Harry Gesner Memorial ‘Celebration of Life’

Family hosts a paddle out in honor of the legendary architect 

By Zen Gesner

Special to Malibu Times

The Malibu maverick architect Harry Gesner lived an exceptional 97 years. His life story is nothing less than a remarkable adventure. We take comfort in the knowledge that his adventure will live on in the many beautiful homes that he designed, in his inventions and in his 1957 Mercedes 190SL that he converted to be 100 percent electric. He will live on in those inspired by his work and in the ocean and environment that will forever be linked with his spirit, and in our family who will carry on his legacy. 

On a beautiful sunny and crisp November Saturday, our family hosted a celebration of life for Dad, surrounded by family and close friends at our family house, the Sandcastle. It was a special day of remembering his unique and original character, his eccentricities, his wild sense of humor, and the sage-like wisdom that he shared with everyone who was lucky enough to be in his presence. My brothers, Jake Gesner and Casey Dolan, spoke from the heart about the impact he had on them, and the world. 

His three grandsons, Finn, Rory, and Tuck Gesner, also shared stories that brought both laughter and reflection on the profound influence he passed down to them over the last 25 years of their lives. 

Dad was a traditional Waterman in every sense of the word. He spent most of his life in the ocean surfing, waterskiing, fishing, and simply communing with nature. The local seals, dolphins, seagulls, pelicans and his favorite, whales, for whom he felt a special kinship with … they all seemed to know him. It was where he was most at peace, and the joy he felt catching the largest wave of the day in his seagull feather-adorned helmet, was usually displayed by a full-throated yodel at the top of his lungs that lasted all the way to the beach, where he’d throw up his hands to the sky in a gesture of pure ecstasy and unbridled stoke. 

The ocean was where he got some of his greatest architectural inspiration, sometimes in the middle of a session, and because of those unexpected moments, he started carrying a grease pen with him so he could sketch and draw whatever had popped into his head onto the glassed deck of his surfboard when waiting in between sets, and then transfer it to paper when he caught his last wave in. 

The ocean was where my father wanted to be laid to rest, and so on Nov. 19, over 40 of his closet friends and family paddled out in front of his beloved Sandcastle, and formed a circle joining hands in the traditional Hawaiian tribute to memorialize his life and legacy. We passed his urn around the circle so everyone could say their farewells. As one, we threw rose petals up in the air and cheered his name loudly “Harry!!! Harry!!! Harry!!!”, spreading his ashes in the crystal clear water. Splashing, celebrating and honoring his life in the most meaningful of ways … setting his spirit free into the deep blue universe as the sun set on the horizon. 

Dad watched the sunset every day from his throne on the deck, and would tell us to “Watch for the Blue Flash,” and I will never look at a sunset without hearing those words. In 2010, his beloved wife (my mother) was celebrated in the same way, in the same place, but with my father leading the ceremony. He is now with her again, and with many other beloved family and friends of the ocean who have been honored in this fashion. I’m sure that he was happy with the amazing day, and I’ll always feel him with me, especially when I am near the ocean. “Love, that’s what it’s all about” he used to say. Love you, Dad. Forever. 

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