Harry Harmer Gesner, one of America’s leading architects and a prominent resident of Malibu for over fifty years, passed away at age 97 on June 10. He died at his residence during his sleep after a lingering bout of cancer.
Gesner was internationally renowned for such innovative designs as the 1957 “Wave House,” which influenced Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, his own residence, “Sandcastle” and the dramatic “Eagle’s Watch,” which sits perched above Pacific Coast Highway. Much of his most acclaimed work is located within his beloved Malibu and has become — through film, television and print advertisements — iconic to Los Angeles.
Largely self-trained, Gesner audited an architecture class at Yale University after WWII. His drawings came to the attention of Frank Lloyd Wright, who asked him to study with him at Taliesin, but Gesner decided to follow his own career path. In the 1950s, he began to establish a reputation as a Mid-Century Modern architect, but with a more integrated, organic feel to the placement of a structure in its environment. He drew upon inspiration from the sea and mountains, and his designs reflected their arcs and curves.
Clients included swimwear designer Fred Cole, playwright and author Jerome Lawrence, and actors Marlon Brando, Peter Strauss, and Drew Carey.
Born April 28, 1925, in Oxnard to Harry Gesner and Ethel Harmer, he inherited his father’s propensity for invention and his mother’s artistic gifts. Her own father was Alexander Harmer, a leading 19th-century painter of Southern California.
He is survived by two sons, Jason Gesner and Zen Gesner, one daughter, Tara Tanzer-Cartwright, one stepson, Casey Dolan, and five grandchildren. He was married four times, to Audrey Hawthorne (Tara’s mother), Patty Townsend, Patricia Alexander (Jason’s mother) and Nan Martin (Zen and Casey’s mother).