the Charles E. Gorton High School in North Yonkers in 1934.
    His older brothers, Howard and Walter Cusack, graduated from Cornell University with the financial support of their grandfather who declared that college was a waste of time and his money when the two young men were unable to find work after graduation, during the Depression. A publisher and editor of a financial newspaper, his grandfather expected Victor to work for him on Wall Street rather than attend college. Victor, however, had independently taken the New York State college entrance examinations and passed with honors. His objective was to apply to Yale University’s architectural school, a five-year course. Encouraged by Yale’s offer of a scholarship and long term tuition loan as well as assistance in finding employment in New Haven, Victor entered Yale in September 1938 as a self supporting student.
    Victor’s course at Yale was interrupted in 1936 when a lecture by Frank Lloyd Wright, in which he condemned the beaux-arts principles of architecture then taught at Yale, inspired Victor to try to join Wright’s apprenticeship program in Wisconsin. Victor approached Alexander Woollcott, the critic and playwright and a confidant of Wright, for advice. Woollcott wrote to Wright on Victor’s behalf and encouraged Victor to personally show up at Taliesin, Wright’s workshop in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Although he was unable to pay tuition to Wright, Victor nonetheless was accepted into a work study apprenticeship after he agreed to perform extra work assignments for at least one year.
    Victor apprenticed with Wright from October 1938 through December 1940, working kitchen and farming assignments in Wisconsin and assisting with building work at Taliesin West, Wright’s desert camp then under construction outside Phoenix, Arizona. Wright sent Victor to New York City in December 1940 to help install his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Cusack’s unfinished memoir about Taliesin includes photographs of his time with Wright and the Fellowship and describes several of the apprentices he met there, including Edgar Tafel, James Thompson, and George Nelson.
    By the end of 1940, worried about his eligibility for the war draft and by Yale’s threats to foreclose on his tuition loans if he did not return, and with no income in view, Cusack knew that he would have to leave Taliesin and return to Yale. Wright, understanding Victor’s predicament, wrote to Dean Meeks at Yale asking for leniency, but to no avail. Wright’s wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, irate when told of Victor’s decision to leave, demanded that Victor leave immediately. On Christmas day 1940, Victor found himself on a Greyhound bus from Phoenix bound for New York, with fare offered by the architect George Nelson who was at Taliesin preparing a special issue of Architectural Forum on Wright’s work. Back in New York, Cusack looked for employment with various architects, but found that working as a draftsman at the U.S. Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut would give him an exemption from the draft for a year. There he was put in charge of designing camouflage for ships and submarines. At the end of 1941 Victor enlisted in a U.S. Navy program that allowed him to return to Yale University and complete work for his degree.
    During Victor’s senior year he and his classmates had invited the Brazilian modernist Oscar Niemeyer to lecture to the architecture students, but denied a U.S. visa, Niemeyer never entered the U. S. His work in Brazil became an important influence on modern architecture in California and on Cusack’s later designs in Los Angeles.
    While he was in Connecticut, Victor worked briefly for James Thompson, a wealthy architect based in Hartford who Victor had met at Taliesin and for whom he designed two residential projects in Connecticut: the Ellsworth house in Simsbury and the Jack Ross house in West Hartford.
    In 1942 Victor decided to volunteer for the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion (C-Bs) but instead was assigned to U.S.N. officer training school in New York City, followed by radar training in Florida. Victor received assignment to various ships for seafaring experience but to his chagrin, was finally assigned to be a gunnery officer on the new battleship, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh. After an Atlantic shakedown cruise, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh joined the Pacific fleet of Admiral Halsey’s Okinawa campaign. Ensign Cusack also became the editor and illustrator of the fleet newspaper, The Buccaneer, copies of which are in his papers.
    A violent typhoon destroyed 120 feet of the Pittsburgh’s bow, which housed Victor’s quarters and from which he escaped just before the bow was severed and swept to sea. By the time the damaged Pittsburg limped back to the U.S. West coast for repairs in 1945, the war in the Pacific was over and Victor was able to resign his commission in San Diego.
    Cusack decided to stay in California and moved to Los Angeles, determined to work for the best modern architect in the city. He applied repeatedly to the office of William L. Pereira (1909-1985); finally obtaining an interview after the socially prominent father of a friend asked Pereira to see him. Cusack joined Pereira’s office in 1949. Cusack worked for Pereira for 28 years and has said that he owed a lot to Pereira’s influence, more so than to Frank Lloyd Wright, his first architectural mentor.
    Cusack described Pereira as a “great verbal conceptualizer,” who liked to explore the conception for every project in depth with his designers over long discussions. Cusack worked on many of Pereira’s commissions, including the prize-winning design for the Union 76 Oil Company office headquarters in Los Angeles, 1949-1950, and the Los Angeles International airport (LAX).
    In 1950, Pereira invited Charles Luckman (1909-1999) to join the firm. Luckman, trained as an architect at the University of Illinois where he and Pereira first met as classmates, had become a noted businessman at a young age and was the president of Lever Bros. in New York City when Pereira approached him. Luckman brought considerable marketing skills and business contacts to the partnership. Cusack worked as Senior Designer for Pereira and Luckman in Los Angeles until 1954, when he was sent to Spain for the firm to work on designing and building U.S. air force bases near Malaga. During his time with the firm, Cusack also worked as chief designer on the master plan for the UC Santa Barbara campus, where Pereira and Luckman were the consulting campus architects.
    Cusack returned to the United States from Spain at the end of 1955 and decided to try to find work in San Francisco, a city he preferred to Los Angeles. Between 1956 and 1959, Cusack was the chief designer for the established city firm, Hertzka & Knowles. While there he designed offices, stores, and hotels in San Francisco and Oakland.
    Charles Luckman and William Pereira held increasingly different views about the future of the firm and ended their partnership in 1959. Luckman was interested in building a large international practice; Pereira wanted to maintain a firm that allowed him to meet with all his designers around a single table. Pereira was creative and social; Luckman was a businessman. Luckman bought out Pereira’s interest in the firm, including the Los Angeles airport commission and rights to all other projects that were then in the Pereira and Luckman office.
    Subsequently, Luckman established Charles Luckman Associates and convinced Cusack to return to Los Angeles to join the firm as Chief Designer. Though reluctant to leave San Francisco, Cusack agreed and only after he returned to L.A. did he realize that he would be one of several “chief” designers. Cusack worked for Charles Luckman Associates from 1959 to 1964. During that time he designed, among other projects, an American Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York (unrealized), and the California Federal Savings and Loan headquarters building at 5900 Wilshire Blvd.
    Always eager to travel, Cusack left Luckman in 1964 for a yearlong sabbatical and world trip. When William Pereira was awarded the commission to design an international terminal (now called the Bradley terminal) for the Los Angeles airport in 1965, he asked Cusack to rejoin him to serve as chief designer for the project. Cusack created the initial design concept, which included the idea of having the wide-bodied planes dock at the west face of the terminal. Although this idea was not implemented then, it finally was incorporated in a recent remodeling. Due to the complexity of the project, the international terminal became a joint venture with other architects, including Welton Beckett and Paul R. Williams. To Cusack’s dismay, Daniel Dworsky was made the design partner for the joint venture, which he headed with Pereira. In compensation, Pereira assigned Cusack the Lockheed Company Headquarters project to design and supervise.
    In 1971, Cusack took a leave of absence from William L. Pereira’s office to travel, returning in 1972 to become Vice-President of William L. Pereira Associates. Cusack retired from the firm only after William Pereira died in 1985. Scott Johnson and William Fain, both of whom had worked in Pereira’s office, founded the successor firm of Johnson Fain.
    In 2005, Cusack, Harrison Lewis Whitney, and William A. Schoneberger wrote and published the book, A Symbol of Los Angeles: The History of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport 1952-1961. In February 2012 the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee designated Victor A. Cusack a Modern Master.

