Harold Kirker
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Harold Clark Kirker

Harold Clark Kirker, a fifth generation Californian, a war hero, and an eminent architectural historian, died at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco on May 30th, a few days short of his 97th birthday. He passed away quietly in his sleep after suffering a stroke a week earlier, according to a family friend, Dr. Douglas Armstrong.

Kirker was born in San Francisco on June 5, 1921. He was known not only for his scholarship but also for his love of Yosemite Valley, the Sierras, and the Alps. Dr. Theodore E. Stebbins of Harvard University, a lifelong friend, described Kirker as "one of the great architectural historians of his day, and the most learned person I ever knew." After graduation from the University of California at Berkeley, he served with the famous Tenth Mountain Division in Italy during intense fighting in the Mt. Belvedere area, which resulted in heavy casualties while succeeding in opening the Po Valley for the Fifth Army. Kirker emerged unscathed and heavily decorated.

In 1950, he returned to Berkley, where he earned his doctoral degree in history under Professor Carl Bridenbaugh. He taught at MIT from 1957 to 1966, then at the University of California, Santa Barbara until 1991. His major publications include the landmark study, California's Architectural Frontier: Style and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (1960), The Architecture of Charles Bulfinch, (1969) the still-definitive biography of America's pioneering architect, who rebuilt Boston in brick beginning in the late 1780's, and Old Forms on a New Land: California Architecture in Perspective, (1991). During the twenty-seven years of his retirement, Kirker lived in a modest apartment on Jackson Square, San Francisco. He treated himself to a fine lunch and a single Manhattan made exactly to his instructions every day, rotating on a regular schedule among his close friends and his favorite restaurants.

Harold Kirker was a direct descendant of the Irish-born famous scalp hunter, mountain man, and mercenary, James Kirker (1793-1852). Harold may have inherited from his ancestor his slender build and his lifelong fitness, though his quiet, unassuming personality was totally at odds with James Kirker's violent nature. He knew Montaigne by heart, and in his older age would often describe himself in Montaigne's terms as "A man who is pleased with what he is and desires nothing further."

Kirker's older brothers George Kirker and his twin, James, predeceased him. He leaves behind a niece Janet Kirker of New York and a nephew Andrew Kirker, of Lake Forest, Ca. Harold loved nature and especially admired the work of Earthjustice and the Nature Conservancy, where contributions may be made in his name. At his request, no funeral service will be held.

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Published in San Francisco Chronicle from May 31 to Jun. 3, 2018.
Memories & Condolences
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9 entries
August 9, 2019
I worked at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco and was honored to become like friends with Dr. Kirker. We looked forward to his visit each week and loved and adored him and his kind, gentle and loving spirit. It made my day when he'd arrive, and I'd walk him all the way to his favorite table when I saw him coming. I spent a great deal of time talking with him and learning from him, and was truly touched and knew from the start that he was someone very special. All my love to you Dr. Kirker. May your sweet soul rest peacefully.
Courtney Donaldson
June 25, 2018
It's been such a pleasure to get to know and help Harold through his last months. I enjoyed his positive attitude and loved hearing his stories especially the ones about about walking all over San Francisco.
Kris Blum, DC
June 25, 2018
I only had the pleasure of walking Harold home from his doctors appointments a hand full of times but during that time he showed me so much kindness. Your life was filled with so much adventure you will be missed by many. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family.
Kenzie Chock
June 25, 2018
As his long time podiatrist, Harold always had a smile when he came in. He was thoughtful and humble. I enjoyed our conversations. My staff and I wish to send our condolences to his family and friends.
Vince Marino, DPM
June 25, 2018
It can be so hard to face the first year without your loved one, but the love of family and friends can carry you through.
Vincent Marino, DPM
June 6, 2018
We will all truly miss Mr. Kirker's regular Friday lunches with us and his requisite Manhattan. Godspeed, sir.

The Staff of One Market Restaurant
June 5, 2018
Dr. Kirker was very encouraging to me as a student while serving on my MA committee. He was a true gentleman and scholar.
Judy Triem
June 4, 2018
What a privilege it was to know Harold Kirker--a fine man and scholar. He was of service to the people of Santa Barbara as a member of the board of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as a professor at U.C.S.B. Dr. Kirker was beloved by all who knew him.
Mary Louise Days
June 4, 2018
My condolences to Dr. Kirker's family and loved ones. He was a thoughtful and helpful professor who influenced and guided my in my choice to become an architectural historian and historic preservation professional. His legacy looms large and we will miss him.

Gloria Scott
UC Santa Barbara Class of 1976
Gloria Scott
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