At the Winter Foundation Events in Phoenix and Tucson January 24-28, we had the opportunity to meet with many Illinois architectural alumni – many who continue to support the School financially! Besides luncheon and dinner events in both cities, we also had the pleasure to see Bruce and Ingrid Hutchings’ winter home in Green Valley, Arizona, south of Tucson. There we met three new architectural alums.
Of course the highlight of any trip to Arizona is seeing our dear friend and colleague, Dick Williams, 99 years old. We spent an enjoyable hour with Dick and Chuck Albanese, Dean Emeritus of the College of Architecture at the University of Arizona. Dick is ever sharp, often remembering events in our lives we have long forgotten! Dick keeps a busy schedule of guests visiting regularly and of course, always hoping for more guests to visit him!
We shared many fond memories of Dick’s time with Jack Baker, going back to their early days together at the School of Architecture, and of course their many trips together. A lifetime of travel was a main topic of our discussion with Dick, main topics with many fond memories of travels with Jack Baker and Harold Young.
Below is Dick’s letter in memory of his dear friend, Jack Baker.
I am most honored to offer a few thoughts in memory and tribute to Jack. Having been his close colleague, collaborator and friend for almost seventy years, so many great memories have crowded into this breadth of time from which to distill those that may be most enduring. First meeting here in the School of Architecture, in those hopeful, exciting post World War Two years, Jack having served in the Army in Italy and I from Naval service in the Pacific, we shared the excitement of a new day in architecture, education, and the aura of a new golden age ahead. This scintillating new spirit, so radiant and contagious, was everywhere, inspiring our students, colleagues, clients in a fresh new world around us. Days and nights of joyful work alternated with escape, winter break time in Acapulco or other enticing destinations. Among these were new trends in Italy - architecture, interior design, graphic design as well as the legacy of the past; a magnet to travel there, to experience it directly, I had already arranged to spend the summer of 1957 in Florence, staying at the Casa Analena, a favorite for several decades with artists, writers, and musicians.
Beginning his first sabbatical, Jack arrived after coming all the way through Asia and the Middle East along with Harold Young, also new to the faculty. Almost immediately we started exploring surrounding hill towns and beaches along the Adriatic to the east. Staying in Rimini, on the shore at the Majestic resort hotel, we were aware that big time television had arrived – guests gathering around in the main lobby lounge to listen to the music festival at San Remo, a most popular national event. The new song Volare had become a smash hit, its lyrics and melody enchantingly caught the spirit of this exciting time, especially of contemporary design in the arts. “Volare – Cantare – nel blu dipinto di blu – felice di stare la sumentre il mondo spariva lontano la gui-to fly – to sing – in the blue painted with blue – happy to remain buoyantly above it all – while the world disappears down below.”
As heartland Americans, we could be just as exhilarated as the crowd around us, foretelling within a decade, inspired by the University’s Centennial, the same exuberance of creativity, collaboration, and celebration. This inspiration was especially felt by those of us in the sciences, humanities, literature, art, architecture, music, and dance, as world class innovators joined with us in imagining a new golden age. It was at that time that Jack’s masterpiece, the Erlanger House, was built for Margaret Erlanger, Director of the School of Dance and Jack’s good friend. It commemorates not only their talent as individual artists but the essence of collaboration in the arts as well. For many years later, still today, this same spirit has inspired us at home as our own special genus loci. Jack, especially, has exemplified his heartland beat. Over the years, his talent and versatility of design in the studio as well as in the community remains vibrant.
Over a long lifetime the quiet simplicity, humility, and beauty of his personal work, like the Erlanger House, has expressed this same quality of belonging in the community of the arts. May the refrain Volare – Cantare – to fly – to sing – still echo and resonate as a melodic theme for Jack’s special gift to us all.