Frank Israel, Architect Inspired by California,
Is Dead at 50

Franklin D. Israel, an architect whose designs for private houses and offices for film production companies epitomized the creative ferment of contemporary Hollywood, died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 50 and lived in Los Angeles.

The cause was complications from AIDS, said Mr. Israel's companion, Thomas Haase.

Widely regarded as one of the most extravagantly gifted architects of his generation, Mr. Israel died at an age when most architects are just beginning to build. Yet he had already accumulated a body of work sufficiently impressive to be the subject of several books and of a retrospective exhibition, held earlier this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The retrospective confirmed Mr. Israel's reputation as an architect who, while strongly influenced by pioneer modernists like Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright, nonetheless managed to develop his own highly distinctive voice.

Mr. Israel was born in New York City in 1945. He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and later studied architecture at Yale University and at Columbia University, where he received his Master of Architecture degree in 1971. In 1973, he received the Rome Prize and spent two years as a resident fellow at the American Academy in Rome. He worked for several firms, including Llewelyn-Davies, where he was a senior architect on a major urban development commissioned by the Shah of Iran.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to teach at the School of Architecture at the University of California at Los Angeles. An avid moviegoer, he spent his first several years in Los Angeles working in the entertainment industry as a set designer for several films, including "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and Roger Vadim's "Night Games." In 1979, he also designed the first of a kind of building in which he would excell: offices for independent movie production companies. These included the headquarters for Propaganda Films, designed in 1988, and for Limelight Productions and Virgin Records, both designed in 1991.

But Mr. Israel is most widely celebrated for a series of private houses that pushed the modern vernacular of Southern California architecture to a peak of innovation. Several of these projects, including the Lamy-Newton Pavilion, designed in 1988, were additions to existing buildings. A staunch supporter of incremental design, Mr. Israel believed that the juxtaposition of newer and older structures symbolized the heterogeneity of the contemporary city.

He delighted in the aura of Hollywood, and several of his most distinguished residential projects were for people in the entertainment business, including the director Robert Altman, the actor Joel Grey and the agent Howard Goldberg, who, with Jim Bean, commissioned a Hollywood Hills house in 1991.

In recent years, Mr. Israel's firm, Israel Callas Chu Shortridge, had begun to obtain commissions for large public projects, most notably the Fine Arts Building at the Riverside campus of the University of California.

Mr. Israel was a passionate city lover. In a book about his work, published by Rizzoli in 1992, he wrote about the impact of three cities on his architecture: New York, Rome and Los Angeles. Seeking to bridge the gap in scale between individual buildings and the urban context, he spoke of designing "cities within," interior spaces with the variety, color and surprise of a major metropolis. In his film production offices, Mr. Israel conceived of corridors as urban streets, leading to unexpected visual experiences. His use of fragmented forms echoed the fractured texture of the Los Angeles cityscape. Increasingly, as with the recently completed Dan House in Malibu, Mr. Israel looked for inspiration to the shifting, unstable landscape of Southern California.

He was a revered figure at U.C.L.A.'s architecture school. An architect trained in the formative years of the post-modern movement, he was open to many approaches to design. He was also a teacher, informally, to many of his friends and associates. A generation of visiting architects and journalists owe their appreciation of Los Angeles to Mr. Israel's tours of his adopted city. Aware that many New Yorkers were prone to look askance at the cultural scene in Los Angeles, Mr. Israel was especially eager to share the city's architectural wealth with them.

In recent years, as he struggled with AIDS, he also took on the task of educating people about living with the disease. In magazine interviews, and in the catalogue for his show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, he suggested that the illness had influenced his architecture by encouraging him to take greater risks. His determination to continue working during his illness was a source of inspiration to a remarkable range of friends, clients and colleagues, who had come to recognize that Mr. Israel's work embodied a major chapter of his generation's cultural history.

In addition to Mr. Haase, he is survived by his mother, Zelda Israel, of Tamarack, Fla., and a sister, Roslyn Steinberg, of Short Hills, N.J.

(New York Times, June 11, 1996, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final)

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