In memory of Malibu resident Carl Volante


Dear Editor, 

Carl Volante never met a stranger. 

And while that old saying is often overused to describe a friendly soul, I reckon most of us who had the great pleasure of knowing him during his 78 (and change) trips around the sun would indeed agree. 

Carl was born in Evanston, Illinois, on April 14, 1945. Brother to Frank and sisters Marina and Ann, Carl was the third child born to Anthony and Ester Volante. 

At the age of 20, he joined the U.S. Army in 1965 and was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, where he showed an aptitude for his precision with a service rifle and became a sharpshooter. 

His keen eye for hitting the center of a target would serve him later in life when he traded in his rifle for a drafting pencil and enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in architecture and graduated top of his class in 1974. 

His influences included acclaimed modern architect Richard Neutra, and Carl often spoke of his own work as an architect and builder as making “an intervention on the natural world.” 

His approach to design always placed the environment first. Structure was secondary and respectful to the natural order of the land before breaking ground on a project. 

He took his job as seriously as anyone I have ever known and was an artist in the truest form. His work, his structures, and buildings were never designed as a monument to the architect but rather as a contribution to a family and a community that would stand the test of time, fads, and trends and remain a gathering place for generations. 

Anyone who spent time with Carl knew he had a way with words and phrases. Often funny and off-color, but always full of self-effacing honesty. It wasn’t uncommon to hear him say, “I wake up every morning and am grateful for two things: being Sicilian and being an architect!” 

But as we all know, as seriously as he took his work, Carl was also very, very funny. 

From his “throwaway” observations to his show-stopping quotes, perhaps along with his designs, they too will live on. His hilarious take on divorce — “domestic adjustment” — is just one example. 

Carl came to Malibu following a “domestic adjustment” of his own, splitting from his wife Pamela after 20 years of marriage. 

Carl had a nickname for everyone and almost everything. A habit he picked up from his father, a Chicago cabbie who regularly clocked an 84-hour workweek and who himself had earned the nickname “Tony No Neck” due to his thick physique. 

For Carl, nicknames were not only a term of endearment but also of familiarity and community, which he found and fostered here in Malibu between his many clients, associates, and friends. 

“The Authorities” meant the folks in planning at Malibu City Hall. “The Flight Deck” was Spruzzos. If you possessed a medical degree, you were always referred to as “Doc” as in “Doc Taylor“ or “Doc Brown.” “Dos Pollackos,” the tile guys. “German John,” “Backhoe Gary” and so on. 

The nicknames he bestowed were often based on what you did for work, where you lived, or your ancestry. I was never sure if he ever had a nickname for me, but he often called me “Kid,” even after I was well into my late 50s. 

I have done my share of writing in my life, but I have never been tasked with writing an obituary or remembrance. Which is perhaps why this reads as neither. 

I’m not great at saying goodbye, as most of us aren’t. Especially when it comes to people who enter our lives, inspire us, and then simply … leave. 

We always want more from those who exit too soon. We want more time. More stories. Damn it, even more of the same stories we just heard two days ago, CARL! 

I believe that any attempt to summarize a life lived over nearly eight decades in a few paragraphs is folly for the writer and disrespectful to the individual being written about. But knowing Carl as we do, I suspect he wouldn’t want any of us making a fuss over his passing. And if he were to author his own remembrance, it would be a series of four-letter expletives connected to some grievance or complaint — probably about the City of Malibu! 

But in the final analysis of a life well lived, this Midwestern son of a cabbie found our unique seaside community and called it home. 

And it was in this very community where Carl Volante found his many friends, clients and partners, while making an indelible contribution building his timeless “interventions on the natural world.” 

Carl lived and played by his own rules. He was a brilliant, beautiful, self-proclaimed “gypsy,” and he was proud of that fact. And he also broke a good share of ladies’ hearts along his journey. 

Now, he breaks ours, and as nicknames go, he’ll always be “The Man in the Hat” to me. 

He is survived by his daughters, Lisa and Gina, as well as his sister, Ann. 

Submitted by Ellen Francisco and written by Emilio Estevez of Malibu