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Guest Essay | Building on a Legacy: Architecture Community Commemorates 105th Birthday of Pioneer Jean Roth Driskel

Published on Monday, August 31, 2020 | 1:22 pm
 
Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter
Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

The Pasadena architectural community is looking back on the groundbreaking contributions of the pioneering architect Jean Roth Driskel, first female president of the American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothill Chapter, on the occasion of her 105th birthday on Tuesday.

Driskel opened her office in South Pasadena in 1948 and joined the AIAFP in 1956, according to the organization.

“After chairing a number of committees, she became president in 1968,” the organization said in a written statement. “She was also: the first woman to be elected as an officer (secretary) of the California Council of the AIA; President of the Association of Women in Architecture; US delegate to the International Union of Women Architects; chair of the South Pasadena Mayor’s Committee on Cultural Heritage; secretary of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce; and the third woman to be elected to the AIA College of Fellows.”

Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

The AIAFP established a scholarship in memory of Driskel upon her death in 1971. The scholarship in her name stands alongside her many residential and commercial designs as a longstanding tribute.

Driskel was a self-made woman, according to her son, Dana Driskel, a retired studio professor from UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Film and Media Studies.

“Mom never received a degree and had to earn her license the hard way as a draftsman,” he said. “A scholarship would have meant a lot back then and speeded up her career, particularly poignant since she died young.”

“Jean Roth became Jean Roth Driskel when she married my father while attending the University of Washington,” Dana Drisek said. “Having received a scholarship to attend Art Center in Los Angeles, the newlyweds moved south only to discover that the funding had been rescinded once the school discovered that she was married. A married woman didn’t need a scholarship. Right? The 1930s were a different time.”

Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

Each year two scholarships are awarded to architectural college students in our region, one to a community college student transferring to a five-year bachelor of architecture program and one in their fourth year of the five-year program.

Dana Driskel said he was proud of his mother’s legacy, and the vital help it’s now providing students.

“I learned early the value of financial support. Now, as a retired university professor, I can say I’ve known many talented young people who have benefited from scholarships,” he said. “Sometimes the vote of confidence a scholarship implies means as much as the funds. But the funds can mean the difference in how long it takes a person to make it to the top.”

Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

Many female students who have received the scholarship cited Driskel’s story as an inspiration.

Just 23 years ago, 30 percent of U.S. architectural students were women. Today, they make up nearly half of the student body.

Born in the state of Washington, after high school graduation Driskel studied four years at the University of Washington.

Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

Her first architectural job was at R. Walker in 1942, followed by nearly three years with A. Quincy Jones, a renowned modernist architect and educator.

Driskel received her California licensure on Oct. 15, 1948, beginning her own South Pasadena practice, and continuing until her death in 1971. Known for her dedication to clients, she was reported to be reviewing drawings with her last client on her deathbed in 1971.

Photos of Jean Driskel provided by Lance Bird/American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothills chapter

She was an active member of 13 community organizations, in many cases as a director, president or chair.

Dana Driskel said he and his wife, Patty, recently got a chance to visit the last home his mother designed when they met with the owners in Pauma Valley.

Lance Bird is a retired longtime architect and an active member of the American Instutute of Architects Pasadena Foothill Chapter. For questions about this article, contact Lance at (626) 818-7411, or email RLBird888@gmail.com.

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