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Willis, Beverly

The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art

Walter Smith

Willis, Beverly 

(b Tulsa, OK, 17 Feb 1928),

architect. Willis studied at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, training for two years as an engineer but later switching to studio art (BFA, 1954). During the 1950s she worked in Honolulu, designing sculptures and furniture. In 1960 she moved to San Francisco, where she began working on small-scale housing and theater renovation, and in 1966 she established her own architectural practice there. Her work is aimed at a balance between the traditional and new, an attitude nurtured through several renovation projects in San Francisco (e.g. three 19th-century buildings on Union Street, 1963), which anticipated a nation-wide trend towards the restoration of old buildings in large cities. She also specialized in private residences and buildings for the visual and performing arts. In the Pool House (1985) at Yountville, CA, she imposed a Modernist geometry on classical proportions and layout. The house takes the form of a propylaeum-like gate, with the central pedimented opening flanked by square cubicles. A more playful geometry—also with classical references—is seen in the earlier Margaret S. Hayward Playground Building (1979), San Francisco. Of all her structures for the performing arts, the building for the San Francisco Ballet (completed 1984) is the best known. It has the grand proportions of the surrounding Beaux-Arts buildings of the San Francisco Civic Center, but displays a Modernist clarity in its smooth wall surfaces and sweeping window spaces, the latter revealing the interior functions. The four-story structure is the first to house all aspects of a major professional dance institution, from administrative areas to rehearsal halls.


S. Woodbridge: “Old and New Buildings House Dance Companies,Prog. Archit., lxiii/9 (1982), pp. 30–31Find this resource:

    C. Lorenz: Women in Architecture: A Contemporary Perspective (New York, 1990), pp. 134–7Find this resource:

      D. C. Davidson: “Beverly Willis,Inland Architect & News Rec., xxxv/1 (1991), p. 48Find this resource:

        Invisible Images: The Silent Language of Architecture and the Selected Works of Beverly Willis (Washington, DC, 1997)Find this resource:

          Walter Smith