William Blackwell
1929 - 2021
William (Bill) Dinsmore Blackwell
August 25, 1929 - November 25, 2021
William Dinsmore Blackwell died peacefully on Thanksgiving in the Piedmont home he shared with his wife, Marjorie, for 41 years. An architect by profession, Bill had a diverse and successful career that included numerous design and planning projects in the U.S. and abroad, as well as other creative activities, over a span of 60 years. His work was his life.
He was born in Indianapolis, the son of Raymond Earl Blackwell and Dorothy Dinsmore Bloom. At age 5, his family moved to Louisville, KY. From a small public high school in Anchorage, KY, he won an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1947. After completing 2½ years, he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue his goal of becoming an architect. He received a bachelor's degree in architecture from MIT in 1953 and was immediately inducted into the Army. As a young sergeant in Korea, he helped design and relocate Signal Corps facilities under wartime conditions. Upon discharge, he returned to Louisville and worked for three years with a prominent architectural firm on a master plan for the University of Louisville, design of a student union building and a large church. In 1958, he moved to California and under the GI Bill, earned a master's degree in architecture from UC Berkeley.
In 1960, Bill joined the San Francisco architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, where his projects included design of the structural research laboratory at the UC Richmond Field Station, a complex radiochemistry laboratory at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and a conceptual plan for redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol in DC.
In 1966, he joined the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency to work on planning and design of Western Addition Redevelopment Area. His efforts to delete widening of Turk Street and reduce parking requirements made 17 blocks of housing economically feasible. Recognizing the need for more housing in the City, he wrote a growth scenario to enable more people to live within walking distance of neighborhood shops and services, and he drafted a zoning ordinance, passed by San Francisco Planning Commission, to allow development of narrow-lot townhouses.
Bill also designed and built his own furniture. He had a one-man show of his furniture in the Bay Area Art Explosion in 1967. Subsequently, he was invited to join the Market Street Joint Venture Architects and was a lead designer in 1969 of traffic signals and other outdoor furniture on Market Street.
In 1973, Bill joined the Bechtel Corporation. His projects included design of an airport reception pavilion for King Hussein of Jordan, work on planning the new city of Jubail, Saudi Arabia, classified projects for several government agencies, facility planning for IBM and Applied Materials, proposals for reconstruction of the Pentagon and more. He was rewarded by Bechtel for engineering excellence.
Bill is the author of Geometry in Architecture, published by John Wiley & Sons in 1984 and translated into Spanish by Editorial Trillas in MX. He was working on a new book, Explorations in Geometry, at the time of his death. He created and published a unique world map centered on the Bay Area, sold by the former Random House map store and other outlets.
Bill's interest in color and symmetry led to creation of geometric paintings that were exhibited at a number of Bay Area venues.
He was a man of ideas. In 2009, he proposed extending high-speed rail from San Jose to an expanded Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets instead of the new Transbay Terminal. This would save billions in underground track and terminal construction in downtown San Francisco and provide needed space for taxis and parking at the HSR station.
If Bill had his way, daylight saving time (if at all) would begin on first day of spring and end on first day of fall; calendars would begin on Monday, beginning of the work week, and end on Sunday; political campaigns would last no more than three months; the NCAA basketball tournament would pit a one-seed against a nine, a two-seed against a ten, etc. to make first rounds more meaningful.
Bill was always well prepared for meetings and liked to arrive early to "get the best seat" at the table. He recalled with pleasure the many personal encounters he had along his path through life, especially when they involved ice cream and cookies.
He is survived by his wife, Marjorie Leland Blackwell, and eight nieces and nephews in the Midwest and East Coast. His sister, Margaret Koenig, and brother-in-law Rowland Koenig predeceased him. The family is grateful to dear friends for their love, support, and kindness during a difficult time and to Continuum Hospice.
To remember Bill, please plant a tree in his name or make a contribution to the math department at Franklin College, Franklin, IN or to a charity of your choice. For information on a memorial service at a later date, email [email protected]
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5, 2021.
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4 Entries
Margaret A Chandler
December 9, 2021
I will always remember Bill as a true gentleman and example of a fine person to have known.
Gary Prentice
December 8, 2021
Lauren Shub and Bob Eidus
December 2, 2021
Enjoyed the time getting to know Great Uncle Bill, such an accomplished man. So sorry for his passing, Love, Amy, Sydney and Zoey
Amy Doan
November 29, 2021
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