    Scope and Content note

    The Victor Cusack papers span 5 linear feet and date from 1932 to 2002. The collection contains personal papers relating to Cusack's biography and training as an architect, including his apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright, his service during World War II, and some family history. Photographs and an unfinished memoir document Victor Cusack's experience with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. The bulk of the collection documents Victor Cusack's architectural design work in his individual practice and as a designer for William Pereira, Pereira and Luckman, and Charles Luckman. Several projects record his work as chief designer for Herzka & Knowles in San Francisco, during 1957-1958.
    Materials include clippings and publications, master plan reports, printed ephemera and publications, photographs, drawings and sketches, and a video recording. Photographs, sketches, and an unfinished memoir by Cusack describe his time at Taliesin. Publications, manuscripts, a sketch, ephemera, and a video recording relate to William Pereira as an individual and as an architect and planner.
    Master plan reports, architectural drawings and sketches, and photographs document projects on which Victor Cusack worked, in his individual practice and his work as designer in other firms, primarily for William Pereira and Charles Luckman. Design projects include houses, corporate headquarters, and commercial buildings, as well as planning studies for the Los Angeles International Airport and designs for the West Terminal (now called the Bradley Terminal) at LAX. Also in the collection is the book that Cusack wrote about the history and design of the LAX Theme Building. Other significant designs represented in the collection include the Lockheed headquarters building in Calabasas, the Union Oil Center building, the California Savings and Loan Building in Los Angeles, and designs for the University of California at Santa Barbara.
    The papers are arranged in three series: Series I. Personal papers; Series II. Papers relating to William Pereira; and Series III. Architectural projects.

    Related Archival Materials note

    Welton Becket papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Cusack, Victor A., b. 1915
    Cusack, Victor A., b. 1915
    Luckman, Charles
    Pereira and Luckman, Architects, Engineers and Planners.
    Pereira, William L., 1909-1985
    William Pereira Associates.
    Architectural drawings
    Photographic prints
    Reprographic copies