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.